by Joe Courter
On Monday, Feb. 6, I was on my bike heading to Tigert Hall for the protest rally marking the beginning of the Ben Sasse administration as president of the University of Florida. I began reflecting on how many times I had been to those steps for organized rallies and protest. (See “NO WE WON’T BACK DOWN” on page 20 which addresses the Feb. 6 rally’s purpose and demands.)
The first that came to mind was the anti-apartheid protest campaign, trying to get UF to divest its holdings in South Africa investments in the mid-80s. For one 40-day period those steps were occupied constantly, with a big banner proclaiming “Mandela Hall.” The rallies were large enough, and well supported enough, that the Krishnas moved their daily lunch serving over to Tigert.
UF stonewalled much in the way of disclosures, let alone divestments, but a side ramification was that an activist-minded philosophy department, who had been out front in leadership during the occupation was moved into receivership, and put under the classics department.
Then UF president Marshall Criser did not think well of these activities, as well as the program, which had UF philosophy students going out to prisons and teaching philosophy to the incarcerated folks there. That program got killed in a hurry.
But there are other memories of student-led protests on those steps. There was the idea to move all custodial work to nighttime, which got dubbed the Nightshaft. Like people can just reorganize their lives, second jobs and/or childcare. That idea was squashed after loud resistance was heard.
There have been repeated rallies for getting the food services at UF to be more conscious and responsible in their food sourcing.
Of course those steps were real prominent in the early 1970s protest for better resources for the newly admitted African American students, demanding more Black faculty and a student center.
Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and anti-war rallies have all had multiple gatherings on those steps. (One demo called for the creation of a Women’s Studies Center, and erected a tent on the lawn labeled as such. It was fun watching the cops disassemble it while we chanted and sang.)
I felt honored to be there among another generation of young people wanting better, wanting to move forward, or in this case, not go backwards, and taking their voice and bodies to the seat of power at the University of Florida. It made me reflect on the recent program I attended at Smathers Library East on Tuesday, Jan. 17, titled “Report of the UF Presidential Task Force on African American and Native American History at UF.” It was hosted by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, and is available to view at tinyurl.com/Iguana1550.
As we heard various aspects covered, since the 1950s, it had been students’ activism and voices that moved things forward. In fact, it was acknowledged that the presence of a student voice on the Task Force improved its strength and breadth of topics covered.
As the fight against DeSantis’s regressive policy heats up, it is not just young people who need to fight back. We older folks who were there for these earlier fights (or deep down know they should have been doing more) need to be there in support of the current and future fight in whatever way possible.
Whose steps? Our steps!
Whose University? Our University!