Laith Abdel Hader
Template:TOCnestleft Laith Abdel Hader
"Free speech protest
According to Enya Silva on February 9 2020 students and community organizations gathered on the University of South Florida (USF) campus to protest recent acts by the university and the government to limit the free speech of progressive voices. Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) attended to demand that the university lift their suspension and drop their charges. USF placed a suspension on Tampa Bay SDS for protesting against the university’s budget cuts.
“Administration has been constantly getting in the way of protest and then suspended SDS until the fall semester on hypocritical charges,” says Laura Rodriguez, a member of Tampa Bay SDS, “I think it is so incredibly irresponsible for USF administration to try and disband an organization that has had such a vital role in the Tampa Bay area.”
Of the many speeches prepared for the event only one was given before USF administration told the police to arrest the protesters for trespassing. Five people, most of whom are students, were detained and held in police vehicles for over half an hour. Many of the police officers were not wearing masks when in the cars with the detained protesters.
“This was about intimidation and suppression,” Simon Rowe, a member of Tampa Bay SDS who was arrested, says of the actions. “The police walked me past the same place on campus where they escorted Kaitlyn Bennett's security away from her event in October. Bennett's team was given water, I and four other people were put in handcuffs.” Rowe was referencing last semester in which notorious right-wing internet personality Kaitlin Bennett filmed a video on campus at USF. Despite drawing a large crowd, she was allowed to leave of her own accord.
“USF and the police demonstrated another act against the voices of students,” stated Laith Abdel Hader of the USF chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “I was there to give a speech about USF's record of suppressing voices of pro-Palestine activists. Many of those who speak out against the Israeli system of apartheid and genocide are being doxed, fired from their jobs, investigated or interrogated by the state, and are falsely framed as anti-Semitic, all while neo-Nazis and white supremacists are given their ‘free speech’ without any repercussions from the state or its institutions.”
Members from Tampa Bay Community Action Committee (TBCAC), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), and Tampa People’s Protest were also in attendance to stand in solidarity with progressive students and raise awareness about HB1/SB484, a bill proposed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to severely limit the right to protest in the state. Members of TBCAC and PSL were among those arrested.
Many of the groups in attendance will join a statewide mobilization to Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, on March 2 to protest against the bill.
Tampa Bay SDS stated they would continue fighting the charges against the protesters, the charges and suspension against their organization, and will continue fighting USF’s budget cuts.
“SDS has always brought issues to the table which USF admin have tried to keep hidden under the rug,” said Rodriguez.
According to Taylor Cook on May 15 2021, 500 members of the Palestinian community and supporters from Tampa Bay rallied to demand an end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Lara Abu Ghannam, an organizer of the event, stated “We’re out here today to commemorate the 73rd Al Nakba, the exodus of my people, which displaced them and made them to flee the violence of Israeli colonizers. My own family, my own mother had fled when she was a few months old to Jordan.”
Hundreds of protesters crowded on the corner of 56th and Fowler to demand an end to the Israeli occupation. Many more honked in support while driving by, their cars decorated with flags and signs in support.
Laith Abdel Hader, member of Students for Justice in Palestine at USF, states, “The momentum that we got today is unprecedented. I haven’t seen this much support for the Palestinian cause in my years of organizing and this shows how the Palestinian cause has become a mainstream issue. This brings us one step closer to liberation.”
Erika Santana Melendez stated her reasoning for attending the protest, “I’m from Puerto Rico. We are absolutely connected with this issue of colonization, and if we allow the colonization of Palestinians, we allow the colonization of my people as well.”