Knights rise up in protest
Published: Saturday, December 3, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 20:12
Students who have had enough of rising tuition and decreasing financial aid banded together to shake up Florida. The Rise Up UCF group protested outside the Fairwinds Alumni Center Dec. 1 to voice its objections to Florida's legislators.
The two-hour rally brought together students from several different organizations, including College Democrats at UCF, Amnesty International, the Student Labor Action Project, Occupy UCF and Occupy Orlando.
Central Florida's Legislative Delegation held four panels to discuss ways of improving Central Florida while student protesters chanted and held up signs calling for a change in "anti-student legislation."
Curtis Hierro, president of UCF's Student Labor Action Project, gave a motivating speech during which he told students to speak up and take action against these policies.
"This event is tailored to the direct concerns that students are facing in regards to our legislature. Last session, they passed a voter-suppression bill," Hierro said. "We had tuition rates go up 15 percent, and we continually see cuts to Bright Futures, so [Rise Up UCF] is targeting the state legislature, and specifically the legislative cycle which begins in January."
Rise Up UCF organizer and vice president of College Democrats, Anna Eskamani, emphasized the importance of students' awareness.
"It's a protest for the students by the students. We're hoping that they're going to realize that there are students in Florida who are listening and who are watching them," Eskamani said. "They have to be more careful because if they're scared of the voters, they shouldn't run for office and that's the bottom line."
Those in attendance faced a crowd of approximately 100 protestors after the delegation's conclusion.
Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn was a featured panelist in the discussion of Central Florida's business climate.
"It's very important that our students get involved in the democratic process and the fact that they're out here making their voices heard is very important," Bruhn said. "It's a very difficult time not just for students but also for me as mayor of the local government because the experience they have with no jobs is the same thing that's impacting our local government."
Although Bruhn found correlations between panel discussions and protesters' complaints, Winter Springs Mayor Charles Lacey did not.
"I would hope that we would count on peaceful protesting at the very minimum. Whether [this protest] is productive or not is the real question," Lacey said. "And it's counterproductive to their goals. If they could enunciate their goals, which I doubt, I'm sure it will have no influence on panelists because they'll recognize [protestors] as not being well thought out."
Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) is pleased with student participation.
"I think it's great that young people are being aspired to participate," Soto said. "Not only participate but participate in an aggressive manner where they're going to be heard so I'm really proud of everyone here today."
Hierro said this movement is just the beginning.
"Students here – we've kind of been complacent and indifferent for a long time, but as we're hammered with increasing debt and increasing cuts to our financial aid, we have to take action," Hierro said. "This is just kickoff. We're going to be active the entire legislative session, which happens in January, to ensure that no more cuts come to our education, and UCF actually stands for opportunity, not corporate welfare like it does right now."
For more photos from this event, view the gallery here.