Progressive groups protest Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Peoria visit
Local, state and national organizations came together to stage a protest Friday against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ visit to the annual Republican Lincoln Day Dinner at the Peoria Civic Center.
Protesters set up two main locations for use throughout the afternoon. A tent erected outside the federal courthouse served as a base for creating signs, distributing water and snacks and sharing pamphlets and other information. The protesters also lined Kumpf Boulevard just outside the Civic Center, hoisting signs and rainbow umbrellas while waving pride flags. Some had traveled from as far as Carbondale to attend.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, the protest saw between 60 and 70 people spread between both locations. No counter-protesters appeared throughout the day. A consistent stream of drivers honked in support as they passed, while a handful of others booed or chanted slogans like "vote Trump."
Heather McMeekan, a protest organizer and board member of the Peoria-Illinois National Organization for Women, says DeSantis represents what she calls a right-wing radicalization process of anti-democratic and authoritarian messaging.
“He is absolutely a purveyor of that,” she said. “People should not underestimate this man. The tactics he is using is breaking their democracy in Florida.”
DeSantis legislation or positions frequently referenced by protesters included restrictions on books in schools, broad bans on individuals wearing gender-nonconforming clothing and other legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
In the listing for the event on the Tazewell GOP’s website, they say DeSantis’ work in Florida provides a blueprint to “fight the radical Progressive Left's Marxist agenda here in Illinois.”
“This isn’t just legislation, these are people’s lives,” said Marshall Seidel, protest organizer and co-founder of Peorians for Black Liberties. “And it’s not just Florida and it’s not just Peoria, it’s the world. DeSantis is a large political player and having him in a place such as Peoria that, you know, is, as the locals say, blue in a sea of red … that’s just, not on my watch.”
The topics on signs and the minds of protesters ranged even wider: LGBTQ+ rights, workers’ rights, book bans, legislation restricting abortion, gun control and freedom of speech were all invoked as concerns. “Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Ron DeSantis, go away,” read one sign. “Schools are for books, not bullets,” read another. Some signs included multiple paragraphs outlining legislation passed or championed by the Florida governor and likely presidential hopeful.
“A lot of his anti-queer legislation, such as the Don’t Say Gay bill, a lot of the trans, you know, making it very difficult for trans people to get gender affirming care, these sorts of things, those hit especially close to home for me.” said Quinlan Tisdale, a Pekin resident with a “Go back to Florida, DeSantis” sign.
Protester Cecilia Snider said her concerns lied in medical choice.
“Gender-affirming rights, those are in your doctor’s office. At no point does the law deserve a right there,” she said. “Abortion rights, that’s in your doctor’s office, and that’s between you and your doctor.”
Progressive organizations represented also included Our Revolution, the ACLU of Illinois-Peoria and Peoria Proud.
“I think it just goes to show how important it is to people here, particularly in Peoria, but in the state of Illinois in general,” said Cassie Lucchesi, president of Peoria Proud. “That there are just so many different organizations with so many different missions that see this as being important enough to come together for and it affects us all in different ways.”
Following a slate of speakers outside of the Civic Center voicing their support for the protest and sharing their personal experiences, the protesters played music and hosted a series of drag performances.
Performer Demeter I-Barely-Know-Her described DeSantis as the “father of drag ban bills.” She says the bills suppress free expression and are written to be overly broad.
“There is a huge amount of interpretation in the favor of bad actors to lock up and charge and fine people that they disagree with politically, that they just find to be unsavory.” she said.
While the issues protesters describe are numerous and serious, it was important to performers and organizers there was an aspect of joy and celebration to the day’s events.
“It's really easy to doom scroll, and really easy to just get wrapped up in, you know, the loud people online that are vocal about how much they don't like us,” said drag performer Chara Couture. “But I think it's important to take time for ourselves to celebrate ourselves.”
Seidel said he was happy with both the turnout for the day and the opportunity to provide support to members of marginalized communities.
“I'm really happy. It could have been three people, and I still would have been super, super happy,” he said. “It's not about the turnout. It's about the message that we are spreading.”