Along the Highway

They call it Progress
By Mike Wojnowicz

"Well, yeah, I had to wake up at 5:45 this morning. But I drank some O.J. and my eyes popped right open."

And so Joshua Green, the muscular, shaved-headed sophomore from Miami, started his day early on Wednesday, September 29th — although getting up early isn't that unusual for Josh. He wakes up at 6:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to lift weights at the Gainesville Health and Fitness Center. But today, Josh woke up early — much earlier than the rest of his fellow students at the University of Florida — for a different reason. It was the fourth and final day to campaign for a District D seat on the University of Florida's Student Body Senate.

Josh is a perfect person to represent the two-year-old Progress Party, or at least so thinks the committee who "slated" him and 38 others — from a pool twice that size — to represent Progress in the fall elections. Perhaps Progress liked his application because of his get-up-and-go attitude ("If you don't apply yourself," Josh says, "you'll never make an impact. Some people just complain — they hate UF, they hate Gainesville, nothing matters to them…But the Progress party is trying to make a difference.") Perhaps they were impressed by his former position as assistant director of the Florida Blue Key Speakers' Bureau, for which Josh not only organized the nation's largest student-run high-school debate tournament, but also "networked" with campus big shots like former Student Body President John McGovern and current Student Lobbying Director Marc Adler. But even Josh himself would admit that his opponents probably think he got the position because, as a former member of the now disbanded Sigma Chi fraternity, he simply fits perfectly into Progress' "political machine" — a machine in which Greeks help their "brothers" and "sisters" get elected both through votes and through the sheer manpower necessary to drive a political campaign on a campus with over 40,000 students.

Almost everyone who walked through the crowded Turlington Plaza that scorching Wednesday saw Josh stationed among the mobs holding the Progress Party placard with "Joshua Green — District D" handwritten in the blank, yelling out comments like "Last day to vote — 8 p.m." After campaigning from 7 to 9 a.m. in the O'Connell Center parking lot, trying to catch people leaving their cars, Josh stood the rest of the day outside Turlington Hall — waving around his placard, sweating in the 88-degree heat, handing out Progress pin-on buttons, waving people down to talk about the Progress Party, and encouraging them to vote at the proper location — any of ten for off-campus students, any of three for students in family housing, and one specific location each for the six other on-campus districts.

The winners of last spring's elections still fill 40 of the student senate's 80 total seats — they represent students according to college of study. This Wednesday, Josh was running for one of the 40 seats that represent students according to place of residence. Thus, students living in zip code 32608 could vote for Josh. Those living in any other zip code couldn't.

Approximately one-sixth of the people Josh approached actually lived in his district and could vote for him.

But Josh didn't mind.

"Besides winning individually, helping out the party is what's key."

Standing among the Turlington crowds, holding a sign with his name on it, advertising Progress in his brand-new red shirt with the arrow (the party's logo), taking breaks to talk to Sigma Chi friends or well-dressed sorority girls with tiny black Estee Lauder purses, Josh became much more than a single person wanting to be senator, but a symbol for Progress and all that it stands for.

So what does Progress stand for?

If you talk to the Party's representatives, or read their official pamphlets, it stands for reducing towing monopolies, adding stops to Later Gator, increasing computer access, supporting minority resources such as La Casita and the Institute for Black Culture, and fighting tuition increases without sufficient returns.

If you talk to those in the opposing party (Vision), many opinionated non-Greeks, and — especially — the Independent Florida Alligator, it stands for continuing a long tradition of Greek power in student government. Anti-Progress students say that unlike the relatively diversified non-Greek student population, large Greek institutions can easily unite to produce votes, en masse, for the same party — one that will support their own position. Anti-Progress students complain that this is unfair.

Josh disagrees.

"We're determined to get people to vote, and if that means organizing people in a systematic way, so be it. Look at all the great empires — they were all organized. Things that are organized usually have better turnouts and do better.

"Just like an athlete, you have to capitalize on your advantages. If that means getting more people to vote, you can fault us if you want, but it's really not that unfair. It's playing smart."

And it really is smart — after all, despite UF administrators' officially considering fraternity and sorority row as on-campus residences, a controversial decision by the Board of Masters in February 1998 made them, for voting purposes, off-campus facilities. A member of Theta Beta Pi then lives in District B, and can vote for up to seven senatorial candidates, while an on-campus resident of North Hall can vote for only one.

