“War on woke:” Florida Governor draws record crowds, protests in Peoria visit

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 9:47 PM CDT
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In the days leading up to his visit, the question has been: Will Florida Governor Ron DeSantis play in Peoria? He received two different welcomes inside and outside of the Peoria Civic Center.

The annual Lincoln Day Dinner is one of the biggest fundraisers for Peoria and Tazewell County Republicans and typically draws important conservative figures from across the state. Last year’s keynote speaker, former Vice President Mike Pence drew more than 700 ticket sales. This year, there were more than 1,200 in attendance.

For those attendees, DeSantis is a welcome guest. his track record of helping Republicans get into state offices and upholding conservative cultural values stands as s blueprint for what they hope is possible in Illinois.

Illinois has consistently been a blue state in terms of executive and legislative branches. All statewide offices are held by Democrats and the party has a supermajority in the House and Senate. Republican speakers Friday night emphasized how important it was for their part to start winning elections in an effort to “save Illinois.”

“I don’t know about you, but I like winning,” Rep. Darin LaHood (R - 16) said. “We need to win in this country, we need to win as Republicans.”

In their eyes, DeSantis could be that path to victory. He went over the personal highlights of his administration, such as taking on “woke” corporations and interests. Much of his address focused on “culture war” issues, like banning Critical Race Theory, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students younger than third grade.

He touted his ability to lead without consulting polls or trying to ride the wave of public opinion. The audience stopped his speech multiple times with cheers and applause.

“Decline is a choice, success is attainable and freedom is worth fighting for,” DeSantis said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done in Florida but I can tell you this. I have only begun to fight.”

The event was one step short of a campaign rally. DeSantis has yet to officially announce a run for president in 2024, though he’s been considering it. He will travel to Iowa Saturday to hold two rallies in Sioux Falls and Cedar Rapids. Former President Donald Trump will also rally in Iowa as a part of his 2024 campaign.

Outside the Civic Center, it was a different story. Protests started as early as 2 p.m. It was a peaceful event without continuous chants. Protestors wore bright colors, often holding or wearing rainbow colors in support of LGBTQ+ pride.

“I am a strong, transgender, black, indigenous individual, and DeSantis, Pence, Trump, they will not take that away from me, and most importantly they will not take that away from my family,” Organizer and Co-founder of Peorians for Black Liberties Marshall Seidell said.

In defiance of DeSantis’ policy on LGBTQ+ issues, drag queens performed outside as guests began to arrive for the dinner. At some point, two guests walked into the crowd filming on their phones. There was a short argument that was broken up by one of the drag performers asking them to leave their performance space.

“Putting these laws [in place] harms my community actively,” performer Artemisia said. “Why is it illegal for me to exist but it’s okay for him? I would just want to know why, like look him in the face and say do you honestly want to hurt these people? These wonderful, loving people?”