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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

UF organizations participate in nationwide event for bodily autonomy awareness

The rally lasted 5 hours with speeches, music and merch

<p>The Housing Coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition Sheila Payne talking about Roe v. Wade at Plaza of the Americas. </p>

The Housing Coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition Sheila Payne talking about Roe v. Wade at Plaza of the Americas.

Right before UF’s announcement of a historically anti-abortion Nebraska U.S. senator as the finalist in UF’s presidential search, nine progressive organizations set up shop in Plaza of the Americas for a five-hour-long bodily autonomy rally. 

The event was part of a national movement Thursday, where more than 60 high schools across 29 states participated in strikes and protests for reproductive justice

Florida public employees — people employed by the government — aren’t legally allowed to strike, according to the 2022 Florida Statutes. That means students working at UF, like graduate assistants and faculty members, couldn’t protest via strike. So, the university organizations opted for a tabling event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead to participate, said Graduate Assistants United Co-President Bryn Taylor. 

One of the goals of the rally was to get people to sign a petition with 10 demands from Graduate Assistants United and three each from Free UF and Un-PAC, an organization dedicated to helping students vote. Demands include making Election Day a university holiday, building more gender neutral bathrooms and including voter registration information during Preview — UF’s freshman orientation. 

That morning the petition had 5 signatures, GAU co-president Rachel Hartnett said. It now has 39. The current goal is 50 signatures. 

Tabling organizations included university unions such as GAU, United Campus Workers and United Faculty of Florida, as well as the Alachua County Labor Commission. 

There were also student organizations like Young Democratic Socialists of America, Planned Parenthood Generation Action and Free UF Coalition. Florida Forward, a progressive activist organization, was there too. Staff working for the Bob Graham Center also stopped by to register students to vote.

Leaders of the organizations, including GAU Co-President Rachel Hartnett and YDSA President Aron Ali-McClory, gave speeches about why bodily autonomy is important and what UF administration could be doing to promote it. 

They also discussed issues like academic freedom, mentioning the Stop WOKE Act. The law prohibits discussion of critical race theory, a higher education concept that asserts race is a social construct and systemic racism is prevalent in society, from kindergarten to 12th grade in state schools. 

The event started off slow during the morning, said Rachel Wolfrey, president of the UF Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter. But their table had more traffic as the event went on, especially during the gaps between classes. The organizations gave out buttons and stickers. 

“We’ve gotten traction,” she said. 

Someone flipped a table at the start of the event, but Wolfrey thinks it had to do with the person’s mental health. It was unrelated to the rally, she said.

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20-year-old junior Nora Rodriguez, a member of YDSA, said the opportunity to collaborate with organizations like Planned Parenthood and the labor unions allows for YDSA to connect more with the student body. Advocating for reproductive rights, she said, is something that people don’t necessarily associate with socialist organizations. 

“But we have more in common than some people might think,” she said. 

Taylor said she estimated about a hundred people visited the tabling organizations and stopped to listen to the speeches. She considers the event a success because they got their message out to the public.

“We’ve exercised our right to be out here and speak our truth to power,” Taylor said.

Contact Siena at sduncan@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @SienaDuncan.

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Siena Duncan

Siena Duncan is a sophomore journalism major and the graduate school beat reporter for the Alligator. When she's not out reporting, she's typically bothering her friends about podcasts or listening to Metric on repeat. 


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