Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Feudal Fern

Feudal Fern:

Mobilizing Migrants in Pierson, Florida

The small farming town of Pierson, Florida ceremonially casts itself as the “Fern Capital of the World.” Fern is locally grown and commercialized widely, often used as a decorative item on floral arrangements. Pierson’s seemingly innocuous distinction as a leading fern producer is belied by the bleak working conditions of the mostly migrant work force that toils tirelessly in its fern farms. On a recent visit to Pierson, SDS members and a group of interested students stood by one such farm as SDS-veteran Beto explained this reality. Migrant farm workers, mostly from México and Central America, work for cheap wages, stooped for long hours carefully selecting the plant, often paid by the piece. Exposure to pesticides is common while protection for the farm workers is as virtually non-existent as the presence of labor regulators in Pierson. With seldom bathroom breaks, women working in the fields report a high incidence of urinary tract infections, while expectant mothers sometimes toil under such conditions late into their pregnancies.

Considering that Pierson is a majority-minority community, comprised mainly of its Latino workforce, the stakes of politically mobilizing the local migrant population are higher than ever. Last year’s midterm election witnessed the first Latino to run for city office in Pierson history. Tony Ramos, the son of Mexican migrant farm workers, ran an unprecedented campaign for a city seat, galvanizing a significant voter turnout but falling a handful of votes shy of a historic victory. Now more than ever, Ramos sees a need for building on that momentum and views favorably local efforts at Latino political mobilization. Speaking to student volunteers there to coordinate a citizenship drive among local migrant residents, Ramos said that oftentimes all these citizen-eligible migrants need is some guidance and encouragement to sift through the naturalization process and the immigration bureaucracy. “It is important to have [Latinos’] voices heard”, Ramos stated. After all, these are Pierson lifelong residents with U.S.-born and raised children. As Ramos soberly stated: “we are a force and we are not going away.”

Meanwhile, local residents interested in learning about the citizenship acquisition process began to arrive. As he received bilingual pamphlets and other informational material regarding naturalization requirements and procedures, one man commented: “it’s urgent for us to do this because one day policymakers may decide to throw us all out,” alluding to the growing anti-immigrant political climate spreading through Florida and other localities throughout the U.S. Echoing earlier comments, another women underscored the importance of having Latinos exercise their political rights as a collectivist motivation for her attempt to seek U.S. citizenship. Another woman reported having two citizen-eligible persons in her immediate family. She recounted an earlier failed attempt at naturalization by one of her relatives, who was denied citizenship with the following words from the immigration officer: “I decide whether you become a citizen or not.” Feeling dejected, that person is hesitant to make a renewed attempt at naturalization. Despite experiences of bureaucratic inconsistency and institutional discrimination, there was an overall sense of optimism among the group. When asked whether becoming naturalized U.S. citizens meant having “divided loyalties” between their home and host nations as the critics of dual nationality have argued, one man tellingly remarked: “rather than detaching from one country, we are becoming attached to both.” By democratically participating in the political life of both their country of residence and of origin, these migrants are, in practice, exemplar transnational citizens.

- Compañero Adrian Felix

Friday, February 25, 2011

Police Brutality Rally (UF)

Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality

For More Information:

José R. Soto 520-777-9509, josesoto@ufl.edu

Sharon M Burney 352-682-7912, sburney@ufl.edu

Students once again unite with community groups to demand justice for the shooting of an unarmed and disabled graduate student at UF, as several demands have yet to be met one year after the incident.

On March 2nd 2010, graduate student and teaching assistant Kofi Adu-Brempong was shot in the face with an assault rifle by officers of the University Police Department. Adu-Brempong was mentally-distressed when police were called in response to noise coming from his on-campus apartment at Corey Village.

Adu-Brempong, who is 5’5’’ and weighs less than 150 pounds, is severely disabled from a childhood case of polio. As is widely known, the shooting occurred less than a minute after the officers entered the apartment. In an interview with Adu-Brempong by the Gainesville Sun following the incident, Adu-Brempong said that UPD began firing a high-powered assault weapon at him without issuing any orders or making an arrest. "They should have told me to put up my hands,” he said. When evidence emerged that the shooter was UPD Officer Keith Smith—who had previously been implicated in throwing eggs at African-Americans while off-duty—student groups formed the Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality and organized two successful rallies to demand justice for Adu-Brempong.

One year after the incident, several of the key demands of this coalition have yet to be met. In particular, the coalition demands the permanent discharge of Officer Smith and the creation of an independent police review board, two key goals in achieving accountability and transparency within UPD. To this end, the coalition will hold a rally on March 2nd from Turlington to Tigert to once again deliver its petitions and express its unequivocal unwavering support for these unmet demands.

Who: The Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality

What: Rally demanding justice for Kofi Adu-Brempong

Where: Turlington to Tigert

When: Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011, 12pm

Saturday, November 27, 2010

SDS Featured on R&B Video

"Look At Me"
by: Swag House Ent.
Dir. Ozzy Angulo

This is the debut video of local Gainesville Rap Artists Swag House Ent.
This is also my directorial debut and the first video produced by G-Ville Productions.

Related Articles:

The Gainesville Sun

The Independent Florida Alligator

Florida Students March Against Proposed Block Tuition

Gainesville, FL - Approximately 100 students rallied at Turlington Plaza on Nov. 17 with signs, bullhorns and petitions, demanding that the University of Florida halt its plan to implement Block Tuition starting Fall 2011. Block Tuition would force 60% of students to pay for more classes than they actually enroll in. Block Tuition would severely limit the ability of poor and working-class students to attend the University of Florida.

Gainesville Area Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) called for the rally in order to present the university president, Bernie Machen, with more than 800 signatures collected over a four day period. Students spoke out at Turlington Plaza around 12:30 p.m. before marching to Tigret Administration Hall holding signs reading “Tuition is too damn high! Students against Block Tuition!” and chanting “Education is a right - UF students, unite and fight!” The militant march culminated with a delegation of student activists forcing a meeting with University of Florida Provost Joe Glover and demanding that Block Tuition be stopped. An escalation is planned for Dec. 9, when the Board of Trustees will meet to make their final vote on Block Tuition.

SDS master of ceremonies Dave Schneider said, “An organized student resistance to Block Tuition is the only way to stop this assault on public education. The administration is united in supporting these changes and if we hope to defeat it, students must unite in their opposition.”

The struggle for education rights that is surging around the globe has come to Gainesville and the students promised to continue to fight for their rights by any means necessary.

-Fernando Figueroa
Fight Back News

Related Articles:

Fight Back News

The Gainesville Sun

The Independent Florida Alligator

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 17th Rally in Turlington AGAINST Block Tuition

On Wednesday, November 17th at 12:30 PM, students across campus are invited to come out to a teach-in rally at Turlington Plaza AGAINST BLOCK TUITION. At 1 PM, the people at the rally will march to Tigert Hall and present Administration with a stack of petitions signed by students against Block Tuition.

If Block Tuition is put into effect, all full-time undergraduate students (12 - 18 credit hours) will be charged a flat fee equivalent to 15 credit hours. This means that students taking fewer than 15 credit hours--more than half of UF undergraduates--would pay extra tuition money for nothing. This Block Tuition system disproportionately harms low-income and working students, who take lighter course-loads out of monetary necessity or to balance school with their jobs.

On Friday, November 5th, the Florida Board of Governor's amended their bylaws to allow a proposal for Block Tuition to be heard. The UF Board of Trustees will now design a proposal, vote on it in December, and send it to the Board of Governors to take effect in FALL 2011!!

This rally is aimed at educating students about the harmful impacts of this new tuition structure, and building mass student support for a rally on December 9th, when the UF Board of Trustees hears and votes on the actual Block Tuition proposal.

RSVP on the Facebook event here.

Block the Block Tuition Proposal

We're re-posting an excellent editorial on the negative impacts of Block Tuition written by journalist Autar Kaw in The Tampa Tribune from April 10, 2004. Although the editorial was written in response to a Block Tuition proposal at University of South Florida (USF), rather than UF, it's just as relevant to the Gator struggle against unfair tuition practices. You can read the original article here.

When I go to the movies, I order a small Sprite. Without fail, the cashier says, “For only 25¢ more, you can get a medium.” I can afford the extra quarter, especially when a small Sprite costs three dollars. But, because I want to avoid taking a restroom break in the middle of a movie, I stick with my choice of a small Sprite. I would feel cheated if the only size available was large, even when I still can drink only a portion of it.

That is what the block tuition proposal is exactly asking our state university students to do. Pay for 15 credit hours every semester no matter how many courses you can afford to take.

More and more people from other nations, most of them the brightest in their class, come here to get an education. In spite of all the grumblings about low rankings in mathematics and science in standardized world tests, what is that still makes American university education the best and most sought after system in the world. It is the opportunity and the exposure- field trips, use of technology in the classroom, hands-on projects, laboratory experience, internships and co-operative education, integration of state-of-art research into the classroom, involvement in professional and community service, recreational activities, year round cultural, political, recreational and social events, innovative textbooks, attention to learning styles, accommodation of the disabled. Do I need to keep going?

The concept of block tuition is contrary to what American education is all about. Block tuition is an invitation to cookie-cutter education, and such systems will take away the exposure and opportunities that higher education offers. Education will become accessible only to students who can afford the extra tuition. Students will be tempted to enroll for five courses, even when they know they will not have the time to study.

A general rule of thumb is that for every credit hour, in addition to the hour spent attending class, a student should spend two hours studying. For a 15-credit hour load, this means a load of 45 hours per week. That is more hours than a regular full time employee works. Even students who are on scholarships may find losing future eligibility as 15 credit hours of coursework could lead to failing or low grades.

A few state university presidents talk about the good-old days that when they were in college more students graduated on time. In fact, until mid 1970s, Florida charged block tuition but today the demographics of our students are different. More than half of USF students I know go to community colleges to get a low-cost education for the first two years. Their financial circumstances most probably do not improve while they are at USF. Many of these students are not even the traditional age. In a survey of over 100 students conducted of my class at USF in 2002-03, over 20% of the students were over 27 years of age. More than half were working 20 hours or more per week to make ends meet, and the same number was registered for 12 credit hours or less. Most of these students are getting little or no support from parents while 15% of the above groups are parents of young children themselves. These students are generally changing or improving their careers, and they need to be encouraged. An obligation of a civilized society is to encourage diversity, and this group of nontraditional students deserves as much equal opportunity as any other group.

Since we see demands of tuition hikes every year, we wonder what universities do with additional tuition? Tuition in Florida has been historically low, and the demands on universities are higher than ever. Universities need to keep up with rapid change in technology and demands of the workforce. The latter is resulting in offering of more degree programs such as biotechnology, occupational therapy, etc. Politicians do not help the cause either because they want new independent universities, and expensive programs like medical and law schools in their backyard.

Since governmental financial aid packages have been shrinking, the burden of offering financial aid goes to the university. It would unconscionable, if part of the hike in tuition costs is not used to increase the level of financial aid to make tuition hikes transparent to low-income students. The low-income students are yet another group that is most ignored in affirmative action and diversity initiatives.

In some cases, tuition hikes are used to compete for superstar researchers, who get exorbitant salaries and need expensive laboratory equipment while doing little undergraduate teaching. Also, upper level administration in most Florida universities is known to be top heavy.

Now back to some more reasons that block tuition is a premature idea. Block tuition will reduce the number of students participating in professional and community service. Being involved in these activities is as integral to one’s education as being in the classroom and making a passing grade. This is where students learn informally about teamwork with their peers, apply and synthesize their knowledge, and network with working professionals.

For a strong professional workforce and for attracting high paying jobs to Florida, students need training in interdisciplinary subjects. This may require students to enroll in more courses than their degree requires. We should be encouraging such students.

Students changing their major of study should not be penalized unless they abuse the privilege. Would you like somebody teaching your children if an education major finds out they absolutely hate being a teacher! Exploration is an integral part of the American education. Our state politicians suggest “they want to make education efficient and effective,” and “the state should not underwrite exploration.” First, efficient and effective can sometimes be contrary to each other. If a student comes to my office with a problem, I can simply hand him a copy of the solution. That is efficiency. If I take the time to guide him to find the answer himself, that is effectiveness. Second, if the state does not “underwrite exploration”, it will make the education system look more like that of the rest of the world, and that is a sure way to lose the very edge that makes our education system not just unique but one that graduates the most competitive and productive workforce in the world.

Since 1976, “all students at USF with fewer than 60 semester hours of credit are required to earn at least 9 semester hours of credit prior to graduation by attendance during one or more summer semesters.” If the 15-credit hours block tuition proposal is imposed, then a student has enough credits to get his 120-credit hour degree in four academic (Fall and Spring semesters) years. You will have to drop the current summer residency requirement, and that itself would be a waste of physical and human resources of the university. The solution maybe to adopt a trimester system (Saturday Forum, January 17, 2004) creating its own problem of a shorter academic year and a four-month long summer semester. Faculty members, who are on academic year contract, conduct most of their research during summer. This means that they will have to find more local research or teaching opportunities in summer, as federal agencies do not allow support of faculty salaries of more than two months, no matter how many federal grants one has.

When I talked about my reservations about the block tuition plan, a handful of my colleagues mentioned, “You are from the old school; change is inevitable.” Although I take issue with the former, I could not agree more with the latter. It is the change in demographics of our students and the demands of the workforce our legislators need to recognize. There is an old German saying, “Before you change anything, know what you are changing.”

Just like marriage and family, a university is an institution and not a business. You do not penalize its members because it is not run like a business. Such action is reserved only if the members break its covenant. If a university wants to be a business, then a university needs to act like a business. As a business, a university should eradicate degree and athletic programs that are not profitable, should not ask anyone for charitable contributions, participate only in beneficial volunteer activities, make as few accommodations as required by the law to the disabled, play commercials after every eight minutes of a class period, and only allow scholarly activities that generate profit. If we adopt these business principles, just imagine what a fast food version of a university we will become. “Would you like fries with that?” would be the only question left unasked.

Monday, November 1, 2010

SDS Pierson Door-to-Door Blog

Saturday, Oct. 23rd -Seven SDS members traveled to Pierson, FL to engage in door-to-door canvassing for the campaign to elect Tony Ramos to the city commission. As we began our work around ten in the morning, we found out that Tony had been featured on the front page of the largest county newspaper. The article clearly showed Tony’s adversary, James Peterson, to be a traditional Southern incumbent who chooses to ignore his own constituency. He himself admits that he would not be talking to Hispanic voters because he believes that none of them speak English.

The incumbent’s apparent “racist” strategy, to ignore all non-white voters, will be his downfall as SDS moved into the neighborhoods that have been so long forgotten by the local government. SDS, along with Tony, Marcos, and two neighborhood boys, began by splitting the volunteers into three groups to target different segments of community. Armed with personalized letters to each of the voters and the enthusiasm that only comes from fighting against racist ignorance, we knocked on door after door after door.

As we greeted the voters, the overwhelming theme that moved them the most was the lack of representation that Hispanics and blacks in their local government. House after house, we found more and more people who were fed up with feeling ignored and who promised us their votes. The only thing more powerful than their desire to change things in Pierson was their overwhelming kindness. Although Marcos and Tony seemed to know every person like an old friend, many of us were strangers to the people we talked to, but yet we were treated with little suspicion and with plenty of compassion. We were invited to barbeques, offered drinks, and given the most delicious meals.

It is without a doubt that we faced much more success in the black and Hispanic areas than in the white areas, with minority households giving us their support virtually every time. The candidates’ campaign strategies reflected very well on their general plans for office. Peterson has chosen to ignore the minority areas because he has never had to paid attention to them before while in office. He is counting on the power of his wealth to defeat the power of the working people of Pierson. In our experiences in Pierson, we have witnessed firsthand how the general working folks view their city and government. They know full well that wealthy whites control the town and think they can control it forever. More important than this knowledge is their willingness to fight against the racist “good ole’ boy” Southern system and we in SDS have marched alongside them and will continue to do so.

With this, we wish good luck to Tony Ramos for November the 2nd, we’ll be rooting for you compañero.

-Students for a Democratic Society