DeSantis speech brings protest, national media attention to Peoria

Peoria residents made their opposition to DeSantis’s extreme politics known.
Protesters cheer as passing cars honk in support. Photo by Tom Wray/Illinois Eagle

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Peoria ahead of his still unannounced presidential run to both a big crowd inside and protests outside.

DeSantis spoke at the Tazewell County and Peoria County Republicans’ Lincoln Day banquet on Friday, May 12.

DeSantis has become notorious for signing extreme anti-LGBTQ bills into law in Florida, including banning gender-affirming care for minors, restricting care for adults and banning any mention of LGBTQ in schools. He is expected to announce his candidacy for the GOP 2024 presidential nomination soon.

Lincoln Day is an annual celebration by the Republican Party hoping to highlight Abraham Lincoln’s part in founding the party in 1854. Most local parties hold it in February or March.

Two of the signs from the protest. Organizers had posterboard and markers to let people create their own signs. Photo by Tom Wray/Illinois Eagle

Protests were held both at the Peoria Civic Center, where the banquet was held, and the Peoria Federal Courthouse a couple of blocks away. The protest were driven in opposition to conservative laws he has supported or signed.

“We can’t live as a society with people who are going to minimize anyone that they disagree with,” said Laura Welch, president of Illinois NOW. “Because of their sexuality, because of the fact that they had to make a decision about an abortion, because they happen to be a person of color.”

Welch, who lives in the Chicago area, came down to support the protests. She had participated in another DeSantis protest when he spoke to a police convention in Elmhurst back in February.

As in the February protest, Illinois NOW was part of a coalition of organizations protesting DeSantis. In Peoria, it included local organizations like Peoria Proud and Peorians for Black Liberties.

“We are 1000% against DeSantis’s legislation. It’s completely unacceptable,” said Marshall Seidel, a co-founder of Peorians for Black Liberties. “And the fact that someone is inspired to do that here in Peoria, that makes myself and clearly several others sick.”

Organizers treated the protest as a celebration. Along with speeches from Peoria area activists, local drag queens also performed.

The vast majority of cars driving by honked in support of the protest. There were some that gave thumbs down, or shouted out their windows “Trump 2024” or “Let’s go, Brandon,” but the protest was peaceful and well supported.

“It’s been going way better than expected,” Seidel said. “You have some BS happening here or there, like what they just screamed. But we just shout ‘We love you.’ This has been going supergood.”

Peoria performer Demeter Ibarelyknowher sashays down the impromptu runway during the DeSantis protest. Photo by Tom Wray/Illinois Eagle

Since DeSantis is expected to announce his presidential run any day now, there was also a lot of mainstream media present. Along with local media such as the Journal Star, WCBU or area TV stations, there were also reporters from the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Politico and CNN. While the national media did mention the protest, most of their focus was on DeSantis’s speech.

The speech was symbolic of the political divide within Illinois as well. Illinois is a reliably blue state. However, that’s because of the demographic weight of the Chicago metro area and the mid-sized cities such as Peoria. The city of Peoria is Democratic. But much of the rural areas around it are strongholds for the Republican Party. Part of Peoria itself is represented by Darin LaHood (R-Peoria), one of the most conservative members of Congress who also spoke at the banquet.

Protesters were very aware of that political tension. In fact, it was a major part of the driving force in the protest.

“As a Peoria transplant from Colorado Springs, it makes me really nervous,” Seidel said.. “It’s just the reality of the world today, especially here in America.

“The fact that he comes here to a very blue state is a smack in the face,” said Welch. “But we’re here, we’re not going away. We are not gonna change our laws if people continue to vote. That’s why we’re here.”

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