Hear, hear.We live in a society in which we are told there is no money and yet see it washing around the upper echelons
Sometimes you move between worlds too quickly for comfort. I certainly did this week. I went from talking to students staging an occupation at University College London to a pre-Christmas do full of movers and shakers. One group of people were complacent, self-indulgent and had a huge sense of entitlement. And guess what, it wasn't the students! I wondered just when my generation had got just so bloody complacent.
The unwritten law says protest is something you grow out of. We drift rightwards. Activism is simply a rite of passage that gives way to a life full of passive grumbling. This is the only way I can comprehend how a generation that had free education, access to jobs and housing feels at ease denying these things to the young. This is truly mystifying. Is the word "deficit" enough to make us lose all our political marbles?
No one should be surprised that after six months in limbo the students should be at the forefront of resistance to this government. The Labour party does not yet resemble an opposition, rather Ed et al seem to be on a collective gap year.
Some of the students involved in the occupations have worked for the Labour party; some for the Lib Dems. They are not naive about party politics but clearly feel let down by it. Demos, flashmobs, occupations and the spectacles of direct action are the only ways they can register their disgust. They really aren't going to wait for the next election for the head of Nick Clegg. Caught up in the immediacy of protest, everything is happening in the present. This is the excitement of such a movement.
I felt this energy walking past the homemade shrine "RIP education" into the Jeremy Bentham room at UCL. I also felt the fatigue. It is knackering sleeping on the floor of a cold building, whatever the cause is. This was a room filled with people living on bad sandwiches and snatched sausage rolls, downed with Red Bull and a rush of hope.
Yes, it was exactly like every protest I have been on, and, yes, it was completely different. Some of what was happening was immediately recognisable to me and some new. What is most impressive is how far these students have come in a couple of weeks. They are the opposite of just about every stereotype that is used about them. Call me old-fashioned but I hardly see them as hardcore anarchists, as their main contention is wanting access to state institutions. They do not want to drop out of the system but rather to drop in. They are also way too efficient to be proper anarchists.
It is fantastic that these young people, who we have been told have been blinded by celebrity culture and are mainly Facebook narcissists, soon made contact with other causes. Students at UCL also campaigned for a living wage for their cleaning staff. When I was there union leaders were talking solidarity with them. These kids, unlike their elders, are not scared of the word "class". Into this hub of activity come other, younger students wanting to see how its done: polite, well-spoken boys who want to stage occupations in their sixth forms about the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
The media of course has banged on about tuition fees as the children of media people go to university. Little has been said about EMA, a means-tested benefit, possibly because those who live on less than £20,000 a year are not in the middle-class bubble. To remove this in effect prohibits a whole sector of society even getting the qualifications they need to get university.
The students at least know their figures – and how to widen out their protest. One girl told me her vice-chancellor was earning £280,000 a year and would be presiding over an 80% cut in an arts and humanities course. That same night people drinking good wine bandied about other figures that justify tuition fees. "£7 a week is easy to pay back." "It doesn't really make any difference whether fees are £3,000 or £6,000 or £9,000." To accept the inevitability of this is one thing, but are we to embrace the complete marketisation of all we hold dear? Are we happy to live with the decimation of arts and social sciences? Do we not see this as straightforward ideological attack? Do we think it is acceptable to make one generation pay for the sins of another?
Some don't like the word mandate. I don't particularly, but it is clear we did not vote for this exactly. Even those who demonised the first wave of protest are having a hard time staying outraged. The sons and daughters of Middle England are indeed revolting. What is more, everything is documented and recorded. We have seen the police who hit people in the face, the "pre-emptive" kettling, the Benny Hill-style chases. The police are puzzled by these "leaderless" protests. These kids are able to quickly organise new kinds of creative chaos. They are wired. Always only one tweet away from the next happening.
Yet old-style meetings about meetings were going on while I was there, reminding me of that old quip about socialism taking up too many evenings. These people have discovered the politics of self-organisation quickly. Some of what was going on was the painfully slow but necessary business of process. How does such a diverse group make rules for itself? While people show their agreement with speakers by raising hands and wiggling fingers, jazz hands-style, all around are people tapping away on laptops. Some are more seasoned than others. Some are PhD students who mournfully say they would just a like a job. Others want to bring down capitalism. As any thinking 17-year-old does. Somehow this iPhone coalition is working.
It is providing a brilliant political education. It is a great thing to work with others for the public good, to feel your own power and know its limitations. Collective action is shot through with adrenalin. It is the province of the young. For what pray, is the province of the old? Limp lobbying and the absolute resignation that nothing can be done? That the public can go hang because privately we can all scrape through?
A young physicist asked me how to get through to his flatmates who didn't care as they were not affected by the cuts. We agreed you to have ask the big questions about what kind of society you want to live in. And we live in one in which we are told there is no more money while we see it washing around the upper echelons.
A line is being drawn. Romantically, it may be a coalition of resistance. Even if it's not, I do not understand why we don't support young people. Have we all been psychically kettled? Something has gone very wrong when pragmatic realism produces the Cable compromise: not voting for a policy you are in charge of. If this is grown-up politics, then we all need to get down with the youth.
Why aren't we supporting the students? Maybe we've been psychically kettled Watch
- Thread Starter
- 04-12-2010 17:37