Different groups came together to give speeches in front of a rainbow colored “Equality” banner on a hot summer late afternoon.
Held in Huizenga Plaza along the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale, words of action, remembrance and justice echoed from the microphone. One-by-one speakers took to the stage to deliver their message Sunday.
They were the internationally recognized and the relatively unknown. U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-West Palm Beach) kicked the proceedings off in rousing fashion. The African-American Congressman, dressed casually in a tropical, touristy shirt, blasted President Donald Trump.
“We’ve had enough of your bullshit!,” Hastings declared. “We ain’t goin back!!”
Several speakers delivered remarks focused on rights – from who you can love, what you can consume and how you can live -- as the memories of Pulse hung over the ceremony. Remembering the worst mass shooting in American history was a large part of the program.
“There’s nothing else we can call what happened other than evil,” said U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston). “Whether you’re talking about Orlando, North Carolina or Chechnya, evil is still present in our midst and it is why it’s so critically important that we not stay in our homes, hide in the shadows. We come out together, we lock arms. That we stand up for one another. That we stand with one another. That we march side by side. That we live our truth every single day. That we have one another’s back no matter what community that feels oppressed we are from.”
Wasserman Schultz went on to say she was cancer free and the diversity of South Florida is what makes her “heart burst with pride.”
A small group of protesters, however, were not moved.
One man, Luke Burrat of Tamarac, booed Wasserman Schultz and shouted, “You gave us Trump!”
Burrat appeared to be part of the Food Not Bombs group. In a brief exchange with SFGN, Burrat blamed Trump’s Presidency on Wasserman Schultz’s handling of the Democratic party primary system.
“She’s part of the problem,” Burrat said. “She took Bernie Sanders out of the equation.”
Eli Drummond spoke on behalf of Food Not Bombs. Wearing a dress, Drummond blasted Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler for criminalizing homelessness and banning food sharing. Drummond also dissed the police and said city manager Lee Feldman launched a “surprise attack” on the downtown homeless camp.
“The systematic harassment and oppression of people living in poverty and homeless folks in this community is very obvious,” Drummond said. “At the root of it is FLPD and the city commission of Fort Lauderdale who are perpetuating these laws.”
Drummond accused the police of smashing a friend to the pavement. The friend, Drummond said, is now suffering from nerve damage. During Drummond’s rant, calls of “We love you Eli” rang out from the audience before a woman yelled “Unity!” Drummond then said ‘Fuck this American flag!” and stormed off the stage.
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis applauded Drummond’s passion, adding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale have been treated horribly. Trantalis, a gay man, helped organize the rally and served in a master of ceremonies role.
Unity was one of the rally’s themes and it was challenged by Bobby Henry, owner of the black weekly newspaper, The Westside Gazette. Henry said it was his first rally and if there were to be another, South Florida activists needed to start talking to each other.
“If we’re to be about unity we gotta step outside our comfort zones,” Henry said. “We gotta be about the business we say we’re about. We just can’t talk the talk we gotta be about it.”
Henry encouraged the crowd to get tested for HIV. He revealed his daughter had tested positive.
“Her motto is love is greater than stigma,” Henry said.
Elsewhere, Florida Rep. Bobby DuBose asked attendees to register to vote, the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida sang “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and HIV service organization Latinos Salud enlisted volunteers to hold photographs of the 49 victims killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
A GoFundMe account was opened to cover event expenses. Almost $9,000 was raised.