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Gainesville Spreads Love To Counteract Hate Speech

Jonie Ellis, community activist and philanthropist draws with chalk on Oct. 19. “Passive actions are more powerful than violence,” Ellis said. (WUFT News/Neosman Flores)

While thousands of people in Gainesville prepared to participate in protests to express their First Amendment rights and belittle Richard Spencer’s hate speech, others continued their everyday life to not add fuel to the fire.

Gainesville native Allen Stark, who resides in East Gainesville, said he didn’t think the Thursday speech event was a big deal.

“The university can’t deny [Spencer] because he would sue, but I think it’s ignorance,” Stark said. “The National Guard is not here; I don’t think it’s that serious.”

Others, like substitute teacher Daniel Blumberg, think the University of Florida should not have allowed Spencer to speak.

“He should have not been given a forum to use our free speech to put out his hate speech,” Blumberg said.

(From left to right) Shirley Lasseter, Pam Hunt and Nancy Lasseter sing on Oct. 19, 2017. They decided to sing love songs such as “Stand by Me” to counteract Richard Spencer’s hate speech. (Neosman Flores/WUFT News)

Blumberg said that although the university has taken many precautions, it is spending a lot of taxpayers’ money.

“The university is spending about $500,000 of our money, and by my math, that’s about $5 for every man, woman and child in Gainesville paying for him to come speak,” Blumberg said.  “If the university was fearing a court threat, they should have let it go to court and let the courts prove that [Spencer] is not someone who insights terror and hatred.”

While the day was filling up with protests throughout the city, one group decided to host a love-in in Depot Park, located on SE Depot Avenue and South Main Street.

A love-in is an event, organized to express dedication to love and peace. Individuals were able to share ideas, paint signs, draw with chalk and sing love songs.

“Shirley [Lasseter] and I thought of doing a love-in,” said Pam Smith, who is taking part in protests since the 1960’s, when she protested in Los Angeles during the time of the Vietnam War.

“I was in my 20s and remember putting flowers in the guns of policemen,” Smith said.

According to Smith, she and her friends wanted to have a safe space where people could come and have a loving place away from the chaos around Phillip’s Center.

“These protests are different from the protests in the ’60s because back then we were fighting for peace,” said Smith. “Today feels like we are fighting for our democracy.”

While the love-in and other peaceful protests continued during the day, UF students still had to attend classes.

Lynda Lou Simons, who moved to Gainesville in 1965, draws hearts on a tree on Oct. 19. “I want to be a presence for peace, diversity and inclusion, hoping this day is rare in our experience,” said Simons. (Neosman Flores/WUFT News)

Nineteen-year-old Tiffanny de Zayas, a religion and pre-physical therapy major, said that she had been on campus the whole day.

“It’s been eerie because there’s no one on campus today,” de Zayas said.

Even though de Zayas said she would have been interested in participating in the protests, she didn’t want to get caught up in anything.

“God knows what could have happened,” de Zayas said.

The 19-year-old sophomore said she felt safe on campus, since many of her classes were away from the Phillip’s Center.

“I wasn’t aware that there were going to be [state troops] outside of campus,” de Zayas said. “But I think it’s cool that they are protecting other people around the area.”

About Neosman Flores

Neosman is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 239-362-5321 or emailing neosman.flores@gmail.com.

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