Thousands march in Fort Lauderdale against 'hateful' laws, Gov. DeSantis
The thousands of people who descended on Esplanade Park in Fort Lauderdale Sunday morning came to rally against more than 1,000 bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide that they say discriminates against women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Black people and others.
More than 70 activist organizations, focused on reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and gun control, showed up to the "We The People" national rally, organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Similar rallies on Sunday were organized in Columbia, S.C., Dallas and Los Angeles.
Those who rallied in South Florida came from coast to coast. They came with their organizations, with their partners and friends. They came in support of their daughters, nieces and themselves.
The rally organizers view Florida as “the epicenter of the battle,” clearly aiming their protests at the policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his presidential ambitions.
"They can see our numbers. They can see our unity. Many, many different organizations that are coming together. I came all the way from California to be here today," said Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the United Farmworkers Union. "We see all of these harmful policies that he [DeSantis] is passing against immigrants and then treating them as if they were cattle and sheep."
DeSantis has taken a hard line on illegal immigration as he campaigns for president, saying he’ll complete construction of the Mexican border wall his one-time supporter, Donald Trump, promised to build. He’s also carried out political gimmicks like flying immigrants from Texas to blue states, supposedly before they can get to Florida. He has also said he would end birthright citizenship if elected president.
The new law expands worker verification requirements, among other provisions. The governor’s office blames the Biden administration for what it says is a crisis at the southern border.
Heralding his state as a place “where woke goes to die,” DeSantis has framed his 2024 presidential campaign around a desire to bring the conservative policies he championed in Florida to the national stage.
He has made a name for himself battling with Disney over the entertainment giant's opposition to a bill dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ issues in Florida public schools for all grades.
Under his governorship, the state has also banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and blocked public colleges from using federal or state funding on diversity programs.
Erica Friedman, an employee at one of those public colleges, said the new laws are having an impact on students.
"The general sentiment among students and among faculty and staff who do this work is that they're scared," she said. "We're actually seeing lower turnout of students who are LGBTQ."
Friedman hasn't let the numerous anti-LGBTQ laws stop her from standing up for herself and her students.
"I'm just glad to be here in this moment to be able to fight back. And to me, if anything, I'm just doubling down on the work that I do," she said. "I'm just going to fight ten times as hard."
Women activists say they 'feel attacked'
Shawnte-Amore Simmons, who came from Georgia with a group called Rural Women In Action that advocates for women's rights, said recent legislation makes you feel like you're going backwards" as a socity.
"I feel attacked. I feel like. I feel like our mental sovereignty is being attacked," said Simmons.
Simmons has daughters, granddaughters and nieces who inspire her activism.
"I still tell them that their body is their own. Their choice is their right. And nobody can take that away."
El Bentley also came down from Georgia to rally on behalf of women's rights. She held a sign that said "more controlled than guns" with a drawing of a uterus on it.
"What we have to experience as women in this particular area that people couldn't even imagine, and without us, you wouldn't be standing here," she said. "I think that's an individual decision more than it is a group decision. How are you going to tell me what to do with my body?"
School safety and gun laws
Among the speakers at the event was David Hogg, a homegrown activist from Parkland. He was propelled into activism after surviving the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and co-founded the March For Our Lives organization, which pushes for gun control.
"What represents freedom are the young people in the state that say, 'No, we want a system where we are protected in our schools, where we are safe in our communities, where we can go to school and our biggest concern can be math class and not whether or not we're going to survive school.'"
A new law signed by DeSantis earlier this year allows for anyone who owns a gun to carry it without a permit. There was widespread opposition to the law and DeSantis signed the law in a private ceremony in his office. His only immediate public comment was, “Constitutional Carry is in the books,” which he stated in a three-paragraph news release.
DeSantis has said he thinks Florida should go even further and allow people to openly carry guns.
Hogg, who said he is not anti-gun, advocates for stricter gun laws around the country. His return to Florida on Sunday was part of that mission.
"As Florida goes, so goes the country. If we lose Florida, we're losing the country."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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