Rally offers mixed results
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 18:01
The high spirits of a smaller-than-expected "Rally in Tally" troop from USF were dashed by absent representatives and legislators Thursday.
Students concerned about rising tuition and cuts to state-funded financial aid programs such as Bright Futures went with an agenda to meet one-on-one with state Reps. Rick Kriseman, Betty Reed, Rachel Burgin, Will W. Weatherford, Jeffrey Brandes and Kelli Stargel.
Yet the turnout from both the legislators and students was less than anticipated. Of the 55 students confirmed to attend, only 33 attended the rally. About 400 students attended the rally from across the state.
While the group briefly met with Burgin and Stargel, Kriseman spoke for about 15 minutes with USF students about addressing their concerns.
The other representatives' aides told the group that the legislators were unavailable.
Adam Saunders, a senior majoring in political science and philosophy and a Student Government (SG) senator, said he wanted to meet with Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa).
"I feel if I talk to her and express that students are hurting, that maybe she could be more open and receptive to our message," he said.
Yet Joyner's legislative aide informed the group that despite their scheduled meeting, the senator was not available to meet with them.
Saunders said it was hard to say what the group could have done differently to get more face time with the legislators.
"I think getting meetings cancelled on by the senators and representatives was disrespectful," he said. "Talking to the senator's aides and having them not even jot down notes or appear particularly interested in what we were saying was disrespectful."
Others were upset by the way SG handled the event.
Phil Siniscalco, a junior majoring in history who said he attended to try to "bring some flavor of the real world to
politicians and legislators," said he felt SG members attended the event to further their own motives.
"The rally seemed phoned in to me," he said. "It seemed like all this rhetoric, like all a show. And we didn't meet with any legislators. No lobbying actually happened. As far as any sort of advocacy for student interest for student issues, I don't think anything happened today. Especially me handing out business cards for (student nody President) Matt Diaz. That didn't sit well with me at all."
Diaz said cards handed out at the event were "thank you" messages printed on cardstock with USF's emblem and lapel pins for legislators and their aides as tokens of appreciation. Students were divided into six groups, each of which received three cards to hand out.
Siniscalco said in addition to the "thank you" cards, all students were asked to hand out what appeared to be Diaz's business cards.
"When we got done with lunch, instead of meeting with the individual legislators, we got a little assignment from the president saying, ‘Here, pass out these pins and business cards to these legislators,' which is
ridiculous," he said. "I'm just a student, just like (Diaz). I'm not working for (him). I'm not (his) campaign manager. We were literally sent with pins and business card letters for him, because he didn't have the time apparently. It was a waste of our time and a waste of the resources for Student Government to take us and pass business cards and not lobby our interest."
However, student body Vice President Zach Johnson said the business cards were intended to serve as a point of contact for the legislators' offices.
"In that regard, Matthew is our executive, so that would be the most appropriate contact," he said.
Siniscalco said he was cynical about SG's intents for the rally.
"All the people in suits, the people who came here as Student Government representatives, were off in the back socializing, and 20 minutes in the debate, they came over and said, ‘Hey, we're going to lunch early,'" he said. "That was kind of ridiculous, in my opinion."
Diaz said the criticism was false, and that the bus to Tallahassee arrived late to a House committee meeting that started at 10:45 a.m. The students were put into a viewing room outside the meeting room, and the Florida Student Association, the organization behind the day's event, made a joint decision to leave for their noon lunch at 11:30 a.m, Diaz said.
SG, however, was pleased with the overall turnout of the event.
"This year, I feel things are a lot more organized," said Christina Hughes, a senior majoring in business marketing and economics and an SG senator.
Diaz said the event was on the whole successful, despite some of the unforeseen absences of legislators.