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The occupation served only to divide

I feel as strongly as anybody about supporting those members of staff who are facing redundancy in the light of management’s cuts. I also fully support any student demonstration which aims to peacefully and inclusively show such student-staff solidarity, in the hope that policies might be changed, and jobs might be saved.  Whether such demonstrations achieve success at all, in whole or in part, it is undeniably essential for us to show how we feel – if only so that we can sleep at night in the knowledge we didn’t stay silent.

The occupation of Sussex House which took place on Wednesday 3 March was not a peaceful protest.  Don’t fool yourselves, this was not a 60’s inspired sit-in – this was a group of students forcing their way into a building in which private data on every student is held, then criticising the police for taking such a potentially volatile situation seriously.  And, as an enthusiastic advocate of Stop the Cuts, I don’t want to be represented that way, thanks very much.

And I’m not the only one.  I’ve overheard countless conversations on countless buses and in countless campus cafes, between students who cannot fathom why such drastic and melodramatic action was taken, when all it really seems to have achieved is a radical drop in the number of tutors and students who feel represented and a huge loss of respect for student campaigners.

It saddens me that, with its rich and positive history of protest, this is what student activism at Sussex has been reduced to – what is, in my opinion, a small faction of very loud, very opinionated (and, often, very ignorant) students who, I really do believe, get such a rush from the drama of a good protest that the cause itself has increasingly become inconsequential.  This faction continues to shout until they have anyone who’ll listen convinced that, if they don’t force their way into campus buildings, if they don’t vilify the police, if they don’t come within inches of being arrested, they haven’t really tried – they’ve sat back, and become part of the problem, because they refuse to be part of the solution.

I don’t doubt that there are many people involved – perhaps even leading – protests such as that on 3 March who genuinely care about the staff losing their jobs and the cuts being made.  But these genuine masses have been somehow persuaded by the over-the-top, insincere few that such immature and irresponsible displays are the only option remaining if we really want to make a difference.

I ask, for example, what is wrong with an anti-cuts rally in library square?  That Wednesday afternoon, a rally was planned to take place and, as I passed through campus, I overheard many puzzled students wondering why the square was, in fact, empty.  These are students who are not at the forefront of campus politics, nor do they attend Stop the Cuts meetings.  Many are only just beginning to learn of the proposed reductions, only just beginning to feel incensed, and only just beginning to feel a desire to get involved with campaigning against such injustice.  Occupying a campus building does not seek to include the ever-growing fringe members of the campaign, but excludes them, makes them feel that they have no place within the radical club who have hijacked it and, in the end, to eradicate whatever impetus they felt towards getting involved in the first place.

A rally, in comparison, allows the inclusion of any and all who feel the need to express their disagreement with the actions of university management.  It makes just as much noise and just as significant a point – indeed, I would go so far as to say, in addition to being immeasurably more inclusive, a rally makes far more noise and far more positive an impact than the mysterious encircling of Sussex House by riot vans.  As I left campus that afternoon at around half past four, the only comments I overheard from fellow departing students were murmurs of confused intrigue followed by imminent disinterest.  A rally, at the very least, might have educated them in the cause itself and made them feel a part of our so-called student activism.

I agree wholeheartedly that solidarity is vital, that a united front is something we cannot afford to do without – but an action such as Wednesday’s occupation which causes such controversy and outrage amongst much of the student body is, I can’t help feeling, not the best course of action.

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One Comment

  1. Kudos to Gemma Knight for putting into words what seems to be a fairly popular opinion – I’ve heard quite a few people talk about this, and the view is shared by some (though not all) Senators, both student and staff alike.

    Some of the occupations have been fun, educational and impacting *without* being that disruptive (I have the Arts A2 occupation in mind); this kind of protest doesn’t add to the that intimidating, pretty dark atmosphere that seems to be running around the Uni staff recently. The Sussex House occupation DID add to this dark atmosphere, and I couldn’t agree with Gemma more that the few extremists are off-putting to anyone who wants to join the STC campaign. We don’t need extremists, we need numbers.

    People should also realise that the decision to overturn the suspensions on the students occupying Sussex House was made at Senate, after Senate voted in favour of this motion. The means of regulating management’s decisions are there already, and we don’t need extremists when the Senate is capable of doing the same thing in a legitimate (and more influential) way.

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