On the evening of Monday March 12th the issues of free speech and all but free labor for the piggish corporations who manufacture sportswear for major campuses and retail outlets around the country, became joined at the hip on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee.
In a sad parody of Alice’s Restaurant, 12 student activists were arrested that night and charged with first degree trespassing after they tried to erect a tent city in front of the Westcott building, which houses FSU President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte.
The FSU 12 are members of the campus “Students Against Sweatshops” (SAS).
For two long years, SAS, along with the FSU Faculty senate and the university’s own human rights office, has urged, and finally demanded, that Florida State join the Workers Rights Consortium, which monitors human rights in the factories where the apparel is made.
According to D’Alemberte, pitching tents and protesting in front of the Westcott building would be innately disruptive. Hence the arrests.
D’Alemberte and the university police informed the stunned students that at FSU free speech only occurs in a designated “free speech zone” located in the middle of the campus–Landis Green where the tent city sits today.
After some negotiations with campus police chief Carey Drayton–who told the local media he liked these students and would even testify on their behalf–12 students volunteered to get arrested.
D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association, praised the students in a guest editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat and says he will ask the court to allow the students to do community service and have their records cleared.
D’Alembertes’ lame lawyerly excuse for resisting the call by the faculty and students to join the WRC was that FSU doesn’t pay dues to “advocacy” organziations.
In the 1960s FSU was known as the “Berkeley of the South” and for good reason. The campus was, to use a mainstream press cliche, a “hotbed” of activism on the major issues of the day: race, feminism, Vietnam and of course FREE SPEECH.
Radicalism at FSU has been institutionalized ever since. FSU houses the SDS founded “Free School,” the Center for Participation Education, the last of its kind still in existence.
CPE offers free classes, radical speakers and films and is the meeting place for most campus activism.
Over the years the university and the state legislature has tried to limit free speech at FSU and even eliminate CPE. But to no avail.
Thanks to that great, if not greatest, generation of campus activists, radicalism at FSU keeps on ticking like the energizer bunny.
First amendment attorney D’Alemberte has stayed away from CPE. But he has run an eccentric campaign to limit free speech on the campus. He’s even restricted the locations where activists and others can hang posters on the campus under the guise of “Keep the campus beautiful” campaign.
Just this week it was announced that the campus radio, WVFS would no longer be allowed to inform students what bands were playing at a popular bar called “The Cow Haus” because they were in violation of liberal D’Alembertes anti-free speech edict on hanging posters.
Thanks to couragegous students like SAS and CPE and the FSU Women’s Center, the Berkley of the South has risen again. They are what makes the FSU campus truly beautiful.
Those who want to help assist the SAS protesters can do so by emailing them at FSU/USAS, calling their cell phone at 850-228-1694 or call the CPE office, 850-644-6577.
Jack McCarthy lives in Tallahassee. He can be reached at: email@example.com