Progress representatives, of course, hesitate to call themselves Greek in any official respect. Its representatives step around the word whenever possible.

As Josh says, "People come up to us and say we're the Progress party, but we're just in it for the same initiative. We want to make the school better than it is. That's why we're called the Progress party."

With aims to make the school better than it is, Progress worked that Wednesday from a rather shoddy homebase: a single table standing in front of the infamous Turlington Plaza brick ledge — a table sandwiched by the Vision Party table and Delta Delta Delta's coin collection campaign.

At one point in the afternoon, a tall blonde student walked up to the Progress table, asking Lou Roselli, one of Josh's running mates, an ontological question.

"What is Progress?"

Lou, who would go on to win a seat in District A, answered, "a political party which slates people we think are qualified."

But in the Progress party, it just so happens that "the qualified," far more often than not, are Greek — on a campus where Greeks make up only about 15% of the student population.

The life span of political parties at the University of Florida is not long. In the past eight years alone, students have assembled under rebellion underdog parties with names like Naked, Tupperware, Armageddon, Pump, Good, Surprise, Better, Best, Pants Down, and Spurrier Fan — none of which sent a president to the student government office. And the list of winning parties varies just as much: in 1997, it was Action. In '96, Equity. In '95, Focus. In '94, Sun. In '93, Progress. In '92, Independent. In '91, Vision. (Apparently some names are popular enough for recycling.)

One Progress senator attributes the frenetic switching of party names to the fact that when a party feels like it has fulfilled its old issues, it inevitably wants to start a new platform, and will want to do so under a new name. Yet presumably, as one party disappears and another emerges, links are made between the dying and the newborn — as in Spring of 1999, when after the controversial presidency of the Greek-backed Action Party's John McGovern (he was found civilly liable of defamation), the Progress party appeared, and they sure didn't get most of their candidates from Vision.

Going back through time and all these party linkages, one finds that there has historically been a vicious war for power on campus between the Greeks and the non-Greeks.

In 1996, Equity was the big Greek party. An article in the September 24, 1996 Independent Florida Alligator — "Independent candidates breaking from norm" — describes the frustration of many students with Equity, which went on to win the presidency by over 900 votes.

Even as far back as 1981, the Greek-dominated Fairshare fought against Students Unite Now (SUN) for control of the student senate. Back then, though, SUN actually dominated campus politics. A September 18, 1981 article in the Alligator quotes Greg Birkimer, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a Fairshare candidate who had just lost a bid for a Senate seat, as saying — "What can I say, I worked my butt off, and surprisingly enough, my brothers (Alpha Epsilon Pi) came out in support."

These days, support from brothers isn't quite so surprising.

Brown-eyed Joshua Green, wearing an earring in each ear, didn't have a particular strategy for how to approach complete strangers from among the students pushing through Turlington Plaza.

"I approach anyone. Especially a good-looking girl. You never know, I might see her later on at a club...she could be a single girl. I'm a single guy, ya know."

But not to worry...

"If we win, I'll become a major chick magnet."

Although comments like this suggest irresponsibility, self-indulgence, or stereotypical fraternity guy behavior, other comments betray Josh's true nature.

Like when Josh said that many times, frat guys stop participating in their fraternities after sophomore year, yet added "but I'll still be involved, 'cause that's the kind of guy I am."

Or when he stated his goal for the year as senator — "to be the best I can possibly be. To make sure I represent the students. I can't just think about my own issues — I have to try to represent the students well. Now, when I ride on Park and Ride, I ask other students what they think about what's going on. I'm trying to broaden my horizons."

Or when he introduced me to the Sigma Chi brothers, old roommates, and women with Estee Lauder purses, and instead of mentioning that I was just following him around for a story, said simply, "This is my friend, Mike."

If I wanted to, I could pick out Josh's most flavorful words and make him sound like the embodiment of fraternity stereotype.

But Josh isn't so reducible. Unlike many politicians, he actually cares about his position, and is honest enough to avoid bullshit at the same time.

Perhaps naively honest.

This is the guy who told a reporter carrying a notebook in his hand, "I'm just as relaxed as can be...You know how some people get when they smoke a bowl — just in a daze? That's how I am."

