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Groups Rally In Orlando As Anti-Riot Bill 'HB 1' Passes Florida House

Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani, addresses the crowd at an Orlando drive-in rally against HB 1 Friday night. (Valeriya Antonshchuk/WUFT News)
Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani, addresses the crowd at an Orlando drive-in rally against HB 1 Friday night. (Valeriya Antonshchuk/WUFT News)

As House Bill 1, “Combating Public Disorder,” passed the Florida House of Representatives Friday, activist groups rallied in Orlando to protest the legislation.

Hosted by March For Our Lives and several other groups like Dream Defenders, Florida Student Power and United We Dream, the rally at Orlando’s Tinker Field featured speeches, performances and free meals.

After the bill passed with a vote of 76-to-39, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, joined the rally Friday night. She offered a message of hope to those protesting the bill.

“Though it passed the House floor y’all, the fight is nowhere near over,” Eskamani said. “The State Senate -- the Florida State Senate -- has not given House Bill 1 one hearing in committee. That’s a good thing.”

Since it was filed in January, HB 1 has been a subject of opposition and controversy throughout the state. The bill increases penalties for violent protesters.

Supporters of the bill, like Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, said it will protect the rights of peaceful protesters while preventing public disorder and destruction of property.

Payne voiced his support for the bill during the legislative session on Friday.

“I’ll say again this bill protects your rights to peacefully protest,” Payne said. “Violence, destruction, harm and destroying property is not peaceful, it’s not civil. It’s not what the crafters of the First Amendment intended.”

Those opposed said the bill risks stifling protesters' free speech. They argue the bill is overly vague and may be used to disproportionately target communities of color.

Alyssa Ackbar, state director of March For Our Lives, said this legislation is a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“HB1 is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter protests from this summer,” Ackbar said. “You know, protests calling for racial equity. And instead of focusing on the issues that make people want to protest in the first place, Governor DeSantis is pushing HB1 through the legislature.”

She said she is concerned about how this bill will impact communities of color.

“This bill is very much an attack on Black and Brown organizers and protesters in the state, because, you know, during the summer we saw a mass of people making their voices heard and that really scared elected officials,” she said.

Nushrat Nur, an organizer with the Orlando Dream Defenders, said, “First Jim Crow, now HB 1 . . . There is absolutely no doubt that this bill will be disproportionately weaponized against Black and Brown people like us.”

Organizers also spoke against provisions of the bill raising penalties for damaging memorials, such as Confederate statues.

“Our right to life and our shocking need to still protest for it to this day are not protected by this bill,” said Sana Hafeez, Orlando Dream Defenders organizer and University of Florida graduate. “A right only earned thanks to the bloody sacrifices of revolutionaries past. Instead, this bill protects the monuments that commemorate the abhorrent hate that we pretend doesn’t exist anymore.”

Listening to speeches from organizers, poets and pastors, event-goers sat atop cars and enjoyed free meals provided by March For Our Lives throughout the roughly two-hour rally. The event closed out with a performance from band Phony Ppl.

Attendees said they were happy to support the organizing work against this bill.

“No matter, kind of, your viewpoint on things, people should be allowed to disagree with you publicly, and they should have the right to do so safely,” said Adri-Anna Harris, a student at the University of Central Florida.

As the bill passed the House, organizers like Ackbar said they will continue their work against the bill. HB1 must be approved by the Senate before it can move to Governor DeSantis' desk for approval.

Valeriya is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing