Student Leader, Jared Austin, Kicks Off State Green Party Annual Meeting
wThis young student organizer and president and founder of Green Party Alliance of USF, launched our annual state conference with this thoughtful opening speech, where he spoke of the systemic problems of capitalism and imperialism and of the actions he and his fellow student greens and activists are taking on, including calling for USF to divest from all fossil fuel use and investments by 2020. He speaks eloquently about the bigger picture as well as concrete efforts on the ground and the work ahead for all of us working for a fair, just and sustainable future.
Jared Austin, president of the Green Party Alliance, USF.
Good afternoon, I want to first thank Cathy Gilbert and Josh Pritchett for allowing the Green Party Alliance at USF to host this wonderful event today, our organization is truly honored and excited especially given where we began, the current state of the world today and given what events like today will mean in the future. I would also like to thank the members of the Tampa chapter of the Green Party who saw a young student passionate about politics and frustrated beyond measure with the current state of political affairs and encouraged him to channel that into a student group on campus, which would later develop into the first student green party chapter in the state of Florida. I would also like to thank my members, if you could all please stand so everyone can see who you are. Without these individuals, along with a few who could not make it today, we would not have been able to accomplish the depth of activism and organization that we were able to get done this past semester. Lastly I would like to thank Dr. Martin Schonfeld who agreed to sponsor our organization and who I would like to add, will be speaking at tomorrow’s event at the Tampa public library. For those of you who do not know Dr. Schonfeld, or have not heard one of his lectures I strongly encourage you to come to tomorrow’s lecture. Dr. Schonfeld’s in depth analysis of the current environmental crisis is an art as well as an intellectual analysis that manages to focus on environmental struggle, not as a single issue, but one that encompasses a broad system of challenges ranging from culture to capitalism. So thank you again Dr. Schonfeld for helping to allow our organization to exist and make a difference on campus and in our communities.
I would like to begin today by addressing the role of student activism, or better yet activism in general: where we began, what we hope to achieve, what we have observed and where activism goes from here.
When our organization first began, and some of my present members can attest to this, we had no official meeting room, no set time for meeting and we only met every other week. We had about 10 registered members and two active members. Since then we have managed to grow to 30 registered members and 6 regularly active officers, and the first ever on-campus leftist coalition, the Solidarity Alliance at USF, which consists of the Green Party Alliance at USF, Students for a Democratic Society Tampa and St.Pete, United Students Against Sweatshops, Students for Justice in Palestine and Asian Women Empowered. This coalition has served as an activist pooling network and information network that has allowed smaller and larger organizations to get their messages heard by other student activist groups and to allow for greater activist participation at these student groups’ sponsored events. While we are by no means as large as we’d like to be, GPA or SA, our numbers have grown and the leftist student contingent is stronger than ever.
When we first began, our organization’s first event was restoring a community garden in the Brandon area that had fallen apart and with the help of a professor of mine and volunteers from the local Publix we were able to restore the garden, which will serve as a lab for stewardship in the community allowing children with learning disabilities to contribute to the garden and see it grow. This was a great experience for our organization and taught us a great deal about our own community; however we wanted to take our organization a step further. While the restoration and stewardship accomplished at our first event was a great experience, we did not feel that USF simply needed another environmental organization that would pick up bottles on the beach, clean up the side of roads, or throw away litter on campus. As many of you know environmental degradation is no single issue, it is embedded in the same system that has plagued workers, minorities, and various other oppressed groups for going on centuries; this system, of course, is capitalism and it was this realization within our organization that got us much closer to the actual Green Party platform and got us into the streets. Since this moment we have participated in marches centered on workers struggles including the Fight for Fifteen and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ march for fair food wages. We also participated in United Students Against Sweatshops’ letter drop initiative to get USF to divest from the brutal VF corporation, which subjects its factory workers abroad to deplorable working conditions and wages and terrorize their workers into submission.