The election party at the Baja Tortilla grill that Wednesday night was a beautiful ending to the battle, but the battle wasn't fought there. The battle was fought that afternoon in Turlington Plaza, with the side-by-side Vision and Progress campaign tables sending out reinforcements every fifteen minutes, often eyeing each other suspiciously.

From the table, Progress volunteers watched the day's plaza preacher, an older man with glasses and a beer belly, challenge the crowd with lines like "Do you know God? Do you really know God?"

So I asked Josh, "Hey...Do you know God?"

"No," he said, "but I am going to give this guy a platform." He walked over to the preacher and offered him, mid-speech, a red platform describing Progress with slogans like "THE PROGRESS PARTY...EXPERIENCE ACCOMPLISHING RESULTS."

The preacher shot him a stern look.

Soon afterwards, we caught the phrase "rebellious people" in the preacher's speech.

The Progress table laughed.

Approximately ten yards to the south, in the Vision area, where everybody wore blinding lime green shirts, an outgoing fellow with wild curly hair was approaching students like crazy, handing them fliers and buttons, and turning back to one Progress candidate to say, "You gotta keep your Vision. Don't impair Vision's Vision."

Behind me, I heard someone whisper, "Where do they find these guys? In the homeless shelter?"

At 8 p.m. Wednesday night, Josh went home to eat supper and take a shower, skipping the Progress' pre-election party at the Swamp — he was exhausted. So exhausted that he was relaxed. You know how some people get when they smoke a bowl?

By 10 p.m., most members of Vision had arrived to the on-campus Baja Tortilla Grill, where the election results would be announced.

By 10:30 p.m., most members of Progress had arrived. Many were drinking either fine bottled beer (Bass, Heinekin, Guinness…) or rum-and-cokes strangely hidden in clear Zephryhills bottles.

Josh drank ice water — he had a test the next morning in Geography of Africa.

I asked Josh if he had any butterflies.

"No, not at all. I'm too tired to have butterflies." But a few minutes later, he leaned back over, smiling, "Well, maybe one butterfly. That's about it."

People ate and talked in segregated sections — the restaurant neatly divided into lime-green shirts (Vision supporters kept their campaigning clothes on) and dress clothes (Progress supporters had changed for the Swamp) — until exactly midnight, when the results were announced.

The emcee, after congratulating the student body and the candidates for a successful election drawing 6,937 student votes, read off the results, which sounded something like this:

"The winners for the Fall 1999 Student Body Senate are as follows.

"For the Broward area, Progress.

"For the Tolbert area, Independent candidate Chris Carmody.

"For the Murphree area, Progress.

"For the Graham area, Progress.

"For the Beaty area, Progress.

"For the Hall '95 area, Progress.

"For the Broward area, Progress.

And so on, through all the districts. Progress won 38 out of the 40 seats, losing only to the independent candidate in Tolbert and a write-in in family housing area, where no Progress member was slated.

Wild, sustained cheers burst after every repetition of "Progress," getting louder and more intense each time, so that by the end of the five-minute announcement, the room exploded with frantic applause, whooping, and hollering.

Josh easily won one of the 12 open District D seats. He received 972 votes — 5.74% — placing him 3rd out of 25 candidates.

"I feel great," Josh said. Even though he was three feet away, the applause nearly drowned out his voice. "I feel really happy. I'm happy as hell."

The Vision section of Baja was quiet for the entire ritual — nobody clapping, nobody speaking, with Charlie Schnur, one of the lime-green clad Vision supporters, silently rubbing someone else's back.

When the announcements ended, Progress rushed the stage chanting "Progress! Progress! Progress!" and Vision, the defeated party, quickly left the room.

From the stage to the crowd surrounding him, John McGovern yelled, "The students have spoken again," his face red as the Progress shirt.

"I don't feel bad for Vision," Josh said a few days later. "That may sound cold and heartless, but it's just the way it works. One locker room's gonna be happy and one's gonna be crying....I think Progress wanted it more.

"We didn't B.S. the students. It's not elementary school. We didn't say no homework on Friday. We didn't say, 'we'll make all your teachers nicer.' We're not giving away empty promises."

Josh knows how it feels. Senior year of high school, he ran for treasurer and lost.

Go back to the
Along The Highway
main page