Students rally against HB 999

Marlo Vanidi, Vice President of University of North Florida’s SDS spoke to the crowd at the skatepark at Railroad Square. Photo courtesy: Cilicia Anderson

Members of Students for a Democratic Society and Community Action Committee’s Florida Chapters traveled to Tallahassee’s Railroad Square Art District Tuesday to rally against House Bill 999.

The organizations have held rallies across the state to voice their outrage about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposed bill to get rid of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and resources for students on college campuses.

“This bill hits Black students on several levels,” said Marlo Vanidi, vice president of University of North Florida’s SDS. “The bill aims to eradicate diversity-related programs and any registered student organizations founded based on one’s identity. Under this bill, the Divine Nine would be delegitimized and outright banned along with Black Student Unions and so many other programs that are integral to the Black college experience.”

DeSantis has been pushing to ban many race and gender-related studies and resources in Florida, which will impact future generations of college students.

On March 6, Laura Rodriguez, an attendee of  Tuesday’s rally, was arrested on the University of South Florida’s campus while participating in a similar rally. On her day off work, she was looking to support her friends in the USF SDS chapter during their rally. However, things got worrisome when USF campus police came and arrested her and three others.

“They never said we were under arrest, they never read us our rights,” Rodriguez said. “Myself and everyone else attending that protest walked out of the building on our own and they came back around and started arresting people again without saying that they were arresting people. They were bringing people to the ground, I had a police officer put their arm around my neck and they put us in the police cars and took us to another location and then deliberated on what to charge us with for over three hours. Then they put us in jail and SDS immediately hosted a call-in into the jail which got us released within four hours and they also posted my bail so I am eternally grateful for that.”

Despite the incident, Rodriguez said it will not keep her from participating in future rallies and protests.

“I still continue fighting and speaking out against this because I know this is important and it is a much bigger fight than just me as an individual,” Rodriguez said. “The power that I can take from the situation they put me in and give to the student movement who has and will win against these attacks on Black education, Black history, and diversity in general.”

Rally attendees held up signs showing their support for diversity and inclusive programs. Photo courtesy: Cilicia Anderson

A member of the Tampa Community Action Committee, Taylor Cook, said she has been working with the organization for a while to address issues affecting the Black community in Tampa including increasing Black enrollment in schools and calling for more resources on campuses.

“It is an incredibly important part of our campaign because it’s not enough to have Black students on campus, you also have to have resources in order to keep them on campus, and make it accessible so students don’t have to choose between financial situations, mental health and school,” Cook said.

Cook has also been a part of past rallies against DeSantis’ anti-protest bill and hopes to continue speaking out and encourage others to fight for their rights.

“It’s always one of my favorite things because it just shows how incredibly powerful we are together, that we all have the same enemy which is DeSantis and these racist bills, and it’s a lot of work but it’s good and important work,” Cook said. “If people aren’t in an organization now, they should be. The time to fight is now. After HB 999, if it passes or doesn’t pass, there will be more to come. DeSantis is really adamant about taking away our rights and our history and its time to stand up and fight back.”