Florida A&M students and state and local supporters marched more than a mile from FAMU’s Eternal Flame to the Leon County Courthouse for early voting. The crowd chanted, “tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like,” as they locked arm-in-arm.
Five days remain to vote early after the Florida Legislature cut the number of days from 14 to eight. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon, urged students to take advantage of the days left before leading the rally of hundreds up the windy streets of Adams and Gaines.
“I think it’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to many parts of America to make it difficult for people to vote,” Lewis said. “The vote should be easy. We’re not going to let anyone stop us or keep us from voting.”
Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said these “tactics” will not hinder participants from casting their votes early and that it was important for students to learn and educate one another past the classroom so no one will be left behind.
Louis Jean-Baptiste, chief justice of the Student Government Association, who led students’ chants with a bullhorn, said the congressman’s presence at the university showed that our vote is needed.
“A lot of time FAMU goes under-noticed,” Jean-Baptiste said. “But this time a congressman came all the way from D.C. and Al Lawson came to say that our vote counts.
“A long time ago, I learned that a voteless people is a hopeless people,” he added. “That means the only hope we have is to vote.”
Students decided to come together in solidarity regardless of missing a class or test to cast their ballot. Third-year finance student Jervin Bienvenue from West Palm Beach skipped his government accounting test because he said the rally was a great opportunity to show the world what FAMU is all about.
“This is a legacy we have here at FAMU,” Bienvenue said. “We’re a very politically active student body. In spite of all the stuff that FAMU has been through, this is the biggest indicator of what we still value.”
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor came in support and said the streets and rally served as an outdoor classroom for new student voters.
“Being here at the courthouse to vote is not theory, it’s practice,” Proctor said. “Once we move our young people from theory to practice that’s always instructional.”
Ursula Ible, campus team leader for Organizing for America and a fifth year environmental science student from Jacksonville said sharing this experience with officials was inspiring.
“It’s about making sure your voice is heard, what matters to you is brought to the table and your issues are being brought to justice at the end of the day,” Ible said. She is voting for the second time since the 2008 elections.
Congressman Lewis said early voting is a necessary step that can be done with your hands and your feet as students showed by marching to the courthouse.
“You can also learn a great deal outside of a classroom,” Lewis said. “People are being educated to the power of our democracy.”