TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A coalition of progressive groups is cruising across Florida this week, protesting bills approved during this year’s legislative session and urging frustrated voters to turn out in 2024.
The Florida NAACP and five other groups launched the "Stay Woke Florida!" tour Monday morning. The five-day, 15-city "rolling protest" is a response to new laws approved during the 2023 lawmaking assembly that wrapped up in May.
The Republican-controlled legislature approved, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed, policies limiting critical race theory in higher ed, created additional teaching bans on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, and defunded diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
"Diversity, equity, and inclusion helped me to get where I am," said Louis Dilbert of Tallahassee. "It's not helping anyone, these are culture wars."
The group considered the legislation hostile towards women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Organizers said their goal isn't just to bring awareness, but to inspire voters to turn out in 2024.
"It's an action call," Mutaqee Akbar, Tallahassee NAACP president said. "The action call is to get people registered-- to get people engaged in the political process so we can fight against some of the legislation that’s been going on.”
That political process delivered disappointing results for Democrats and progressives in 2022. Republicans dominated the midterms holding the governor's office, sweeping the Florida Cabinet, and winning a vital GOP supermajority in the legislature, allowing the party to pass bills almost at will.
"This legislature said we're going to tackle all these issues," said Gov. Ron DeSantis at the end of the session on May 5. "We're going to take all the meat off the bone, and we are going to deliver results."
Republicans have defended their new laws as protecting parents' rights, preventing K-12 indoctrination, and ensuring fairness. Some even see the session as a launch pad for DeSantis' presidential ambitions.
"If they buy that, then I'll tell them I'm looking for a three-dollar bill," said Rev. Don Tolliver, a co-organizer of the tour.
The governor's office didn't offer a comment about the "Stay Woke" tour. But, online, DeSantis' press secretary took a swing at the group's transportation featuring an image of a prominent civil rights leader towards the rear of the vehicle. Press Sec. Jeremy Redfern asked on Twitter "Why is John Lewis at the back of the bus?"
The tour stops in Tampa on Tuesday. It'll reach Ft. Myers on Wednesday. West Palm on Thursday and return to northeast Florida by Friday.