Florida Politics

‘Everybody is under attack.’ Protesters disrupt Legislature over ‘civil justice.’

Groups protesting ‘anti-civil rights’ bills interrupt Florida House session

About a dozen groups protesting “anti-civil rights” bills on topics from immigration to school vouchers to the restoration of felons voting rights exploded into protest in May 2019.
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About a dozen groups protesting “anti-civil rights” bills on topics from immigration to school vouchers to the restoration of felons voting rights exploded into protest in May 2019.

About a dozen groups protesting “anti-civil rights” bills on topics from immigration to school vouchers to restoration of felons’ voting rights briefly halted a House floor session Wednesday afternoon.

As the House took up a bill to create a state hemp program in Florida, two groups of protesters unfurled banners in the public galleries above the chamber and shouted at the lawmakers below. They were forcefully removed by the House sergeants.

Denise Diaz, 38, was the first person in the gallery to start shouting when a few of her fellow protesters unfurled their first banner, declaring “STRONG HEARTS FIGHT BACK.”

The Orlando mother of two said she and her fellow protesters were prepared to be arrested, though she was not aware of anyone that had been detained.

“We wanted to interrupt what they’re doing, to pose the question, ‘What kind of Florida do they envision for us?’ ” said Diaz, who directs the group Central Florida Jobs for Justice. Before she was pulled out of the chamber, Diaz shouted she was disappointed the chamber was passing laws “that legalize hate and separate families and legalize violence in our schools.”

The protest, which lasted a few minutes, was quickly shut down by sergeants and security who pushed protesters out of the public gallery. Lawmakers paused on the floor to watch as they were escorted out and applauded after they left the galleries. Among the protesters who were evicted was Isabel Vinent, 52, of Mount Dora, who called what lawmakers were doing in the House and Senate “anti-democratic.”

“Some of them were looking up at us, like what is this, a show?” Vinent recalled. “They’re in service of corporations, gun lobbyists, white supremacists.”

The protest moved into the fifth-floor Capitol rotunda, where a few dozen protesters from various groups chanted to the lobbyists and lawmakers gathered on the fourth floor below.

“A lot of groups who were struggling with their own issues came together and said ‘everybody is under attack,’ ” said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “The public schools, the guns, the will of the voters being disrespected ... there was outrage.”

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Rodriguez said the protest is a culmination of many groups who say they feel disrespected and underrepresented by the lawmakers this session.

“We should be passing Medicaid expansion here, not using our resources to criminalize others,” she said. “We’ve prayed, we’ve protested, we’ve fasted, we’ve walked, we’ve marched, we’ve done it all.”

A few dozen protesters also marched down to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, repeating slogans and carrying the banners that had been yanked out of the House chamber less than an hour earlier.

“Love, not hate, makes America great!”

“This is what democracy looks like!”

”Hey hey, ho ho, this racist governor has got to go!”

“Racist, sexist, anti-gay, right wing bigots go away!”

After about 15 minutes, they dispersed.

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Natalia Jaramillo, of New Florida Majority, said one member of her group was detained during the protest. Carlos Valnera, who came to protest in Tallahassee from Broward County, was part of one of the groups that unfurled a banner in the House gallery.

Also escorted out of the Capitol was Charo Valero of the Florida Latina Advocacy Network and Tomas Kennedy of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“This legislative session has been brutal for all Floridians,” he said in a statement. “Our rights are being curtailed on every single front.”

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.
Elizabeth Koh is a state government reporter in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee bureau, where she covers the Florida Legislature with a focus on health care politics and policy. A Brown University graduate, she covered local politics for the Washington Post and national politics for the Dallas Morning News’ D.C. bureau before joining the Herald in 2017.