Student members of the Florida College Democrats wildly applauded Former Attorney General Janet Reno as she admonished them to consider their time and place in history: "It's good to see young people with a sense of purpose, feeling that they can change the world. This is the most important time in your life."
Reno's arm shook, but her voice didn't waver as she opened the 2008 South Florida Democratic Party Summit at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Saturday, July 12th. The Florida College Democrats organized the Summit and a series of Town Hall Sessions, where Reno and various state representatives, one state senator, state house campaign candidates and the public heard one clear mission for the election of 2008: that Florida would go Democratic. Not just in the presidential race, but in state wide and local offices as well.
"You'll look back in wonder that you had a chance to participate and will remember the election of 2008 that made such a difference," exhorted Reno. "Work in local politics, make the democratic process real, talk about saving the Everglades, changing the War Powers Act -- we have so many problems to solve -- and you will look back with pride on all you did to face the issues we are confronted with today. Some people get worn out. Don't let happen to you. Put people in office who will listen to you!"
The student awakening of 2008 hit Boca, as John J. Martino, president of the Florida College Democrats told the crowd that generations X to Y have waited a long time for someone to believe in. "For another generation it was Bobby Kennedy. Today, a young senator from Illinois who talks of unity has captured the hearts of my generation. We have been ignored, but here in Florida, young people are going to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States."
"Years ago young people came out to oppose the war in Vietnam. Today, we will come out to oppose the war in Iraq. We will walk the streets, knock on doors, make phone calls, register young people on our campuses and we will elect Barack Obama. We don't do this to oppose George Bush or John McCain but to make a difference in our lives and the lives of our children."
Martino later told HuffPo that he got involved in politics after Bush was reelected in 2004. "That was it for me," he said. "I was so depressed because I couldn't do anything. But then I remembered Barack Obama's convention speech." Martino got into canvassing, phone banks, political organizing and led the Florida College Democrats at the University of Central Florida where he is a senior. He says the excitement is real, he sees it in students' eyes. "Young people have ignored politics for far too long," he said. "Now, we can't get a job and we're shackled by this college debt we have. We're tired of it. This is us fighting back."
The Town Hall Sessions
Showing the diversity of concerns shared by today's college students, the sessions included topics covering Energy, Environment & Infrastructure; Crossroads in our Healthcare System; the Housing Crisis; the Situation in the Middle East and Saving Florida's Education System.
In the housing seminar panelists complained how the city has no affordable housing for police, firemen and other emergency first responders while a campus policewoman stood in the back, nodding in silent affirmation. Every session had a similar underlying urgency to it: fossil fuels can't last, the earth is in a world of pain, our water will run out, we've fallen sick and too many of us can't get well, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put us on shaky ground, our bridges fall down, our levees flood and Johnny just can't read when he graduates high school.
But the featured Town Hall on Modern Day Slavery in Florida was gripping, particularly for its subject matter's stark contrast to tony Boca, home of a million McMansions and a designer showcase mall. Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (www.CIW-Online.org) and Melody Gonzalez of the Student/Farmworker Alliance told of the Campaign for Fair Food, an effort focused on getting a decent wage for the immigrants that pick the tomatoes for sale at Whole Foods Market and on the burgers and tacos at fast food drive-thrus.
One result of the four-year boycott everyone said would fail was that Taco Bell agreed to pay one penny more per pound for the tomatoes used in their tacos, making for a 32 cent per bucket increase, taking Taco Bell from a company that exploits to a more socially responsible company, said Benitez. Two years later, McDonald's agreed to do the same and the CIW just signed a deal with Burger King in Florida.
Twenty-two universities throughout the country canceled or picketed the fast food joints on campuses (UCLA and the University of Chicago among them) because students knew this was about justice, said Benitez, as translated by Gonzalez. "They think students are like mindless consumers who don't care about human rights, but they are very wrong," Benitez said.
Image: Carol Anne Burger