The following entry was written by Jarad Fennell, English Literature adjunct professor at University of South Florida and University of Tampa.
Today was a difficult day, but the real challenge was not the obvious one.
We spent today preparing for an action both outside and inside an event hosted by the Federated Republican Women of North Dade. Outside, a group of us from the #freecollegenow bus tour carried signs and marched to demand greater investment in education in Florida. I came with my children because I do not want them to be burdened with the kind of academic debt I have after graduation. I was one of the four selected to go inside the event to carry our message to Republican leaders.
We made it into the event with no problem, and almost immediately, we ran into Commissioner Putnam, who is favored to win the GOP nomination for governor this year in Florida. We asked to get a picture with him, and I asked him if he would support full free college tuition in Florida, as politicians have done in Tennessee and elsewhere. He expressed his concern about student debt, but when I asked him to make a pledge, he absolutely refused. An aide of his, perhaps becoming suspicious of us, whisked him away.
Our group chatted with attendees until it was time to meet the candidates for public office, the best that the party could offer this election. They ranged from moderate Republicans to some fairly strange characters running as outsiders and frequently comparing themselves to President Trump. One gentleman claimed that he could fix the healthcare crisis and education too by using a special system, but he was not at liberty to discuss it because the patent for it was pending. At different intervals, members of the Dream Defenders rose from the audience and decried the president’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families and were quickly hustled out by the police while burly men wearing MAGA hats surrounded them screaming, “USA!” The interruptions became so frequent, and after a while the event organizers started ejecting so many young people of color in the audience, that I began to believe a third of the people in attendance were fellow protestors.
Finally, the master of ceremonies announced that Commissioner Putnam would speak next. Honestly, we were relieved. Angela jumped to her feet and started chanting, “Free college!” I held up a sign. Christian filmed us, and Monica put herself between Angela and the police. Law enforcement dragged Monica out, the rest of us followed, and the crowd jeered and shouted.
My big take away from this event however was that it was incredibly boring. These candidates had no imagination, no passion, and no humor. They had no real ideas. They did not rise to the level of feeling like a formidable opposition. Dealing with them was not difficult.
What was truly difficult for me today was leaving a group of people that shared all the virtues these “leaders” lacked. Monica always found so many creative ways to teach us how to stand up for ourselves. Antoinette always evinced such righteous anger and commitment. Benjamin always had a joke to lighten the mood. Marty was always a source of sober expertise. Everyone was so kind, and so smart, and they all became so important to me in such a short time that I will never forget them.
Going our separate ways was the most difficult thing I experienced today, but I did receive an invaluable gift from each of you. All of you give me hope for the future, and I will carry it with me always.
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