Signs of the times: Plaques acknowledge Gainesville’s troubling past

by Joe Courter

Gainesville is the only city in Florida to drop Columbus Day in favor of honoring Indigenous Peoples Day. A plaque was installed in the city hall square with the following words:

We remember them with compassion
Naebahiono manta nahiabotanicano

Gainesville is part of the traditional homelands of the Potano people, a Timucua-speaking society. The Timucua people lived here since time immemorial. 

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The Wilder Heart of Florida: Conservation conversations with authors

As part of Alachua Conservation Trust’s Keep Florida Wild Virtual Series, we invite you to join us on Nov. 18 from 6 to 7:30pm for an engaging presentation on conservation and literature. 

During this webinar, we will hear from the authors and editors of The Wilder Heart of Florida

Following the presentation, there will be a question and answer session with our speakers. Speakers include Gianna Russo, Margaret Ross Tolbert, Leslie Poole, and Jack E. Davis.

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New petition seeks to save Maguire/University Village South, asks to reinvest, not replace historic graduate housing villages

by the Save Maguire/UVS Team

UF is still trying to bulldoze our homes, but we are not giving up!

Since October, a new online petition has called for the permanent protection of the 348 affordable apartment units of UVS/Maguire Village Graduate and Family Housing at the University of Florida, as UF seeks to demolish them in 2023. (Go to www.change.org/SaveUFGradHousing.)

For a couple years, UF has falsely claimed that these homes have no value or are becoming worn out, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

These desirable, peaceful, culturally diverse communities and the 27 acres of trees and serene nature are one of UF’s greatest assets. Protecting these family-friendly villages and incredible green spaces for future generations of Gators is in the best interest of the university and the graduate students who will utilize them for years to come.

Specifically, the petition asks that UF:

1. Immediately reverse the decision to close Maguire/UVS.

2. Open up all apartments there to new residents, investing as necessary to make all units fully safe and habitable.

3. Provide all non-disclosed documents related to the premature closure decision, and conduct a transparent third-party public appraisal to determine their long-term viability and the investment needed to maintain these treasured buildings.

4. Investigate campus housing policies and staff for misrepresentation of facts, which led to the hastily made closure decision, to ensure this never happens again.

According to residents, these are the best apartments in Florida and deserve saving, so it is shameful to think that UF would completely demolish both villages, removing almost 40 percent of all graduate housing without any public (and graduate student) input, but that is indeed the case—but there is still hope.

The UF Board of Trustees, and subcommittees that help make recommendations to them, can still reverse the decision by a simple vote (as they did with the McCarty Woods amendment to the Campus Master Plan in June 2021). This is our immediate request, because the longer they wait, the more stress it puts on students currently living there, and those hoping to move in.

Likewise, the City of Gainesville and Alachua County commissions have a say in the final approval of the updated Campus Development Agreement (CDA) with UF (which includes the revised maps that put Maguire/UVS on the chopping block), so we ask that these bodies DO NOT APPROVE IT without first requiring the removal of that section. 

Even asking that UF make grad housing a “priority” is not enough, and actually detrimental, because it gives UF cover to continue with their plans to replace our homes with alternatives that are not wanted. 

There is no harm if these commissions simply postpone their final vote until UF complies, because the existing CDA will simply remain in effect. UF has yet to produce a shred of evidence that these changes are absolutely necessary, and in some cases, has outright lied.

It is unclear when it started, but UF has kept many would-be residents from moving in for a couple years, despite the units being safe, clean, and recently renovated. Furthermore, UF Housing leadership has refused to respond to legitimate inquiries into their decision making, and never considered the opinions of graduate students when promoting the closure of these villages (slated for Spring 2023). 

These administrators have repeatedly misrepresented facts regarding the quality and benefit of these units, and never fully produced any credible evidence for their closure at this time. 

In this way, the people who should be looking out for the well-being of students and advocating against closing our campus housing options are instead fighting against the students who most need protecting. 

These pompous administrators have chosen to shirk their responsibilities, causing harm to vulnerable students, and because of that, we demand an investigation into their actions and that those responsible be fired.

Furthermore, the two main reasons given for the destruction of these buildings are both flawed, namely:  (1) that they are not economically feasible to maintain, and (2) that putting empty recreation fields in their place will somehow “improve the student experience.”

The second flawed point is easily rebuffed by noting that the UF body representing ALL students (undergrads and grad students, totaling more than 50,000 people) unanimously passed a resolution decrying the destruction of these villages in 2021. Indeed, students see more value in keeping these as homes than in adding a couple more soccer fields (in an area already full of other fields).

No detailed evidence has been provided to justify the first flawed point either, despite numerous inquiries. 

