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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Demonstration rages near closed-door Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking engagement

Protesters, press kept out of Alachua’s Legacy Park

Just two miles away from DeSantis’ keynote speech at the Alachua County Republicans’ annual fundraiser in Alachua, Florida, protesters made their voices heard at a street corner.

Alachua County Republicans kept Gov. Ron DeSantis behind closed doors and away from press Oct. 20, but protesters still made their presence known in the city of Alachua.

As DeSantis spoke inside the multipurpose center at Alachua’s Legacy Park, security ushered media into the designated press area: a blue mesh barricade in the middle of a field a quarter of a mile away. Protesters of the event were situated two miles away.

Alachua County Republicans enforced the media embargo ahead of its annual Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ fundraising event at Legacy Park Alachua city, where DeSantis delivered the keynote speech. Around 40 protesters wielded signs and megaphones as they decried the governor and his bid for reelection.

Organizers of the fundraiser informed The Alligator and other outlets of a press blackout, which they said was in line with past years. Officers from the Alachua Police Department kept reporters and protesters off the premises — which spanned about a square mile — and prevented them from talking to attendees.

The Alachua County Republicans rented the entire premises this year, not just the building like in the past, officers said. This allowed organizers to decide who entered within a quarter mile of the event building.

The fundraiser ran from 5-9 p.m. the evening of Oct. 20. DeSantis arrived around 8:20 p.m. and left as soon as the event ended.

At the intersection of 140th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, protesters from Gainesville and UF groups denounced DeSantis’ appearance in Alachua and his conservative policies. They protested from around 4:30-7:30 p.m. when the sun went down.

Anita Staengl, a 79-year-old retired Alachua resident, said she attended the protest to voice her opposition to DeSantis. She fears policies like the bans on library books in Sarasota County schools indicate a regression to a more restrictive government, she said.

DeSantis is up for his second term as governor, facing Democratic candidate former Rep. Charlie Crist in the Nov. 8 general election. Staengl fears Florida will look unrecognizable after four more years of a DeSantis governorship, she said.

“It looks like a fascist state to me,” Staengl said. “The Republicans and followers of Trump are more concerned about their party and winning and power and money than they are following the laws of our country.”

Protesters lined the overpass at the intersection, touting signs dubbing DeSantis a coward and criticizing intolerance. A paper-mache replica of DeSantis with blood on his hands rose above the crowd, and an attendee sporting an Easter Bunny head hoisted signs with the other protestors.

As the governor spoke mere miles away, the protesters cursed his name. Chants of “f--k Ron DeSantis” rang out as protest attendees shouted to the streets.

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DeSantis’ proximity wasn’t lost on Woody Blue, a 70-year-old massage therapist and Gainesville resident. She wishes he was more available to press and voters, but she said his policy points speak for themselves.

“I don’t care that he’s going down there and speaking and I don’t have to see him,” Blue said. “He makes me sick.”

Most passing cars drove by silently, but others either honked in support of the protest or voiced their favor of DeSantis.

When one driver rolled down his window to argue with protesters, Jennifer Rich, a 72-year-old Gainesville resident and retired journalist, fought back.

“Chauvinist,” she yelled at the driver. “Chauvinist!”

Anyone who backs former President Donald Trump or DeSantis exhibits the aggressive, exaggerated masculinity of a male chauvinist, Rich said. Supporters of these candidates inherently oppose women’s rights, she said. 

Rich has protested conservative politics since the 1970s, she said. With women’s rights at risk of regression, Rich said the political landscape in 2022 is the same as it was when she first started protesting, if not worse.

“I’m sick of this,” she said. “It’s gone backwards, and I refuse to do that.”

Among other concerns, Rich fears DeSantis will cut the current abortion limit of 15 weeks of pregnancy or ban abortion in Florida altogether. She was one of several protesters with abortion on her mind.

Jyoti Parmar, a Gainesville and founder of North Central Florida Indivisible, said she opposes DeSantis because his policies will lead to a more disenfranchised voter base. Parmar worries women’s rights will plummet with another DeSantis term, she said.

Past policies have already put Florida on the path to more restrictions, Parmar said. With so much at stake on the general election ballot, Parmar said the presence of protesters was inevitable.

“Law after law that he has passed has hurt the spirit of democracy and everything that the United States is based on,” she said. “Of course we’re out here.”

Contact Heather at Follow her on Twitter @hmb_1013.

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Heather Bushman

Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.

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