After realizing that college was a bit more than just a place where people high five each other into instant friendship, I began to hatch a plan that would allow me to meet likeminded people who would undoubtedly lead me to the parties, underage drinking, and copious fornication that I knew were the true meaning of higher education.
Beyond joining my dorm community’s Area Council, I also scoured the list of student clubs to compile a list of leads. Luckily, there was some stupid fee tacked onto our tuition that provided an enormous budget for student organizations. Well luckily for me, seeing as how the lottery enthusiasts of Florida were paying for my tuition rather than me doing it myself. This treasure trove of resources produced organizations ranging from College Republicans and Democrats to the Rock, Paper, Scissors club. It was a lengthy list of student organizations, but I narrowed down my leads to several and began scratching my head as to how to become involved.
The first group that I visited was Students for a Democratic Society. They were grungy looking hippie kids that hung out at a table by the Student Union. Unlike other groups that solicited you as you walked past, they didn’t seem to care whether or not you were curious as to what they were all about. It was a unique marketing approach in that it wasn’t marketing at all; just pure masochistic baking in the Central Florida sun for some higher ideal that they didn’t bother trying to tell you about. I don’t know how I noticed them, but I was intrigued enough to ask for more information.
Now at this point in my life, I understood the American political spectrum to range from right leaning Fox News Viewers all the way to enlightened fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I knew that the history books mentioned Communists and Socialists in America, but that they were mostly just the boogeyman that Joe McCarthy insisted was lurking under our country’s bed. When I read “Students for a Democratic Society” on the banner, I thought to myself, “Oh, these people probably want to curb carbon emissions and bring the troops home from the War in Iraq. Sounds like the place for me!”
The conversation in which I learned the date and time of their first meeting was forgettable in that it probably didn’t go any deeper than them telling me the date and time of the first meaning. They were extremely committed to their apathetic marketing.
Within the first month of the Fall semester, I showed up at the pavilion near the Visual Arts Building for the meeting around 4 PM in the afternoon. With this group, being on time made me extremely early. As the clock ticked, more and more people showed up and soon we were out of space under the small pavilion. On a side note, I’m not really sure why the University of Central Florida even has such a small pavilion given their 60,000+ undergrad population (which ranks second in the nation).
The two people running the meeting stepped forward and introduced themselves, explaining briefly that the organization was a very large tent under which a variety of ideologies co-existed to try and make a difference on campus and in the larger community. Then they explained that we would be going around the circle, each person stating their name and the reason why they wanted to be a part of the club.
“Big Tent” was an understatement, but there was an overwhelmingly hard left lean to everyone in the group, even the ones who were dressed like normal human beings. One person said that they joined the group because it was the only club on campus that accepted Anarchists. Another was a reformed High School Republican Club President who saw the light and decided to abandon the dark side like Darth Vader chucking the Emperor down that hole in the end of Return of the Jedi (if you’re reading this from 1983, SPOILER ALERT). One particularly articulate guy said he wanted to join the group, “to fuck shit up.” This drew applause from leftists to my left and right.
We even had this guy who was way too freaking old to be coming to college club meetings on campus. He was at least in his forties, and all of the members of the club who had participated in whatever it is that they do (I’m still not 100% sure) seemed to know who he was. This old fellow was the organizer of “Cop Watch,” an organization that tails police officers and videos them so that they think twice before beating someone up for having the nerve to be a minority (this happens in Orlando, allegedly).
I don’t remember how I introduced myself. It was probably some timid, moderate crap like, “I’m Brantley, and I think that there are too many loop holes in the corporate tax code!”
This meeting dragged on for over three hours. I wanted to care. I wanted to be one of these people. I didn’t like cops ever since that time Officer Bacon (seriously, that’s his real name) gave me a ride home from that tiny high school party. I loved Rage Against the Machine and Anti-Flag. I totally read the Wikipedia page about Anarchy. These should have been my people! But they wanted too many different things and when you boiled it down, they didn’t want enough of any one thing to warrant an actual focus.
I didn’t go to a second meeting. Fighting the power was too exhausting. That big tent got insufferably humid from all of the body heat. Trumping all of the above stated reasons, I didn’t meet a single attractive girl in this club. I had shown up assuming that there would be some liberated, sexy girl who wanted to show society that she owned her own body by having lots and lots of sex with me. God, my imagination is magical.
They emailed me from time to time. One time they invited me to protest Burger King’s poor treatment of the migrant workers that pick their tomatoes by doing something at the Burger King in the Student Union. It was tempting, but this was back when they still served Chicken Fries and I loved those too much to wonder whether or not an employee spit on them because they recognized me as the guy who was being an asshole about farms or something.
Another time, they printed out this gnarly, huge banner that spelled out the First Amendment one letter per 8 1/2” x 11” page. They wanted to hold it up near the “Free Speech Lawn” in protest of the fact that there was a “Free Speech Lawn.” “Shouldn’t we be able to hold these demonstrations absolutely anywhere on campus?” they argued. They had a good point, sorta.
Needless to say, I had to take part in this free speech demonstration. I kept reading the email. They planned on starting this whole thing at 8 AM. I set my alarm to go out and join them, but when it went off I rolled over and decided that I could live with limiting my first amendment activities to one patch of grass on campus. Participatory democracy can be so uncomfortable.