Support the UCL Occupation


2:30 pm - November 29th 2010

by Carl Packman    


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The wry protest songs, satirical posters and occasional smiles on the faces of students involved in the occupation of UCL, Jeremy Bentham room, does not take away from the fact that the room is a place of constant work, intense planning, sporadic meetings and tweeting (something which Channel 4 have now congratulated the occupiers on).

One moment there is an English Literature lecturer admitting his flaws as a protestor and his dislike of filmic depictions of Maoists, and then even before you have time to put on a second jumper in the bitter cold, a group has formulated to discuss the next way of attracting media attention and capturing the hearts and minds of the public.

A call is made for Lib Dem members to raise their hands in order to get hold of local contact details, of activists who perhaps feel betrayed by their ministerial representatives, but nobody raises their hand. When I was at university, every left wing protest that took place, be that opposition to fees (somewhat cheaper then than they are now, but no less disgraceful) or the Iraq war, was overrepresented by yellow banners. Now, signatories opposing fee increases such as Nick Clegg are the figures of mockery – and for good reason. This a sign of things to come.

Last night, there was comedy provided by Mark Thomas and Chris Coltrane. As that took place, banners were created, and pasta made for hungry revolters. The lights dimmed and the cans of cheap booze came out, Jaffa cakes were passed around and hashtags were created, but all the time people congregated to ensure leaflets are created to hand out in the week, that Parliamentary offices are contacted, press releases are sent out on time and solicitor support numbers are added to. While there is room for Dionysus, it is married with work unparallelled in many campaign offices – and more makeshift beds than I’ve ever seen.

Michael Sayeau who is just finishing up a talk mentions how unique it is walking into the room and seeing laptops on the tables; it is the level of communication that is keeping this occupation successful, the action finally has the support of Aaron Porter (who did quite enough dithering, but decided he supports all non-violent protest) and praise is increasing from the pens of journalists. But the work is unceasing, in fact the positivity creates motivation for the activists. Tomorrow is another day, and the efforts are really paying off.

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About the author
Carl is a regular contributor. He is a policy and research analyst and he blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.
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Reader comments


One moment there is an English Literature lecturer admitting his flaws as a protestor and his dislike of filmic depictions of Maoists, and then even before you have time to put on a second jumper in the bitter cold, a group has formulated to discuss the next way of attracting media attention and capturing the hearts and minds of the public.

Ah – thankfully someone has finally recaptured the revolutionary spirit of 1968. But if you are doing your media strategy on the hoof like this, it is not exactly going to attract widespread support?

I’ve been following the occupation and to paraphrase someone else it’s amusing as a critic of Israel to actually be saying “support the occupation!” for once… Good luck to everyone involved, and stay away from fire extinguishers. 😉

“constant work, intense planning”

working at what, exactly?

“intensely” planning what, precisely?

“an English Literature lecturer admitting his flaws as a protestor and his dislike of filmic depictions of Maoists”

Please please please make him the spokesman.

I had the privilege of giving a brief talk to the UCL occupation on Saturday, and of meeting some of the people involved. This article describes it quite correctly. Its a vibrant open space full of smart and committed people working hard to defend their university, future generations of students, and indeed the very concept of education as a public good.

Not wanting to detract from the guys at UCL, but perhaps even more impressive are the students at places like Newcastle and UEL: smaller institutions with a lower public profile, less students available to get involved, less able to attract big names like Mark Thomas and Billy Bragg to engage with them, yet still just as committed and resiliant.

Its been fantastic to watch this cluster of occupations link up with each other and flourish into an activist community. No less heartening has been the sight of a grassroots students’ movement emerging spontaneously over the past week or two, and setting the pace for both the NUS and the academic community to follow.

In his message of support to the occupations, Noam Chomsky told of how Mexican students won a similar battle a few years ago. Its an important message. People who deride these actions as futile merely delight in making fools of themselves, displaying their deep ignorace of history. The reality is that political activism wins victories, and will continue to do so. In no way do I get the sense that these students are interested in merely making a gesture. Make no mistake. They intend to win.

Jesus – Mark Thomas, Billy Bragg, Noam Chomsky. Nice to see all the contemporary cultural icons standing up. Actually, apparently Jesus wasn’t there after all…

For one reason or another, it should be worrying that it is the class warriors of the 80s (and died in the wool left-wing mouthpieces) who are the only people engaging with this action. If no modern equivalents are prepared to stand up, either the corporations have all creativity crushed or these protests are seen as irrelevant by most people.

“They intend to win.”

To win what?

What exactly do they want *UCL* to do?

Errrm, can someone point out where it says the students are not studying? I seem to have missed that bit but our right-wing chums have super-powers and can see things that are apparently invisible! Amazing, truly the wonders of the right will never cease to astound.

Let’s get it straight, then: 50,000 non-violent protesters marching = bad, because of one twat chucking a fire extinguisher around. Students occupying their university = bad, because (apparently) they’re not “studying”. Tell me, oh hallowed right-wing anti-protest people, what form of protest is acceptable to your ingenius minds?

S.Pill,

I have no objection to either form of protest. But that does not make them immune from criticism. And if you are occupying a space, you are unlikely to be effectively studying (although if you want to tell me they have set up designated quiet study spaces, I would be quite happy).

Personally I think UCL are being very tolerant mind you. Allowing visitors in etc – clearly they have too much space if they can afford to not use a room for that long.