While I have just discussed some of our activism, much of which was organized by other organizations, I would like to now focus on where our organization goes from here. As many of you have likely heard in recent news, a growing movement is sweeping college campuses across the country. It has been praised by some universities and brutally suppressed by others, including one of our own state colleges, Florida State University, who now owes its very existence and funding to the Koch brothers. The movement I am referring to of course is divestment. This has been something that we figured would be adopted by a variety of organizations across the campus, or perhaps across the state of Florida, but this was not quite the case. If there is anything we have learned in this past year from getting started, it’s that if you want to get something done you’ve got to do it yourself, and that’s why what I am currently holding is a letter addressed to Judy Genshaft the President of USF along with a petition for USF students that calls for a total divestment from all fossil fuel use and investments on the USF campus by 2020. This will allow for our university to be in compliance with sustainability of our planet as well as potentially take us from the 7th ranked university in the country for green initiatives to number 1.
Divestment will be no easy task—as many of you already know it has been blocked heavily by Deans across the country along with their board of trustees and outside lobbying forces. Let us also turn to other divestment initiatives that have already taken place on our campus in terms of the BDS movement, or boycott-divest-sanction movement, that has arisen centering around the settler colonial state of Israel. An initiative on our very own campus held by our comrades in SJP that gathered 10,000 signatures was blocked before even being heard by the USF board of trustees and student government. This initiative was simply asking for a divestment from products made by an apartheid regime committing nothing less than genocide on the Palestinian peoples. I bring this up to show that we are going against giants and we will need not just student help, but the public’s as well. While we believe our university takes environmental sustainability seriously, we are under no illusion that we will simply walk in with a divestment and be granted our every wish, but this is the nature of activism and just like we didn’t give up when we only had a two person student organization, we will not quit on divestment.
Finally I would like to address the nature of the left and what we have seen in our activism and from speaking to people in other organizations. To begin I would like to say that I truly envy the far right. This statement tends to gather some controversy, but perhaps once I expound upon this point further it will make sense why I say this. Let’s take a look at where the far right stands in this country today. When one thinks of the far right, we typically think of reactionary republicans and their tea-party movements, but to me it goes much deeper than that. I would say when one looks at the far right do not think of their pawns or their politicians—look at them, them being the plutocratic oligarchs from Wall Street to Wal-Mart. These capitalist oligarchs are enemies in their separate board rooms; let us make no mistake, they are competing for the largest shares of wealth in the country and each wants to see the other fail, but where they succeed is the fact that they are one unifying mallet when it comes to crushing rebellions, smashing unions, decimating wages and eviscerating workers’ rights; all enemies, yet one unified force.
On the left, however, I see many different groups ranging from the Green Party, to the Socialist Alternative, to even further left organizations all championing workers’ struggles, all unified under the premise of a more equitable system, all gathered around environmental liberation, yet everywhere the left is divided. Activists unable to come to the table with one another, activists putting self-interests above the struggle, activists lamenting in pseudo-narratives about other parties not being the “right type of left”; and so I can’t help but ask myself sometimes “If the revolution came tomorrow would half the people who consider themselves leftists today be a part of it, or would they simply stand across the street with the far-right and join with them in dismantling its goals?” These questions are what we as leftists must consider today, tomorrow, a year from now and onward as we make decisions of where to go from here. Thankfully I am given hope by the students I have met in our organization and others who show an empathy and willingness to come together with other like-minded groups for a common goal and I hope that my younger voices here today can speak up and help express this willingness to come together in struggle and help achieve the total liberation of all that have been oppressed by the current system.
For workers who have seen the dismantling of their wages and livelihoods year after year and wonder how they are going to make ends meet. For students who have done everything they were told to do and then some, but have been bludgeoned by outrageous student loan debt. For the environment which is being raped and pillaged by capitalist oligarchs whose only concern is shareholder wealth leaving humanity as an expendable commodity in their grand profit ideology. For the LGBTQ community who has recently just been recognized as having rights by the pseudo-left Democratic Party, which continues the support for their systemic oppression under neo-liberal extortionist policies. For African-Americans, Chicanos/as, Native Americans, Asian Americans and all other oppressed nationalities that have been used as scapegoats by a segregationist system fueled by privileged capitalism and enforced by the American police force. And lastly, for the Palestinian peoples and the whole of the Middle East which has seen its land and peoples divided, stolen, degraded, murdered and occupied for imperialist ventures, all to control resources. Now is undoubtedly the time for the Green Party and the left as a whole to usher in a new era of prosperity and equality and to crush plutocratic capitalism and its hawkish counterpart, imperialism, before it annihilates what is left of the planet and its inhabitants. Thank you, and thank you again to the Green Party of Florida for allowing us, the Green Party Alliance at USF, to host this wonderful event today.