"Indy Scum" win against Greek power in UF Student Government
I've been a student at the University of Florida for the past two years, and it seems every semester a new semi-serious "opposition" Student Government (SG) party is formed and makes a half-assed attempt at winning some seats in the Student Senate. Usually, the party makes the most progress in coming up with a witty title for themselves, i.e., the "Pants" Party, the "Keg" Party, or the "Toga" Party, but on election day, will maybe pick up a seat or two, only to dissolve with the following semester.
Most students (myself included) don't take much interest in these long shot campaigns, as they're obviously just opposing the Greek powerhouse without any real substance behind them. Well, this semester I found myself brought on board with an opposition party that actually dared to be serious. And serious we were, campaigning for days before the Greek-dominated Gator Party called out its pledges (raw recruits who were stunned by the long time student activists working for our campaign), to sweep the Fine Arts College, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Medicine, a majority of the Graduate School, and half the Engineering School, garnering eleven seats in total.
To be honest, we were surprised by our own success, as we would have considered two or three seats a real victory. The Gator Party was arguably more surprised, as not only did we take eleven seats in the Senate, but we also knocked their party leaders out of the seats which they were arrogantly confident of retaining (and subsequently played The Internationale out of a bull horn amidst riotous cheers when the results were announced).
Our strategy worked far beyond our expectations. Last year a small group of people began planning to create what is known as the Progressive Caucus, an umbrella network of 19 progressive organizations on campus which would enable us to coordinate common actions and campaigns. The Caucus was signed into existence with a small ceremony outside the Reitz Union roughly six months ago, and immediately began monthly meetings through which all affiliated groups could be kept abreast of one another's activities. Last month, this network then became the core of volunteers and the progressive voting bloc that mobilized thousands of voters to the polls, bringing the Orange and Blue Party into its minority party position within SG. In other words, by uniting progressive student groups into a vehicle for change, the Orange and Blue Party met the Greek political machine face to face and delivered a resounding slap.
For those of you who don't know, SG has been dominated for decades by the Fraternities and Sororities. They are able to maintain their hold over SG (which has a hefty budget this year of $13 million, all Student Activity Fees money) by forcing their membership to vote, through fear of punishment or rewards of hard liquor (for fraternity members) or spa treatments (for sorority members). They also have worked out an elaborate system of "pork barrel" politics, offering generous SG funds to the student groups comprised of Greeks who agree to support the incumbent Greek party. It's definitely a "You-Scratch-My-Back-I'll Scratch-Yours" kind of deal, all paid for with money from every student who attends the University of Florida. Though the Greek community comprises roughly 14% of the student population, they control the entire apparatus of SG, effectively denying students not in a fraternity or sorority an official voice.
Opposed to this system is a loose grouping of anti-war activists, environmentalists, feminists, progressive Presbyterians, Obama democrats, a few civic minded Republicans, and radicals of every stripe (or, "indy scum," as one Gator Party incumbent referred to us in emails we acquired through public records requests), who woke up one morning and decided "I think I'll run for Student Government," ushering in an anti-Greek victory unparalleled in nearly 20 years. How impudent!
Though the Orange and Blue Party holds only 11 seats out of 94, we have been able to win wild card votes in the Senate, which adds to our voting power, and we're already thinking about the fall elections. Recently, someone told me that 2008 will be the year of the under dog. It's certainly looking that way for SG politics, and hopefully soon enough we'll have a legitimate SG which is less partial to raising tuition and more partial to raising hell.
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