Dream Defenders Stage Sit-In Outside Florida Governor’s Office in Response to Conservative Laws

On May 3, 2023, a group of protesters from the human rights organization Dream Defenders staged a sit-in outside the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to protest new conservative laws in the state.[0] The protesters were arrested for misdemeanor trespass after refusing to leave the Capitol building once it closed, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.[1] The sit-in was organized in response to the passage of a sweeping immigrant reform bill by the Florida House, which the protesters viewed as an attack on vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Dream Defenders is a human rights non-profit organization that was created in 2013 following the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, and aims to organize “Black and Brown youth to build power in our communities to advance a new vision we have for the state.”[2] The organization said that 14 members of their group and other organizations involved in the protest were arrested by police after an hours-long occupation of the office.[3]

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly taken aim at Florida’s schools throughout his tenure as governor, most notably with the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.[4] Classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity was prohibited by the law for students from kindergarten to third grade.[5] Last month, Florida’s Board of Education approved a proposal by DeSantis to expand the controversial law to apply to students through high school.[4] On Wednesday, the Florida state legislature approved an extension of their “Don’t Say Gay” policy, which the governor is anticipated to endorse.[4]

The protesters were demanding a meeting with the governor to discuss his policies. According to Nailah Summers-Polite, co-executive director of the human rights organization Dream Defenders, DeSantis prefers to spend time with his supporters and donors, who are like his close friends. However, he appears to avoid encountering those who do not share his opinions.[6] If he refuses to confront us, he is not fit for the position of governor.[6]

The sit-in was also in response to a series of bills passed by Florida lawmakers on Wednesday that will defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, restrict professors from discussing issues of race and ethnicity, and prohibit schools from compelling teachers and staff from using a student’s preferred gender pronouns.[7] On Wednesday, Florida lawmakers passed a new bill that prohibits public universities and colleges from utilizing their funds to endorse, finance, or sustain any initiatives or events on campus that advocate for diversity, equality, or inclusion (DEI) or employ the principles of Critical Race Theory.[8] The newly enacted legislation will empower a board appointed by the governor to recruit and terminate personnel working in universities and colleges.[8]

Dream Defenders spokesman Akin Olla said the organization has attorneys on stand-by in case any of them are arrested, but their goal is to get a meeting with the governor, and they won’t leave until they do.[0] There are other governors and legislatures passing what could be considered extremist policies, so it’s not just him.[9] There needs to be a national movement to combat people like him, so we’re hoping to spark that,” he said.[9]

The sit-in and subsequent arrests of the protesters highlight the ongoing tensions between progressive activists and conservative lawmakers in Florida. As the state continues to pass controversial legislation that targets vulnerable and marginalized communities, it is likely that we will see more protests and civil disobedience in the coming months.

0. “Dream Defenders Stage Sit-In At FL Governors Office; Demand Meeting” Patch, 3 May. 2023, https://patch.com/florida/southtampa/dream-defenders-stage-sit-fl-governors-office-demand-meeting

1. “Police: Protesters arrested for ignoring warnings to leave when Capitol building closed” Florida’s Voice, 4 May. 2023, https://flvoicenews.com/police-protesters-arrested-for-ignoring-warnings-to-leave-when-capitol-building-closed/

2. “14 Protestors Arrested After Storming Florida Statehouse to Confront Governor Ron DeSantis” Radar Online, 4 May. 2023, https://radaronline.com/p/14-protestors-arrested-ron-desantis-office/

3. “Protesters arrested after occupying DeSantis’s office” AOL, 3 May. 2023, https://www.aol.com/protesters-arrested-occupying-desantis-office-011149060.html

4. “Protestors stage sit-in against DeSantis’ ‘right wing attempts to dismantle democracy’” The Hill, 3 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/3986659-protestors-stage-sit-in-against-desantis-right-wing-attempts-to-dismantle-democracy/

5. “Eckerd students join statewide walkout to protest Florida laws” The Current, 1 May. 2023, http://www.theonlinecurrent.com/news/eckerd-students-join-statewide-walkout-to-protest-florida-laws/article_8dbe54da-e843-11ed-b5a8-533d85779693.html

6. “Dream Defenders Arrested at Florida Governor’s Office” teleSUR English, 4 May. 2023, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Dream-Defenders-Arrested-at-Florida-Governors-Office-20230504-0011.html

7. “Protesters Occupy Ron DeSantis’ Office in Opposition to Anti-Diversity Bills” Rolling Stone, 3 May. 2023, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/ron-desantis-protesters-anti-diversity-bills-dont-day-gay-1234729158

8. “Ron DeSantis’ Office Stormed by Protesters, Video Shows” Newsweek, 4 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/ron-desantis-office-protesters-1798246

9. “Left-wing Florida protesters stage sit-in at DeSantis’s office over his governance” Washington Examiner, 4 May. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/left-wing-florida-protesters-desantis-sit-in

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