by Fernando Figueroa, Gainesville SDS
Eighty members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and their allies participated in a march in Gainesville on Sept. 16 against annual tuition hikes planned by administrators at the University of Florida (UF). Administrators say they will raise tuition by 15 percent or more each year through 2019.
Starting in Turlington Plaza with speeches from several student leaders and the vice-president of the local IBEW, activists rallied against the increase in tuition. Angry students held signs reading, “Students unite and right against tuition hikes,” and “No hikes, no fees, education should be free.” The young people chanted, “Chop from the top!” as they began their march to Tigert Hall, the administration building. Despite a strong presence from the authorities and the pleas of the administrators, the students were angry enough to take and block a lane of traffic as they marched towards Tigert Hall through the Plaza of the Americas.
Pausing to hear more speeches at the feet of a giant, unpopular statue of two figures dancing in the Plaza of the Americas, organizers with SDS took a moment to drape a large yellow price tag reading “$35,000” over the statue. Students see the statue, being rented for a limited time, as symbolic of the ridiculous amount of money wasted by the administration. Protesters laughed and mocked the statue while the administration was unable to take the price tag down. SDS organizer Robbey Hayes said, “The administration thinks it can waste our money on this useless statue while we’re silent about the rising cost of our education – that’s why we’re marching loudly to Tigert Hall to demand our money back.”
True to their words, the activists returned to the streets, leading a militant final march to Tigert Hall. Students with bullhorns chanted, “When education is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” as they neared the administration building. Encountering heavy resistance from the university president’s goons, members of SDS in the front lines managed to rally the crowd’s fighting spirit and eventually pushed their way into the administration building. Once inside, the protesters chanted louder than ever as dozens of higher-ups tried unsuccessfully to get the crowd to simmer down. They quickly made their way upstairs and occupied the hallway leading to the office of UF President Bernie Machen, blocking the exits and ignoring the directions to disperse shouted at them by administrators.
With the crowd screaming “We want Bernie! We want Bernie!” leaders of the march negotiated with Machen’s staff members until their demands were met: a meeting about the hikes between Machen and top leaders from SDS is scheduled a week from the day of the march. SDS Organizer Chrisley Carpio summed up the protest, “SDS has proved it again: Militant student activism gets results. Until President Machen meets our demands, we will continue to organize until the tuition increases stop.”
After scheduling the meeting with the administration, SDS ended the day by dropping a banner reading “Chop from the Top!” outside the wall of Tigert Hall. Activism season is officially in full effect for Gainesville SDS.
This article was originally published on Sept. 22 in Fight Back! News.