A renewed and revitalized Conch Republic Independence Celebration, Nov. 27-30, will celebrate the fiercely independent spirit of the Florida Keys, aka the Conch Republic. MARK CERTONIO/Dolce Events

For those who haven’t noticed, we do things a little differently here in the Florida Keys, a chain of islands that dangles in a westward arc from the southern tip of mainland Florida.

Always welcoming and fiercely independent, the Florida Keys are a place like no other — as are the people drawn by the call of the islands.

A new and improved Conch Republic Independence Celebration (CRIC), now under the ownership of Key West business owner and activist Jim Gilleran, will highlight the life, times, history and humor of Key West and the Florida Keys.

Although typically held in April to commemorate the official founding, or foundering, of the Conch Republic, the 2020 CRIC will take place Nov. 27-30 due to the springtime COVID closures, with additional events planned throughout the year.

“From the raising of the Conch Republic flag at Mallory Square to the burning of the hurricane flag at the end of storm season, the Conch Republic Independence Celebration will elect royalty, race miniature beds, clean up Higgs Beach, engage in a Rum Battle, present an Art-to-Wear Fashion Show, and more,” said Gilleran, whose joined forces with Mark Certonio and Dolce Events to rally the troops and assemble a militia of mayhem.

In addition to the annual Independence Celebration, leadership of the Conch Republic plans to join the fun at other Keyswide events with partnerships.

“For example, we could team up with the Key West Food & Wine Festival, with messaging that says something like, ‘the Conch Republic celebrates the Key West Food & Wine Festival,’” Certonio said, adding that cross marketing and promotions could benefit all events as the island chain recovers from the pandemic. 

“You have wittingly chosen to participate in activities (some of which you will recall, and some of which you will not) here in the micronation of the Conch Republic. We welcome all comers who understand the value of humor, community and a passion to encourage others to behave in a proud and foolish manner. The only requirement for entry is an understanding that to be in an alternate reality, you have to participate in an alternate reality,” proclaimed the exalted Capt James R. Gilleran, Secretary of State of the Conch Republic.

Claude Valdez, center, proudly shows off the new Conch Republic flag he designed for the new “sovereign state of mind” in the Southernmost City. CONCHREPUBLIC.COM/Contributed
The Florida Keys officially seceded from the Union in April 1982 in protest of a U.S. Border Patrol blockade at the top of the Keys. CONCHREPUBLIC.COM/Contributed

That alternate reality known as the Conch Republic came to be in 1982, when the U.S. Border Patrol established a blockade at the top of the Florida Keys to combat the increasing drug trade in South Florida. The blockade crippled the Keys and brought tourism to its knees, with miles-long traffic jams and invasive searches. 

With the United States treating the Keys like a foreign country, Mayor Dennis Wardlow seceded from the Union. He declared war on the United States — but immediately surrendered and demanded war reparations from the federal government. It was all for fun and yes, publicity, but the feds got the message and the blockade ended.

“Today we stand proudly as a community of individuals who have a  ‘sovereign state of mind.’  We the people … have seceded where others have failed,” Gilleran said.

 To see a complete list of events, visit ConchRepublic.com, where you can also purchase colorful Conch Republic merchandise and event tickets.

“Keeping our Conch-stituents and visitors safe, maintaining social distancing, and mask wearing, has and always will be our top priority,” Gilleran added.

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