WHERE DO ACTIVISTS COME FROM?

by Eliza Horton and Claire Reiderman

The first in our series of articles from progressive and campaigning societies at UEA.

Standing in a crowded sports hall on the first Tuesday of the semester surrounded by hungover freshers and the smell of stale sweat can only mean one thing – the society fair, or as its known at UEA ‘SocMart’. This year, as a new committee member for several societies, I was kept busy desperately piling all our leaflets onto the exam-sized table and leaping out at unsuspecting first years almost all day. One of these societies was People & Planet UEA, the UEA branch of the national organization founded by students with the aim of environmental and social justice. Surprisingly, given the description I have given above, the day was strangely enjoyable. It felt good to be asking students difficult questions about climate change (rather than just ‘who was playing in the LCR tonight’), to see them struggle to answer and to be able to offer them a way of educating and mobilizing themselves.

People & Planet’s strength lies in its breadth and unity – as a society it operates on two levels: the national and that of the individual university. National regional meetings are held in which campaigns are decided upon and then the students return to their respective universities and put these ideas into action. This is done through weekly society meetings where all members are welcome to share ideas (and usually biscuits); they discuss campaign methods and update the society on any current progress or plans.Continue Reading

THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH, LONDON: AN ACCOUNT

by Rowan Gavin

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. For once I’m resisting the philosopher’s urge to insert the word ‘arguably’ into that sentence, because right now I really believe it. My inspiration arose from the People’s Climate March which took place around the world on Sunday the 21st of August, and the creativity, commitment and love of the people involved.

Some months ago a coalition of climate activist groups announced their intent to organise the biggest climate change protest ever, centred around a massive march in New York. Certainly, as became apparent over the following weeks, they were creating the biggest publicity campaign for such an event that I personally had ever heard of. Inspiring videos and statements came flooding in from people all over the globe, from those whose lives were most threatened by climate change, to some of today’s most prolific and successful climate activists, and to those many compassionate individuals who simply felt they had to do something. Reasons to march, tales of previous protest actions, and reports of new additions to the movement sparked across the internet, in a slow but steady growth of solidarity and support.

Before I went to bed on Saturday night, reports and images from marches in time zones ahead of mine began to trickle in − tens of thousands were turning out in Australia, India, various pacific nations, and elsewhere. At 12.30 GMT+1 it was to be London’s turn.

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WHY I DIDN’T SHAKE EDWARD ACTON’S HAND

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by Ella Gilbert

Originally published at Concrete.

The grad season is upon us: the time for sweaty palms, nervous, tipsy grins and synthetic wizard robes. Thousands of third year students graduated this week amidst cheers and storms of applause celebrating three years of (mostly) hard graft. Like the rest, I was pleased that it was all over and happy that I could finally get my hands on a tangible recognition of all that work. There was one small hurdle though: the small matter of a certain pompous ceremony. I’m not sure there are many people who relish standing in a billowing Harry Potter gown in front of 800 people, but looking like a prat was lower on my agenda than it might otherwise have been. Sure, I was worried that I might stack it up the stairs or walk off the stage by the wrong exit, but more than anything I was rehearsing what I was going to say to the man I would have to refuse to shake hands with before collecting my certificate. Unfortunately for me, my ceremony was presided over by Edward Acton, the outgoing Vice Chancellor of UEA who will be replaced by David Richardson this coming September. In the run-up to this day, I’d gladly, and perhaps misguidedly, trilled that I would refuse to shake the hand of a man who had overseen such a shocking and deplorable track record of management during the course of my university career. Now, I had to stick to my guns and actually do it.

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PRIVATE SCHOOLS: ARE WE BETTER OFF WITHOUT THEM?

by David Grounds

After Alan Bennett gave his sermon entitled ‘Fair Play’ at King’s College Cambridge, some of the conversations in my school have turned to the issue of private schools, and why we are attending one. The phrase that I have heard more than once, is a line from Tom Lehrer’s song, ‘Selling Out’:

I’ve always found ideals,
Don’t take the place of meals.

Or, put simply, there’s no point in abolishing private schools if it isn’t going to help on anything other than an ideological level. My objection is simple: it would help. Continue Reading

THE NUS AND THE STUDENT MOVEMENT

by Elliot Folan

In the last month, two student unions have held referendums on whether to be part of the National Union of Students (NUS). The first, in Oxford, saw 52% vote in favour of leaving the NUS – a result which was later reversed after it was discovered that 1,000 anti-NUS votes had been cast fraudulently. The second, in York, saw 65% of student voters back the idea of remaining in the NUS. In both cases, the referendums were held in exam season, with turnout at 15% in Oxford and just 7% in York. Although neither referendum ultimately saw the unions leave the NUS, both the campaigns and the initial Oxford result brought to the fore the many issues that students have raised with the NUS.

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DIVESTMENT, DECISIONS AND A DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

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by Elliot Folan

Last month, it was revealed that UEA plans to raise accommodation fees for university students by up to 9%. Students have already come forward to say that they would not have been able to afford the new prices, and the students’ union has raised questions about accessibility and affordability. Yet the second big story of the fee rise is an issue of democracy. It was reported – and the university declined to deny – that student union officers were told they would not be consulted on the fee rise, and that the university had no intention of consulting them at all. In other words, on an issue that is of material concern to thousands of new and continuing students on our campus, management felt it necessary to completely ignore and override the wishes of our elected representatives.

Such contempt for democratic procedure is standard practice at UEA, and they speak to a wider problem of opaque decision making and lack of accountability on our campus and in the university system generally. There are three more examples of such undemocratic decisions.

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STAND UP FOR EDUCATION

by Fiona Edwards

Join the national demo & national student meeting on June 21st & 22nd.

On Saturday 21 June tens of thousands of people will be joining the People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s national demonstration through the streets of London to demand an end to austerity. Students will be there in force. We have, after all, got plenty to be angry and shout about.

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