As a place of rigorous academic standards, we are asking simply for the housing administration to “show their work.” 

In the absence of proof, they have failed the University’s students, staff, faculty, and governing bodies, and should be held accountable. And even if it is shown that it will cost some amount of money to maintain these buildings, we ask that UF make that investment, as is being done with numerous other campus buildings, including new undergraduate dorms.

If UF wishes to attract and maintain top talent, they need to consider undergraduate and graduate students alike. Destroying almost half of grad housing while spending hundreds of millions on new undergrad housing is not a balanced approach.

We would be remiss if we did not also mention that the carbon footprint of the decision to destroy 44 apartment buildings and hundreds of trees would be immense, and could be reason in and of itself to save this ecologically important area.

These spacious villages with large patios and balconies provide a needed respite for graduate students, and we demand they be saved. In no instance should the entire natural area be cleared of all trees, nor should the value or history of these buildings be considered interchangeable with off-campus living. 

These are not just buildings, but homes, and if they are lost, a big part of UF’s culture will be lost, as hundreds of families’ lives will be disrupted immediately, and thousands of hearts of former residents broken. 

Please help save Maguire/UVS. There is no substitute. 

To learn more about the organization behind the petition and this article, visit www.SaveUFGradHousing.com or email saveufgradhousing@gmail.com.

UF SG fall elections: Challenging the entrenched system

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.

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Healthcare navigators provide open enrollment assistance to North Central Florida residents

Residents of North Central Florida are again able to get health insurance from the federal Health Insurance Marketplace and can start signing up now for insurance plans that can begin as soon as Jan. 1.

Open enrollment began nationwide on Nov. 1 and continues until Saturday, Jan. 15. For those needing coverage beginning Jan. 1, consumers must enroll by Wednesday, Dec. 15. 

Healthcare Navigators are a group of nationally recognized health professionals that assist consumers in gaining healthcare coverage. These services are offered at no cost to consumers.

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Veterans for Peace Winter Solstice Concert

Saturday, Dec. 18, at 8:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Doors open at 6:30, limited seating, vaccination proof required

Tickets available through Veterans for Peace and McIntyre Stained Glass Studio

Environmental book club comes to Gainesville in January

by David Vaina

Our Santa Fe River is organizing an environmental book club for concerned citizens in the north Florida community. 

The thrust of the book club is to bring together people of all ages who have a diverse range of interests in both local and global environmental issues, most notably climate change and climate justice; water pollution and access; race, class, gender and its intersection with the environment; environmental justice and the city; rights to nature; sustainable agriculture; protest and community praxis; and more.  

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Hey Gainesville! Enforce your housing discrimination ordinance

by Renz Torres, Alachua County Labor Coalition

“They sent us a collection letter for $16,000,” said A, one Collier tenant. She is being sued for $16,000 in damages after Collier stopped accepting COVID-related housing assistance.

“Your staycation is over,” said a property manager to K, another Collier tenant. She was served a lease non-renewal because her property manager received her ERAP funds late.

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From the publisher … Unraveling illusions

by Joe Courter

Now I do not intend to go all matrix-ie here, I want to stay out of the shadows and the speculative, but address real issues, because these are challenging times, and shining a light is both necessary and can be uncomfortable. 

What first caught my attention was a BBC interview I heard early in the morning on Oct. 29 with youth activists at the COP 26 conference. A young woman used the phrase “fantasy present,” referring to the ignoring of science and the illusion that there are actually steps being taken to solve the climate crisis. Or in Greta’s words, “Blah, blah, blah.” Corporations knew they were doing damage, but hid it, and so much time was lost by their creating this illusion. Politicians made pronouncements and promises that were not fulfilled.

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Gainesville City Commission at-large seat election, Nov. 16

by Joe Courter

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the special election to fill Gail Johnson’s at-large City Commission seat will take place.

Early voting will be on Friday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 14, from 9am to 6pm at the elections office (515 N. Main St.) and at the Millhopper Branch Library (3145 NW 43rd St.). On Election Day, vote at your precinct. 

All registered voters in the city of Gainesville are eligible to vote. 

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Take action: Demand UF lead and not COP out

by David Hastings

As world leaders gather in Glasgow for COP-26, the UN climate summit, the challenges they face are huge. The outcome will to a large extent determine how we will survive on a hotter planet and whether even worse levels of warming can be averted.

Here in North Central Florida, we are witnessing our own climate drama at one of our most respected educational institutions, the University of Florida. UF recognizes its mission to educate, inform and be a good global citizen.

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November-December 2021 Gainesville Iguana

The November-December issue of the Iguana is now available, and you can access it here! If you want to get your hands on a hard copy, check out our distro locations here.