Watchman

I’ve no objection to valid criticism – but there is no evidence that they aren’t working, from what I can tell they are using their free time (which would be spent doing normal studenty things) to make their views known. If anything it’s rather more noble than spending the weekend shopping/drinking/shagging – I don’t hear cries of “but why aren’t they studying!?!!?1″ everytime there’s a student night special on down at the local discothèque.

“A call is made for Lib Dem members to raise their hands in order to get hold of local contact details, of activists who perhaps feel betrayed by their ministerial representatives, but nobody raises their hand. When I was at university, every left wing protest that took place, be that opposition to fees (somewhat cheaper then than they are now, but no less disgraceful) or the Iraq war, was overrepresented by yellow banners. Now, signatories opposing fee increases such as Nick Clegg are the figures of mockery – and for good reason. This a sign of things to come.”

That’s because nowadays when we turn up we become figures of vitriolic criticism of our party and of us by extension. At times it can be frightening and it is always insulting and off-putting as, after all, we have turned up on the side of the protesters. All this does is make us less likely to attend such protests in future and I find it particularly hypocritical as Labour supporters never faced the same level of abuse for the far more serious betrayals their government made.

S Pill @ 9

what form of protest is acceptable..?

Couldn’t they write to their MPs?

Or get up an e-petition?

But then they’d have to know what it is they’re complaining about and get to grips with the issue.

“Couldn’t they write to their MPs?

Or get up an e-petition?”

When was the last time this tactic worked?

13. Chaise Guevara

How do you know that they don’t know what they’re talking about, Flowerpower? Does the word ‘student’ set off some kind of bigoted Pavolvian reaction in you?

Michael Sayeau who is just finishing up a talk mentions how unique it is walking into the room and seeing laptops on the tables

Yes, it’s unique because you’re all a bunch of mollycoddled middle-class protest junkies with too much money. If you’ve got time to ‘occupy’ places you’ve got time to get down to McDonalds and mop the floor to earn a bob or two to pay for your garbage degree. Run along now.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 bruno

Watch, bruno, as I skillfully communicate on your level: “Blah blah blah ad hominem, blah blah blah bigoted comment, blah blah blah you’re a dick.”

@ 13 Chaise

How do you know that they don’t know what they’re talking about, Flowerpower? Does the word ‘student’ set off some kind of bigoted Pavolvian reaction in you?

Nope. It’s just that they spent the first three days of the occupation debating what their own beef was. They settled on demanding that the University authorities complain to the government about cuts.

Whenever the BBC does a voxpop of students on the subject of graduate contributions, it becomes swiftly apparent that most haven’t a clue how the new system will work.

“A call is made for Lib Dem members to raise their hands in order to get hold of local contact details, of activists who perhaps feel betrayed by their ministerial representatives, but nobody raises their hand”

Probably afraid of getting lynched, like George Potter says.

There’s a serious point here. I like protest as a general principle, I’m opposed to many elements of the Browne review (though not so much the fees per se) and I’m certainly concerned about the long term impact on universities, but I don’t feel remotely like pitching up to a protest, because I’d end up following SWP banners around and burning Clegg in effigy. Why the fuck would I be interested in that? I’m interested in what a liberal solution to the funding problem in tertiary education would look like, and the activists whose words I’ve read on the subject simply aren’t (as is their prerogative). They already know who the “enemy” is, and what the “solution” is. Even suggesting there’s a funding problem at all goes down like a bucket of cold sick in some quarters.

Not a single thing about these protests suggests I’d be anything other than fundamentally unwelcome. So don’t bleat because I haven’t turned up. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Some factual information:

“Yes, it’s unique because you’re all a bunch of mollycoddled middle-class protest junkies with too much money. If you’ve got time to ‘occupy’ places you’ve got time to get down to McDonalds and mop the floor to earn a bob or two to pay for your garbage degree. Run along now.”

Writing as a UCL lecturer I can confirm that the students occupying the JBR have all maintained excellent academic standards in their preparation for seminars and coursework. Many of these students also maintain part-time jobs in order to fund their degrees, and come from a variety of backgrounds, some very much financially less fortunate than others. I myself am a UCL graduate, and worked as a stock handler, cleaner, and retail assistant to fund my studies. I maintained time, nonetheless, for both academic work and political activism.

A list of demands has been drawn up which encourages UCL management not only to voice their the lack of support for cuts, but also to financially support staff (of all kinds) to a greater degree. This aspect of the occupation has not been well represented in the media.

And one personal response:

“Nope. It’s just that they spent the first three days of the occupation debating what their own beef was. They settled on demanding that the University authorities complain to the government about cuts.”

Heaven forbid that there should be some organised form of general concensus.

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Flowerpower

“Nope. It’s just that they spent the first three days of the occupation debating what their own beef was. They settled on demanding that the University authorities complain to the government about cuts. ”

Ok, fair enough. But do you not think that this could have been a case of them comparing their political positions and deciding on a particular angle to take, rather than explaining to each other what there was to protest about in the first place?

“Whenever the BBC does a voxpop of students on the subject of graduate contributions, it becomes swiftly apparent that most haven’t a clue how the new system will work.”

Vox pops are not admittable evidence. I doubt even the Beeb would have a problem picking out the most illustrative responses if running a story about confusion over the new system. Even were that not the case, though, you can hardly compare students as a group to those involved in the occupation. It’s a fair assumption that they’re more politically aware* than average.

*And no, that doesn’t automatically make them right.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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