On my way to London to the #GrantsNotDebt protest on Wednesday I couldn’t help but notice I was the only person under 30 that wasn’t carrying a Hollister bag and talking about how excited they are to see Mummy over reading week. At this point I correctly assume that the turnout of the protest against fees and cuts was going to be substantially less than last year’s 10,000 strong army worthy of Mordor.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) who put the whole thing on describe themselves as the kind of guys who, “fight for free, democratic education and universal grants, funded by the taxation of the rich and business”, which is incredibly noble of them. And, to their credit and everyone else’s who made the trek, it was a truly amazing day. Anarchists in black boiler suits paint bombing police, smoke bombs, a “kettle” tactic that boiled over into sheer chaos and sent hundreds of angry students bolting through the streets of posh-boy Pimlico screaming some great profanity laden chants against the police tactics, while the police completely lost control for all to see and arrested 12 on public order offences.
It is important to note that most probably the anarchist’s tactics contributed to the police’s infuriating “kettle” fiasco and that real recognition and support from the public could possibly be better fostered through entirely peaceful protests. As Mahatma Ghandi put it, “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Ghandi isn’t alone in his philosophy as Nelson Mandela too managed to turn one of the most ruthless governments into a democracy with a total devotion to nonviolence. So what is to say we can’t do the same? Anarchists or not a nonviolent movement could be the fastest road to the change we seek.
So if previously you didn’t know that November 4th was anything but the day before bonfire night, get it in your Google calendar, go like NCAFC, your university’s socialist society page and stay in the know. Even if you couldn’t give a toss about politics these demos are a lot of fun. They drag round a sound system playing drum and bass it’s not like it’s a Harry Potter society social.
But shamefully guys, on my way across London I saw six signs with #GrantsNotDebt emblazed across the front and two of them were on the floor. I saw more police on my route than I did protestors. Even at the protest the ratio of angry youths to photographers was about 2:1, the grade you’ll hopefully achieve from all the staying at home and studying instead of coming out to protest. That fifty grand of debt you’ll be in by the time you leave won’t matter at all then will it? Oh no, that’ll be a drop in the ocean compared to be what you’ll be pulling down with your English Lit BA from Liverpool Hope!
This march was primarily about stopping this government from taking our grants away and giving them back to us as loans. A move that would leave the poorest students in the most debt after graduating and would definitely discourage other breadline oiks like myself from going to university. It’s wholly not on, basically. How many of your student friends are crying poverty right now? Probably about 99.9%, no one can resist that sweet, salacious Santander overdraft, no one (if you can I don’t want to hear it). But still only 2,000 of us turned out.
Two thousand is a number I find so detrimentally appalling that I’m going to write it out in words from here on in. You might think two thousand doesn’t sound so bad but when you analyse that number the findings are a bludgeoning disappointment: Two thousand is 0.003% of our population, it is 0.4% of our entire international student population in the UK, who I might add were incredibly well represented with the “no barriers, no borders, no business” slogan the demonstration used. Two thousand is 6.8% of my University*.
Now slacktivism is all well and good, by all means click away at petitions and maybe Parliament will talk about it. But if I may borrow an analogy from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent essay small change please do consider this, in 1960 in Greensboro North Carolina, four black students walked into a white’s only section of Woolworths, sat down and asked for coffee. Back then, as I’m sure you’re aware, this was not okay with the local white folk of Greensboro, or the local KKK faction and this kind of brazen behaviour would usually be met with extreme violence. However, by the end of the month sit-ins like this one had spread across the whole of the south, crossing state-lines like nobody’s business, and all this without social media, online petitioning or smart phones. That’s right, all of this was done by good old fashioned getting off your backside , going out joining up with friends, strangers, crusty weird hippy types and making your collective voice heard and listened to by the people with the power to change things for the better!
Perhaps I am wrong, maybe would-be protestors aren’t as slack as I’m portraying them, maybe with a resurgence of socialism in mainstream politics through the recent phenomenon of the outsider Jeremy Corbyn winning the labour leadership election by a whopping 59.5%, that the 8,000 missing protestors from last year don’t feel as if they have to get out onto the streets. Maybe they feel that there is hope, I certainly do but I’m not convinced and if shouting at inanimate government buildings is what I need to do to feel as though I am part of the political process then so be it, each to their own.
To finalise my belligerent moan, I will say that these days we do have social media and all I’m asking is that you like and follow a couple of pages and stay in the know. So maybe next time we don’t look so small time, but more like an organised army of peaceful campaigners who are fighting for something bigger than their right to wax the lot of their student loan and grants on laughing gas, carnage t-shirts and Jaeger-bombs.
*Figures correct as of 2011
words by Joe Burn