FLORIDA — The Department of Management Services is proposing new rules to stifle freedom of speech at the Florida State Capitol. Under the proposed changes, law enforcement will be empowered to remove individuals from areas traditionally used for public demonstrations within the Capitol Complex. The Capitol grounds are public spaces and have historically served Floridians as a forum to make their voices heard and engage in the political process. It is shameful that the Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis, further emboldened by newly acquired Republican super-majorities in both chambers, are taking bold steps to shut up dissent and suppress free speech during the upcoming Legislative Session.
Governor DeSantis, during an April 2022 campaign stop, said that the Biden Administration “put out false narratives without people being able to speak out and fight back.” He added, “They want to stifle dissent.” This is yet another example of the hypocritical hyper-partisanship and projection constantly exhibited by the DeSantis administration, which continues to accuse others of actions they themselves are taking.
Andres Zambrano, a political asylee who fled Venezuela due to political persecution noted,
“When Nicolás Maduro came to power I was 20 years old. I remember the country going from bad, under Hugo Chávez, to worse. My family went from eating 3 meals a day to 2. I lost 45 pounds during that time. I was watching the decay of my country and I, like thousands of others, couldn’t just sit back and watch. I joined the protests as an independent journalist, documenting the horrors of the Maduro regime and the resolve of the Venezuelan people to not take this lying down. For that I was persecuted; you see dissent is not tolerated by the fascist government of Venezuela. This, what the Florida legislature is intent on doing, looks very familiar to me. I am horrified to see it happening in my adoptive home.”
Tessa Petit, Co-Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition comments,
“The state government is blocking ‘We the People’ from speaking out if we don’t agree with the laws they are creating which will be imposed on us. Not only is the proposal itself outrageous, but the way they want to implement it will amount to nothing more than profiling by the State Capitol Police. They want to empower law enforcement to remove individuals they think may prove disruptive from traditional public forum arenas. The police will have no proof and can execute the removals on a whim. That is wholly dangerous to a healthy democracy.”
Ana Sofia Pelaez, daughter of a Pedro Pan Cuban child refugee and Director of the Miami Freedom Project said,
“As the daughter of Cuban exiles who fled a repressive and authoritarian government and found refuge in South Florida, I believe free speech is the pillar of a functioning democracy. As an American who is deeply tied to her Cuban roots where the right to protest is stifled or met with brutal repression, this is alarming! I am sick and tired of our elected officials using the Cuban-American community’s trauma for political gains and then creating laws that limit the freedom they sought and risking everything to find. To make things worse, they justify it by claiming to act on behalf of children. This is disgraceful!”
Basma Alawee, former Iraqi refugee and We Are All America National Campaign Director at National Partnership for New Americans noted,
“I am deeply concerned about this proposed rule. Children must learn what a healthy democracy looks like and not be lulled into thinking that shutting up the opposition is the way a democracy functions. Although I love my country of birth, Iraq does not respect the right of peaceful assembly in practice, and protests are often forcibly dispersed. This is the path you follow if you want to go from a beautiful democracy to a dictatorship.”
Felipe Souza-Lazaballet, Executive Director of HOPE CommUnity Center expressed,“This proposal would have enabled officials to block protesters like myself, who last year gathered outside of the House and Senate Chambers to chant "gay, gay, gay," while lawmakers arrived to debate the hateful ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. And to add insult to injury, to say that they are doing this for the children is rich! Now anything and everything that they don’t find to be politically in their favor will be done away with to ‘protect the children’. Why don’t they just tell the truth? The truth is that they don’t like dissent, just like fascists don’t like dissent. They don’t like people who don’t think like them, love like them, look like them, or vote like them; just as fascists would. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Let’s not now say that they are doing this for any other purpose than to further their fascist agenda.”