On Tuesday, Aug. 21, South Florida residents gathered outside the Metro-Dade Firefighters Local 1403 in Doral to protest the first stop in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial Educational Agenda Tour. Although the primary goal of the protest was to express grievances with the Governor’s education policies, other issues such as his postions on abortion rights and transgender healthcare were addressd by the protestors.
While the protest remained relatively peaceful, tensions between attendees and government officials reached a boiling point during DeSantis’ main speech. According to attendees, one protester entered the fire station and loudly voiced his grievances with the governor but was promptly removed by security.
An unknown critic of the Governor also flew a small plane with a banner reading “DeSantis is a fascist” trailing behind. Photographer Jonathan DeCamps, who documented the protest and the conservative counter-protest, said that these publicly visible actions worked to achieve what he believed was the protestors’ primary goal: express their disagreement with the states’ policy decisions.
“Their goals was to disrupt in some way what was happening inside by showing resistance to state laws and measures being passed lately that seems to be unpopular, especially with education and in some ways I think they did,” DeCamps said.
The Educational Agenda Tour, which took place leading up to the Aug. 23 Florida primary elections, consisted of stops in Sarasota, Volusia, Duval and Miami-Dade counties, where the governor endorsed conservative school board candidates. Desantis’ is considered to be the first state representative in American history to endorse specific school board candidates.
Critics of DeSantis, including Kat Deusterhaus, communications director for the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, view the tour and his endorsement of school board candidates as partisan intrusion into an area of local government that is historically non-political.
“School board races are supposed to be non-partisan, and he was very clearly pushing a political agenda and supporting candidates that are very political,” Deusterhaus said.
DeSantis has infuriated progressive Floridians for months regarding his educational policy, a central aspect of his administration. Laws such as the Parental Rights in Education Act–colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Act–and the “Stop WOKE” Act have been touted by the governor’s supporters as necessary education reform at the state level and criticized by his opponents as unconstitutional government censorship.
“We’re also worried about this so-called ‘anti-woke agenda’ that he’s pushing,” Deusterhaus said. “It prevents us from teaching accurate history about America.”
While debates over educational policy remained at the forefront of the protests, demonstrators also expressed their opposition to the Governor’s other controversial policies, such as Florida’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks and the recent removal of gender-affirming healthcare from Medicare coverage. Posters displayed by attendees included slogans like “My body, my choice” and “Protect trans kids.”
“Across the board, everybody is for bodily autonomy and the right to teach accurate history,” Deusterhaus said. “I think the common thread to this is freedom, and we need to have schools that are free, we need to have our free media, we need to have freedom of bodily choice.”
The University of Miami College Democrats also expressed their support for the protestors.
“What he’s standing for is going back in history,” said Bridget Craig, president of the organization and junior at UM studying political science, criminology and geography. “What he’s trying to do is not necessarily going to better Florida and it’s making a lot of people uncomfortable and making a lot of people feel as if they are not heard anymore.”
UM College Republicans did not respond to The Miami Hurricane’s request for comment.
Despite the protests, both candidates endorsed by DeSantis, Michael Alonso and Monica Colucci, won their respective Miami-Dade County school board seats in the Aug. 23 primary election. However, the demonstrators and their allies may still achieve their goal of reversing DeSantis’ policies with the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections.
“The most important thing would just be getting out and voting during these midterm elections. I think a lot of people don’t see the importance of voting during midterm elections, but the governorship is on the line,” Craig said.