South Florida community members protest at FIU as part of “Stand For Freedom” day

PantherNOW/Diego Diaz

Kaysea Suzana and Diego Diaz | PantherNOW Staff

Chanting “you can’t ban us” and “Black history matters,” students, faculty, and community members joined in protest against Governor DeSantis’ continued intervention into Florida’s education system, Thursday, Feb. 24. 

The protest was just one part of the statewide “Stand For Freedom” movement, which saw protest not only in FIU, but a multitude of Florida’s public universities, including University of Florida, Central Florida and South Florida among others.

Education reform has defined DeSantis’ second term, often marketing these policies as a much-needed reprisal against the alleged rampant “liberal indoctrination” within the public education system. 

The most recent culmination of this crusade being DeSantis’ requirement for public universities to submit information regarding gender-affirming care provided on campus, as well as his proposed “Higher Education Reform.” 

Included in this batch of reforms is the prohibition of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within public institutions while also banning them from supporting campus activities or programs related to DEI, or Critical Race Theory. Also, radical changes to the power of faculty and university departments, including the de facto erasure of tenure.    

“Exactly three weeks ago, I cried about DeSantis’ press release, saying that he was going to defund DEI calling it political window dressing,” said organizer and Pride Student Union President Kaily LaChapelle.  

“We’ve let this Republican and this right wing extremism go on for too long. We’re fighting back and this is just the start.”

LaChapelle’s sense of urgency was especially seen in the involvement of community and non-FIU affiliated organizations, such as Miami Dade College’s Queer Collective and LGBTQ rights organization SAVE LGBTQ among others. 

“I think a lot of organizations were secluded from each other,” said Franchesca D’Amore,  advocate and Secretary Director for LGBTQ youth advocacy organization, Safe Schools South Florida. “But now I think people understand we have to band together during this planning period, it’s great to see that.”  

The gathering began with many attendants presenting with custom made banners, signs, and flags, some of them even being made in prior FIU events.

Drumming of buckets, maraca shakes, and megaphone chants erupted as the crowd initiated their march. 

The route was to go from the GC lawns, passing through the academic health centers, before crossing through PG5 and making the trek through 8th street and SW 107th Ave, before returning back to the GC lawns

All throughout the walk, protestors chanted phrases such as “Ron DeSantis has got to go, hey, hey, go home!”, “We’re here, we’re queer!”, “We say gay!”, “Black lives matter, queer lives matter!”, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Ron DeSantis go away!”, and more.

At times, cars and motorcycles would honk in support, eliciting the crowd to cry out in triumph. 

At the walk near the roadside, police troops and bikes would zone out lanes and crosswalks  in protection of the protestors from any possible civilian interference. Overall, there was no violent presence.

At the second gathering at the GC lawns, several speakers went up to present their message in regards to DeSantis, FIU, and the Miami community. 

They urged students, faculty, and community members to take action, and to demonstrate their voices. 

Sophomore and member of the general board for Black Student Union and Pride Student Union, Ness Cruz, gave a call to arms regarding the protest.

“Mobilization requires longevity. It is amazing that you’re here today, continue to be here. We are going to Tallahassee. There are surveys going around. There are petitions going around. Sign those petitions! Show that you care. Put your name down. Be ready to stand!” Cruz said.

“Right now, they are looking at our budgets. They’re going to find a marginalized community with a smaller budget. They’re going to want to do away with that. These important groups save lives. Trans lives, gay lives, black lives— All lives matter!” D’Amore said.

Other speakers focused on the importance of participation, and being politically active, and the issues regarding a lack of it.

The rally ended with the megaphone being open mic to any attendee who wished to voice their opinions.

PantherNOW/Kaysea Suzana

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