Not since the heyday of student protest in the late 1960s, early 1970s, have we seen student activism as we are now seeing. After decades of apathy, the students have finally woken, albeit late in the day, there is something wrong, very wrong in the world today.
And the authorities are running scared.
Adam Ramsey has documented the state of play, from up and down the country, and that may well be the tip of the iceberg.
What is university security for? One would hope it is to protect students, not to be used as an army of private security thugs at the beck and call of university authorities to beat up students.
From her vantage point in the library, looking out onto Malet Street, Alice Gambell has seen an increasing repressive police presence. The smallest, peaceful demonstration, and van loads of police turn up, often outnumbering the students. Understandable, students find this very intimidating, which no doubt is the intention.
I spend most of my time in the Birkbeck library with my head in books trying to understand the intricacies of the law. I sit in my usual place every day, a window seat overlooking Senate House and Malet Street, and when my concentration lapses I stare out of the window watching the day unfold. This means I get to see a lot of what is going on campus. I have seen all the protests go past Senate House, heard the Samba band rousing the crowd, watched various causes gather at Malet Street and listened to the speeches on the steps of SOAS. Even though all of these occasions may have distracted me from my studies it has always excited me to see so many different people coming together to stand up for what they believe in, it gives me hope.
The University of London is probably one of the most pluralistic environments I have ever been a part of, with people from so many different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, sexualities and identities studying every day, coming together and joining in a constant dialogue. Being part of this environment has led me to learn about many different issues and ideas and made me, a person coming from a background of very little education and cultural diversity, a better, more worldly and confident person.
From the beginning of the year from my seat in the library overlooking Bloomsbury, I started to notice a police presence on campus. At first I thought it was a one off instance, but then I stated to notice them on a regular basis. Every time I was walking around campus or staring out of the window they were there. I saw them every day, sitting in vans next to Senate house, loitering around the Hari Krishna lunch queue, walking up and down Malet Street. This disturbed me and I found it oppressive.
I started to notice that whenever any political activity started to stir around campus the police were there like a shot. I am not talking about any “violent and intimidating” activity, as has been suggested by University of London’s Chris Cobb. This was simply the same political activity that I have been used to seeing since I started university here.
Even the smallest, and I am sorry to say meekest, of demos had a large oppressive police presence, with huge police vans next to it. Why are they here I kept thinking, what do they want, why are they looming over a tiny group of people who are standing there peacefully protesting about causes and issues for which they believe in? Causes and issues which have been taught by our lecturers, by the University of London. Lecturers that teach us to be critical of the law, of the police, of oppressive Government policy, of capitalism, of neo-liberalism and how all of these things have created so many injustices in the world.
Was it just me I thought, am I just being paranoid? I soon would out that it was not just me. When I started talking to other students they had noticed it too; they felt paranoid, oppressed; worried that their information had been recorded, it noted down that they were “political” and therefore to be watched. Who had authorised this? Who has decided that enthusiastic students were a threat that needed to be curtailed? It seems that our universities that teach us to be critical of the world around us and to stand up and fight for what believe in are now scared of the fact that they have taught us too much.
I started engaging with other students, listening to people I have never spoken to talking about the police always being on campus, butting into their conversations when I heard them talking about it, saying “excuse me, but have you noticed too?” and “yes” they would say, and we would all agree that something needs to be done about it. The university has become more oppressive, more restrictive and the university condoning a constant police presence on campus has made us want to fight back against it.
Before anyone starts thinking oh but you’re all just middle class white students that don’t like it when it happens to you. No we are not. We are students from so many different backgrounds, so many different races, some of us may be middle class, but some of us are poor, some of us have experienced police oppression outside our campuses, some of us have come from communities where there is police brutality, some of us have been arrested and some of us have been to prison.
Yes the university may be a different environment to that on the streets in London, but what is happening within our campus is testament to what is happening elsewhere: surveillance, social control, breeding a culture of fear, silence and oppression by attempts to curtail any form of dissent, political action and dialogue.
The fight back against police presence on campus is not just about cops on campus. We stand in solidarity for all who have been oppressed by the police. It does not invalidate our fight because we are university students. The university has enabled us in the past to stand up for what we believe and voice our issues in a safe space. By taking that away from us you radicalise us even more. I will no longer be watching from the window. I will be standing there on Wednesday and we won’t stop until we regain our Universities and our communities as places of free expression.
Last week, a peaceful demo in Malet Street. Left to its own devices, it would have taken place, the students then dispersed. But no, van loads of police turn up.
Now either the commanding officer is incredibly stupid, or this is a deliberate act of provocation.
Do the police have nothing better to do? As we all know, report a crime, and the police are too busy, lack the resources, to turn up.
Excellent analysis in The Guardian by Laura Penny.
The reason for the repression, is simple, fear. The authorities fear it will spread. Only their repression is counter-productive, it is waking students and others out of their stupor.
But they are too late. The students are already supporting the workers. They even crowd sourced to raise the money, to support the lowest paid workers. In turn, Unite, has given the students their full backing.
Today, a big Cops Off Campus protest took place.
Where was the mainstream reporting? Yet another media blackout.
When we see people take to the streets in Tahrir Square, in Gezi Park, in Kiev, we are told it is democracy. When it takes place in London, a deafening silence.
BBC Radio 4, on their flagship evening news programmes, on their ten o’clock news, on the midnight news, mention of Kiev, not a mention, not a murmur, of what is happening in London.
And even on Ukraine, we are not told it is EU, and now US, meddling, that is destabilising the country.
The people have lost all confidence in the political class, who with a few rare exceptions, are there to line their own pockets, get their snouts stuck well and truly in the trough.
We should not forget students and citizens in Greece, who are fighting similar battles and facing similar repression.