On a cold, rainy Tuesday morning, hundreds of students and workers took to the state capitol complex voicing their disapproval of Gov. Rick Scott and recent legislative actions.
Students and citizens from different backgrounds and political affiliations stood together.
“I refuse to be silent while this legislature wants to take me back to the Stone Ages,” said Jamaal Rose, a pre-law student at FAMU who spoke to listeners at the rally.”
“We’re facing difficult times here in Florida,” said Vincent Evans, a political science student from Jacksonville.
“Despite our problems, education must remain a priority and a right of every single Floridian,” said Evans.
This week, Florida A&M President James Ammons announced that 200 university employees and a number of academic programs would possibly be eliminated from the university, due to budget cuts in Florida. Other state universities are also expected to take similar measures in the future.
“I went to the Presidents’ Forum yesterday, and I was disturbed by what I heard,” said Ralph Jones, 17, a mechanical engineering student from Atlanta.
“I am even more disturbed by some of the actions of our governor; especially, against our historically black colleges and universities which, for me, have provided an unparalleled experience.”
“If we cut our programs we can’t produce the same amount of bright scholars that we do currently,” Jones added.
“If we can’t recruit the same caliber of scholars then the value of our university goes down as a whole, which in turn devalues our degrees.”
But, it’s not just Florida students who are feeling the wrath of Scott and the Florida Legislature. Florida labor workers and union members also came out to rally against House Bill 1021, also known as the “paycheck protection” bill.
“We are here to stand with those individuals on different bills that have been brought forth,” said Gary Johnson, executive director of political outreach with the Transport Workers Union of America. Johnson walked with FAMU students to the Capitol from the school. “We are here to stand for the people of our state of Florida.”
“We’re out here not just as students, but we’re out here in solidarity with all the other working people and unions out here because everyone is under attack,” said Patrick Shepherd, 21, an FSU student from Clearwater.
“Once I’m doing being a student, I want to be a teacher. If I see them destroying teacher’s salary and teacher’s petitions, what is my future going to look like in Florida?”
Lawmakers also spoke to rally participants.
“We are going to protect our families and schools,” said Sen. Anthony Hill Sr. (D-Jacksonville) during the rally.
“We are going to stand up for our seniors,” said Hill. “We are going to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Let’s go to work. We are the labor movement.”
Rose, one of the activists who spoke at the rally, whose father was amongst the first African Americans to graduate University of Florida College of Law and dedicated his life to civil rights and labor laws invoked the last speech of Martin Luther King, which supported sanitation workers on strike for union recognition in Memphis.
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights,” said Martin Luther King in his last speech on April 3, 1968. He was assassinated the next day.
“Hopefully, public officials will honor our power and realize they can’t cut from the bottom from people who need it the most,” said Shepherd.