by Alfredo Ortiz
When people hear news about the University of Florida’s Student Government (SG), they usually dismiss it as yet another example of pervasive inactivity and corruption. Very few students are inspired to participate in SG because students are generally uninformed of the power that SG holds at the local, state, and national levels.
However, not everyone fails to recognize SG’s influence. For decades, a coalition of fraternities and sororities have used SG as a launchboard for their political careers. The most recent of these examples was the use of student funds to finance a Trump re-election event after the Student Body President’s father had maxed out contributions to Trump’s campaign, which we protested vigorously.
My name is Alfredo Ortiz. I am the president of the Communist Party, which participated in the recent SG elections. I first became involved in SG because my federal work study permit was revoked after qualifying for a Bright Futures scholarship.
In 2017, I arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and qualified to receive Bright Futures. Though I was not receiving Bright Futures due to paperwork issues, it was still counted as income and disqualified me from obtaining a federal work study permit. I hoped that SG would be able to remedy this by extending financial aid to those similarly affected by Hurriane Maria.
Tokenization has always been a problem in SG’s two-party system, which exercises frequent rebrands to create the illusion of change. It was perhaps only because of my appearance and origin story that both political parties contacted me. The minority party reached out first and taught me about the majority party, which was dominated by the Greek coalition known as the System.
The minority party told me that they were the party of inclusivity. I was accidentally put in touch with the majority party when I requested assistance from the Cuban Student Association (CSA) in hosting the Vice President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
CSA’s President put me in touch with the Student Body Vice-President, himself Cuban, who told me that his party represented the Hispanic community. Needless to say, I was confused. I decided to remain unaffiliated so that I could promote bipartisanship in the Senate and work with everyone to pass my financial aid legislation.
Nonetheless, I was firmly against the System. Taking inspiration from a Puerto Rican constitutional provision that granted parties proportional representation to avoid fixed two-party control, I was convinced that this was the key to breaking the System’s entrenched power.
When I presented my idea to the minority party, they disrespected me and opted to continue advocating for a doomed online voting strategy. This was futile because online voting was banned by the Student Supreme Court twelve years prior and was kept on the platform purely as an attention-getter for elections. With nowhere else to go, I started my own party in 2020.
Problems started immediately. SG laws are designed to decrease student participation. Notably, election codes prohibit campaigning outside of the month-long election season, and Student Supreme Court decisions have outlawed the initiatives process that has been used to pursue reforms like online voting.
The majority party largely ignored us, but the minority party engaged in a coordinated sabotage effort against us and other prospective parties. For example, they have registered the name of an opposition party that had been announced so that they would not be able to participate in the election.
They also filed a police report dismissed as frivolous against one of my coalition members and manipulated an audio recording taken without my knowledge in order to defame me during the campaign. Other minority party tactics have locked us out of our party Gmail and destroyed our campaign materials.
These struggles are far from over. In the last election, an opposition party registered our intended name “Socialist Party” to prevent us from running under that name. We made the choice to continue as the Communist Party, as we have learned that activism that exposes the extent of conservative influence in SG is a greater threat to the System than electoral defeat.
Though this emphasis on activism may put us at odds with repressive Florida laws like HB 1, it is the strategy we feel the need to follow. The Communist Party overcame the aforementioned sabotage attempts, earning around 10 percent of the vote in the last election. Even as the state government represses speech through bills like HB 233, we are committed to acting as a bulwark for student rights on campus.