TALLAHASSEE — An hourslong protest on Wednesday that blocked the entrance to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office in the Capitol building in Tallahassee culminated with the arrest of about a dozen demonstrators who refused to leave after warnings from police.
The protest started at 1 p.m., with a few dozen protesters crowding the lobby of the governor’s office. They were broadly protesting DeSantis’ policies and his approach to governing. Around 7 p.m., Capitol police gave protesters a 20-minute warning to clear the building.
Most of the protesters left, but about a dozen stayed. They locked arms, sang and swayed as a line of police officers came to arrest them. They are now facing trespassing charges and a one-year ban from the Capitol, police said.
When the demonstration started, a few dozen protesters sat on the carpet in front of the receptionist’s desk, locking hands. Monitoring the situation behind the desk were DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske, a security officer and another staff member — who at one point started eating chocolate cake as the protest was ongoing.
Protesters were associated with the student activists known as the Dream Defenders as well as the groups Florida Rising and Showing Up for Racial Justice. They lined the hallway that features the portraits of former governors, wielding different signs. One read “Black Lives Matter,” another read “Community Keeps Us Safe.” One protester brought a pink guitar with “Stand Up” and “Be Braver” scribbled on it.
In 2013, the Dream Defenders drew national attention when they held a sit-in demonstration at the Florida Capitol for 31 days. At the time, they were protesting former Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s push for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
This time around, the protest was focused on DeSantis and the Legislature’s Republican leadership.
“Gov. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers have chosen to attack many of Florida’s most vulnerable and historically marginalized communities with policies that attack who they are, who they love and how and what they learn,” Dwight Bullard, senior political adviser at Florida Rising and a former South Florida legislator, said in a statement.
Bullard was one of the protesters who was sitting in the office. Julia Daniel, assistant director of Showing Up for Racial Justice, was also sitting in the office.
“He stokes division to try and make white people afraid, and I’m here to say that we will not be divided or tricked because we know that we are stronger when we stand together,” Daniel said in a statement.
Capitol police were monitoring the situation but an hour into the protests, no one had been removed from the office. The protesters did block some people who were trying to reach the governor’s office from coming in, but visitors were able to deliver paperwork to staffers through a side door.
The protest took place as Florida lawmakers were holding floor sessions in both the House and the Senate. They are considering dozens of bills and funding proposals as they race to wrap up this year’s 60-day legislative session, which is scheduled to end on Friday.