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Monday, March 04, 2024

Some members of The Gator Nation are showing their support for President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, including students watching the convention on their laptops and a UF employee who is attending for the political thrill.

Robert Prather, treasurer of Alachua County Democratic Party and a UF employee, flooded into the crowded Time Warner Cable Arena alongside thousands of supporters.

The 31-year-old psychology research programs coordinator said the excitement was too enticing to resist. He drove the eight-hour stretch from Gainesville and plans to stay put until Obama’s nomination speech Thursday.

“It’s almost irresistible for me to go to such a thing,” he said. “To say it’s an amazing opportunity to meet people is an understatement.”

He said he isn’t attending on UF’s behalf but he’s been talking with students who are tied to Gainesville by light wallets and heavy class schedules.

“Frankly, it’s the students’ time now,” Prather said of the overall election season.

A few days before the conference, two groups of UF students arrived in Charlotte, N.C., with different purposes. One group of College Democrat students visited for a gathering of politically involved students, and another group of student activists showed up to protest the Democratic Party.

A handful of students and alumni with Gainesville’s Students for a Democratic Society went to the city Sunday to protest the DNC with a crowd of about 500 people. The group, alongside a group of about 1,000 people, also protested the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa with the Coalition to March on the RNC.

“We felt it was important to show that there were people out there who are opposed to both parties and wanted to protest both parties,” said Fernando Figueroa, a 22-year-old UF alumnus. “They’re basically another side of the same coin.”

Students from both sides of the political aisle took to social media to share their opinions.

On the Democratic side, Rachel McGovern, co-chairwoman of Gators for Obama, also visited Charlotte, N.C., this weekend to meet with other politically minded students and revel in the pre-DNC festivities.

“It was really inspiring to see everything get set up,” she said.

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While classes and finances kept her and other students from staying to see the convention, they’ve planned a watch party for the president’s speech. McGovern said they’ll gather in the Reitz Union Matthews Suite at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to watch and absorb the moment.

“I think this will get people even more excited about the upcoming election,” she said. “There’s certainly no enthusiasm gap in our organization.”

Prather said he’ll be standing in the cheering crowd when Obama delivers his speech.

“It sounds melodramatic to say it’s historic,” he said. “But it is to me.”

He said the students who want to be in the seats beside him but are stuck in lecture halls are at the convention in spirit.

“The cliche is students are our future,” he said. “In some ways, students are already shaping policies.”

Back under the shade of the Spanish moss-covered trees, UF student Democrats approached their peers — clipboards in hand — to persuade them to register to vote. Then they hustled to classes, knowing they’d be back in the sun with their paperwork soon.

“People are pushing to get their homework done and get the president elected,” Prather said. “I don’t know how they have time to sleep, frankly.”

Contact Meredith Rutland at mrutland@alligator.org.

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