In certain circles, there is the perception that the transformation to the ideal of the student as consumer is complete and that therefore the student activist and a radical student movement is a thing of the past. Although there was the anti-fees flashpoint in 2010, the argument goes, now the modern student is more concerned with getting their money’s worth from the education they directly pay for, than they are about changing the world.
Over the last four years there have been countless examples of campaigns that prove this thesis wrong. This series of articles seeks to explore those campaigns, what they have achieved and what they mean for the student movement and the Higher Education sector as a whole.
by Chris Jarvis
This week, I intended to write a piece about the #copsoffcampus campaign of 2013/14. I intended to write about how it was another example of the re-emergence of a radical student movement that was not willing to see itself as a consumer body, or as a group within society that has politics done to it. However, the events that unfolded on the 3rd of December at the University of Warwick, require a new analysis.
Originating in London, #copsoffcampus was a campaign that begun in protest of heavy handed policing, arrests of students for using chalk on University property and aggressive evictions of occupations. It was based on the principle that students have a right to feel safe on their campuses and should never be faced with violence or intimidation from police. At points, 4,000 students were demonstrating in London to call for the end to police presence at their institutions. Support was widespread as events surrounding campaigns at the University evidenced a clear injustice and a blatant infringement of basic rights to organise and protest.
Since then, whilst the sentiment remains among many students, the battle against police on campuses and specifically their role in undermining rather than facilitating legitimate protest has laid somewhat dormant. What’s become apparent over the last five days though is that #copsoffcampus is as necessary now as it was in December 2013.
Students at the University of Warwick were participating in the national day of action for free education co-ordinated by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Student Assembly Against Austerity. Their action culminated in an occupation of University buildings. What happened next has now spread rapidly across the internet – footage of police officers using hugely disproportionate force to break up the sit-in, including the use of physical violence, CS gas and the threatened use of tasers. From students at Warwick and people far and completely removed from the setting of the Midlands University, the reaction was uniform – horror, disgust and anger.
Overnight, messages of solidarity with the Warwick students erupted over social media and on Thursday 4th, 1,000 students demonstrated on Warwick campus in protest over the police handling of the events. Clearly, students are again not willing to take police intimidation and violence lying down.
They have proven that their claim to protect the public is built entirely on falsehood
While the intensity of the force used against those student occupiers in Warwick was largely unprecedented, police actions on that day are emblematic of the wider problem of police presence on campuses across the country. Time and time again, police have proven that their role in protest situations is solely one of restriction and repression. They have proven that their claim to protect the public is built entirely on falsehood. And this is creating an environment under which students feel unable to engage in activism at their Universities as well as removing the idea of their campus as a space in which they can feel safe.
Under these circumstances, it is important that wherever we are, we must resist these actions from police and fight against their presence. In doing so, we are organising around the defence of a basic right – the right to protest. Each time we are faced with another instance of police aggression, we are faced with the clamping down on dissent and an act of social control; we are faced with an attempt to intimidate people from attempting to shape the world that they live in.
Warwick isn’t the first example of police violence, and it won’t be the last. But what it shows us is that we need cops off campus as much as we always have.