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History (Change) in the Making

Student as Producer  is not only  about encouraging students to produce products, whether in the form of artistic objects and/or research  outputs.  Student as Producer extends the concept of production to include ways in which students, as social individuals,  affect and change society,  so as to be able  to recognise themselves in the social world of their own design.

Yesterday’s events in London at the demonstration against proposed cuts in higher education is a good example of this in practice. For an account of what happended please read on.

History ( Change) in the making

I stood on the small roundabout on the north side of Lambeth Bridge. I felt the march stream past me on either side of the road. There were some banners identifying  institutions, but this was not a day for making distinctions. This was the university as one voice, against the cuts. The idea of the idea of  the university in action: noisy, vibrant, funny, intelligent, angry, passionate, daft, serious, worried, critical, exhilarating, musical,  articulate, smart, powerful, thoughtful,  calm, considered, beautiful, ugly, civilized, urbane, irritating, pushy,  cultured, anarchic, compelling, conflicted, logical and rational. A long stream of academics and students, mostly students, as far as the eye could see and beyond, spread across the road stretching up one length to Trafalgar Square, and up the other length to Millbank and the Vauxhall Bridge Road.

The police looked overwhelmed. They were wearing their ‘Police as Service’ gear: high visibility yellow  jackets, and flat caps, a long way from the Robocop, ‘Police as Force’ uniforms of the G20 demonstration. The police blog sites about the event complain about the failure of leadership and poor planning by their superior officers. Ironically they point out that the lack of police presence was a result of their own 25% cuts in funding.  How do we reconcile the fact that the police are at the same time  ‘servants of the community’ and a ‘force against the civilian population’?  For the best attempt to deal with this contradiction see Mark Neocleous’s The Fabrication of Social Order, where he deals with ‘police’ as a theoretical and political concept.

Our coach had taken a wrong turn and dropped us off at the end of the route at Tate Britain. I walked the march from back to front with a group from Lincoln. We set off towards the front of the protest and met it coming towards us. We carried on against the flow, bumping into friends and colleagues and ex-students from other institutions along the way. It took us more than an hour to get to the back of the long queue, which by this time was not so much marching as shuffling. The route of the march was not long enough for the crowd to stretch its legs. We were bottlenecked from the beginning. After about 10 minutes of shuffling forward, stewards with loud hailers told us the event was over and that we should disperse and go home. It felt like it was over before it got started. We didn’t want to leave. Eventually we met colleagues from Lincoln coming the other way. We left, reluctantly, to find the coaches to take us back to Lincoln. I never got to hear the speeches. I wasn’t too bothered, I’d heard all I wanted to hear ‘No ifs, No buts, No to education cuts’.

I managed to find a Lincoln coach to take me back to the University. It wasn’t the one I came on, but I was too tired to care. The Lincoln SU steward did a great job in a difficult situation. Making sure all the students were back on the bus, and that the ones who didn’t show were safely on other Lincoln buses. The driver, after a long day, was keen to get going, but the SU steward made sure he knew where all his charges were, and only then did instruct the driver to take us home.

On the way back on the coach and throughout the day I talked to students about the event. This was their first experience of direct political action. They were exhilarated. One student talked about how she read about this kind of thing on her course but this was the real deal, and she was in the middle of it. Some had been at Millbank when the protest kicked off. They were not sure how to think about it. They did not condone flying fire extinguishers but they could sense the power of defiance in what for them was a just cause. They had the photographs on their digital cameras to prove it. They were worried that the media would focus on events at Tory HQ and miss the point of the day, which for them had been a deeply significant event. These are not privileged middle class kids, but a group for whom the lack of money is a constant grinding relentless reality.  These are not even the students who will be charged the proposed new fees, but still they felt the need to defend free public higher education.   I was reminded once again how the power of money has so overwhelmed human sociability that it now seems like  a natural phenomena, rather than the outcome of an oppressive  social process.  And, as such, it appears impossible to resist.  The latest example of our obsequiousness to the power of money is demanding that undergraduate students take out a mortgage on their own lives. For anyone interested in thinking more about the politics of money you can read a book I co-authored Money and the Human Condition.

Some of the students  worried that the day had not achieved very much. I told them that what they had done was important and admirable. They had been the main actors of an important public event which was attracting national and global attention, and that this is how history is made. All said they were glad they had been there.

I felt proud of them and proud of the way in which the University had made it possible for us all to attend an event of national importance. Some institutions had insisted on it being taken as  a day’s leave and did not give the level of support that we had to attend.  The numbers  of the Lincoln students attending was impressive. As for academic colleagues, it was great to spend time together on a common cause that extended beyond the interests of our own institution,  but it felt like we could have done with more of us being there.

When I got back home the late night news focused on the events at Tory HQ. Elsewhere students and academics  have set up a free university on Parliament Square, all are welcome to attend. As the headline in the Guardian put it this morning ‘This is just the Beginning.’

6 thoughts on “History (Change) in the Making

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  3. Great summary, Mike. I think you captured the essence of the demonstration very well. For me, this was exciting as a reawakening of students and the academy as the site of protest and resistance. Maybe this is just the beginning, but not just a winter of riots, also a reimagining of higher education.

  4. I am following Student as Producer with great interest. Are you going to the NUS student engagement event in Manchester next week?

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