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Hundreds protest Moms for Liberty convention in Tampa and rally for abortion rights

Crowd of people march in the middle of a city street. Some hold signs with statements like "Don't call yourself pro life if you only value certain lives."
Stephanie Colombini
A large crowd of protesters held an abortion rights rally in Lykes Gaslight Park before marching to Water Street, where the Moms for Liberty convention was taking place in a Marriott hotel.

Protesters criticized the group's support of new state laws to limit instruction on racism and gender identity in schools. They also spoke out about Florida's 15-week abortion ban.

It was a clash of cultures in Tampa this weekend as a number of events converged on the same few blocks. Florida Democrats held their Leadership Blue conference in downtown Tampa, while across the street the conservative group Moms for Liberty held its first national convention.

Republican leaders like Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and former Trump administration education secretary Betsy DeVos attended that event, while hundreds of people protested outside on Saturday afternoon.

The large crowd of mostly young protesters first held an abortion rights rally in Lykes Gaslight Park before marching in the middle of the street and gathering in front of the hotel where the Moms for Liberty conference took place. Police did not interfere and demonstrators remained peaceful throughout.

They criticized DeSantis in one chant, shouting, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Ron DeSantis go away.” Speakers repeatedly referred to Moms for Liberty as a “fascist group.”

Simon Rowe, 21, with the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee waved a transgender pride flag as he marched. He said he is disturbed by new state laws that limit instruction on racism and gender identity in schools including the Parental Rights in Education law, which critics call “Don’t Say Gay,” and the “Stop WOKE Act” – both issues Moms for Liberty supports.

Rowe also accused group members of harassing those who disagree with them at school meetings and online.

“Any sort of hint at equality they want to take us like three steps back through intimidation and force,” he said.

Crowd of people march with signs. One person waves transgender pride flag.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Simon Rowe, 21, waved a transgender pride flag as the crowd marched to the hotel where the Moms for Liberty protest took place. He says the group supports policies that endanger the LGBTQ community.

Protesters also denounced the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the 15-week abortion ban that went into effect in Florida this month, despite a judge ruling it is unconstitutional. They chanted “Bans off our bodies” and “Abortion is a human right, fight, fight, fight.”

Organizer Ruth Beltran with the Party for Socialism and Liberation said the majority of Floridians support access to abortion. She urged them to hold political leaders accountable and make their voices heard.

“To have only women and their doctors, only trans and nonbinary people and their doctors make decisions when it comes to something as important as abortion, as terminating a pregnancy,” said Beltran, who added she is especially concerned about the lack of exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking survivors in Florida’s 15-week ban.

woman in a wheelchair speaks through a megaphone in front of a crowd of protesters
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Organizer Ruth Beltran (center) addressed the crowd with a megaphone and led them through chants.

Some Democratic politicians leaving their conference, including state Sen. Janet Cruz and gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, tried to shake hands with protesters and address the crowd, but they too were shooed off.

"Voting blue is not enough, Democrats we call your bluff," protesters shouted at them.

Organizers said the Democratic party could have done more to protect access to abortion. While Republicans were their main target, attendees say they're frustrated with both parties.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.