CMC celebrates 28 years

by JoJo Sacks, CMC Coordinator

The Civic Media Center will celebrate its 28th anniversary on Monday, Oct. 18 at 7pm. Sandra Parks, Stetson Kennedy’s wife, will present the program “Stetson Kennedy: Living a Life of Purpose” in a online presentation via Zoom. 

The program will explain the strategies Kennedy used for effective activism, such as his combating anti-Semitism in high school, infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940’s, and plotting to thwart Gainesville’s Koran-burning pastor in  2011. 

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It stinks: Alachua Development Review Committee OKs Micanopy Dollar General

by Homer Jack Moore

For background on the now-approved Dollar General in Micanopy, visit www.gainesvilleiguana.org and search for  “Dollar General.”

On Sept. 9, Stewart, a Native American and a member of the Florida Indigenous Alliance, gave wise counsel at a recent meeting of the Alachua Board of County Commissioners on a matter pertaining to a proposed Dollar General convenience store at a scenic gateway to the town adjacent to the Micanopy Native American Heritage Preserve. “No matter how much you polish a piece of excrement,” he explained, “a piece of excrement’s gonna be a piece of excrement.”

Then turning toward Matt Cason, president of the Gainesville Concept Companies, a development firm that plans to build the Dollar General, and leaving no doubt for the commissioners about whom he was speaking, Stewart continued, “A piece of excrement stood in front of y’all and said, ‘No matter what y’all do, no matter what anyone does, my money says everything.’”

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Suicide – say its name

 by Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson

Every life ended by suicide was unique. And so is the impact of suicide on loved ones—the “survivors” who sometimes are left to wonder why, and always what they could have done.  

The activists among us may be particularly vulnerable; their fervor is part of what we love about them—that inspiring selflessness, clarity of passion, and their willingness to sacrifice personal comfort for a greater cause. For them, and us, to carry on the fight, we must all do more to encourage self-care within our ranks. 

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James Thompson, Rest in Power

by John Thompson

A caveat: capturing James in a few words is unthinkable, almost criminal, when considering his own verbose writing style. As his brother of 46 years, I am still unpacking who he was and how much he meant to me, his loved ones, and the rest of his community. 

I may be an unreliable narrator; this is how I see my brother with a heavy heart. I do not wish to be limited by the following remembrance, as I expect we will all continue to glean additional insights from the wondrous life James shared with us all. 

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Supervisor of Elections alerts voters of unofficial mailings

Once again two Washington, D.C.-based nonprofits, the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center, are sending potentially misleading mailings to Alachua County voters and other residents.

The two groups, which routinely send similar mailings across Florida, announced they will collectively send more than 13,000 pieces of mail to Alachua County. In 2020, the same groups sent more than 30,000 mailings. Residents started receiving the unofficial mailings last week.

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City elections Nov. 16, candidate forums on Oct. 23

by Joe Courter

With the unexpected resignation announcement of At-Large City Commissioner Gail Johnson a couple months ago, the need for a special election has happened. That election will be Tuesday, Nov. 16, with early voting November 12-14. It is open to all City of Gainesville registered voters.

There are five candidates who have registered for the election. The most well-known and strongest in the field is former Mayor and City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, who served office in the City from 1987 to 1990, and then was a County Commissioner from 2002 to 2006. She has been very active in Democratic party politics over the past decades. She is also the candidate Gail Johnson has endorsed to carry on her agenda, which she cut short for various personal reasons just months after having been reelected in 2020. 

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Bat Fest 2021: Welcome back!

Lubee Bat Conservancy is excited to welcome everyone to our 17th Annual Florida Bat festival to be held Saturday, Oct. 23 from 10am-5pm.

Admission is $8 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 5-12, and kids 4 and under are free. The beer garden costs $25 for online purchases and $28 at the gate — the festival entry is included. 

Tickets are available at https://www.lubee.org/event-details/fl-bat-festival-2021. Funds will be used for the Conservancy’s ongoing research, conservation, and community education programs.

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Immigrant Neighbor Initiative aims for equity, inclusion

by Ethan Maia de Needell, Rural Women’s Health Project

In 2016, Mayor Poe proclaimed Gainesville to be a “Welcoming City” for its immigrant population. However, the list of criteria to certify this claim are still unmet. 

Many of our immigrant neighbors currently face challenges because limited language access results in a lack of access to transportation, broadband internet, and identification. Our inequitable system has prevented them from fully integrating into our community and taking advantage of critical benefits and services offered in the city. And these obstacles are present despite the immense, positive impact our foreign-born neighbors have on our community and local economy. For example, immigrants in Gainesville contribute over $20 million in state and local taxes, and are disproportionately represented in the workforce in relation to their population.

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