Sunday, 30 November 2014

March For Free Education, December 6th

Calling all activists, students and anyone who cares about free education! Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts have called a march. Their press release reads as follows:

Following on from the Free Education demonstration in London on 19th November, Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, a coalition of students from University of Bath and Bath Spa University, are organising a march in support of free education on Saturday 6th December, starting at Bath Abbey at 12:30pm.

Using the tagline “Education is a Right, Not a Privilege”, the students and other groups and individuals who will be joining them are continuing the fight back against tuition fees and cuts.

Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts are committed to keeping up the fight against tuition fees and the commercialisation of education.

Supporters can keep up to date on the Facebook page

The Facebook event page for the march is here:
We caught up with Bath Spa University student Will Pettifer over the weekend, who explained why he will be attending the march.
"I object to the notion of education plunging young people into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt.
It is something that affects all students. Students are extremely angry and upset, but many feel like they have no choice. One of the purposes of demonstrations like this to show students that there is something they can do to change the situation."

"It is part of a nationwide campaign with other students and universities engaging in similar actions. We hope that through uniting with other students throughout the country, we will achieve our aims."

Sunday, 16 November 2014

NUS Pulls Out of Free Education Demonstration - Bath Students Outraged

The National Union of Students (NUS) has pulled out of the Free Education Demonstration on Wednesday 19th December in London, angering Bath students who wished to participate in the demonstration. The demonstration had the official support of the NUS nationally at a meeting in September, however the NUS leadership allegedly attempted to distance themselves from it and has now pulled support entirely on health and safety grounds. Meanwhile, both the University of Bath and Bath Spa University Students' Unions have  taken the decision not to provide transport to the demonstration. A dissenting University of Bath student commented that the Students' Union President has been "useless". Reiss McGuinness, a recent Bath Spa University graduate said that the universities had behaved "as expected".

Bruce Galliver, the Bath Spa University Students' Union President is supportive of the demonstration, however, despite a majority voting in favour of the decision in a student council vote, he was ultimately unable to get the university to organise transport. Following the withdrawal of support from the national NUS, Bath Spa University recieved a letter from the NUS recommending against sending students to the demonstration. The decision then had to be referred to the the Board of Trustees. There are 12 trustees, 8 students and 4 externals on the board and of those 8 students, 5 voted against organising a coach. Bruce 's letters to the Trustees can be found here.

Mr Galliver commented "I'd like to make it clear to students that I followed a democratic procedure here in line with the Unions constitution, but my position was and still is that the Union should organise transport and support at this demonstration for free education. Despite the fact that the Union will no longer do this, I still intend to offer any assistance and support I can to students who still wish to attend the event. I feel it's a very justifiable and important cause and I hope this decision will not affect the morale of those who intend on going. I apologise for the delay in this statement coming out and I hope everyone is able to make arrangements in time for the 19th."

The University of Bath has agreed to subsidise coach tickets for the demonstration, however these have now sold out. The University of Bristol is organising coaches for the demonstration, and some students from Bath will be going with their coaches. Other students will need to find their own way there.

A Student's Perspective

Recent Bath Spa Univerisity graduate and local activist Simon Jilley has sent the following words for inclusion in this article:

This is going to be my first student rally since the 2012 demo, which nobody really quite understood and a lot of people were very upset at the NUS at for changing the route last-minute. I am now not a fee-paying, exam-writing, decision-making student, but that doesn't mean that I've in any way fallen out of the loop. If anything, I feel much more connected now than I ever did before to the student struggle.

Four years ago, I was on Embankment listening to speakers as protesters were being forced into a riot in Parliament Square, just a few hundred metres away. I was extremely confused by the situation I was in. The speakers spoke nothing of the situation in Parliament Square, nor seemed to care at all. They just spoke from their cue cards, about how certain unions are making certain points of progress, and this means certain things and of course the whole situation will be solved by blaming the coalition government. It's all because of the coalition government, after all, that our government is corrupt and are a group of bastards on a pedestal. I was quite sickened by the whole affair – I saw mounted police charging at those trapped in Parliament Square, but from 200m in front of me. I couldn't do anything about it, and it was like watching a dystopia film.

At the demo two years ago, called '#demo2012', I was a part of a fringe meditation demonstration in front of Big Ben which, although it had no noticeable message to offer to the general public, had a prominent impact on each and every one of us that were involved. It was the first time that most of the group had ever interacted with the police on that level – and it wasn't pre-planned in any way. It was a spontaneous act, that caught everyone (including myself, in some ways) by surprise. We left the march that we didn't understand and the movement that we had become very disillusioned by, and created our own movement in those hours sat in front of Big Ben.

Two years on, and there still exists a lot of that movement that was created in Autumn 2012. We are still demonstrating spontaneously, and contributing to things that really mean something to us. I was similarly at a march that I was fairly disillusioned by a month back – at the TUC Britain Needs A Payrise demo. We supported the Occupy Democracy actions, and became much more a part of that than we had been a part of the TUC march. We had a spontaneous 'Freedom March' a few months back, in Bath. It's all happening, this movement is strong.

Now we are preparing for the Free Education demonstration. 19th November is going to be a massive day for students, and all peoples, in these lands. We are going to demonstrate for Free Education – the first time in my memory that any such people have demonstrated for such a thing in Britain. The implications of Free Education are massive – with free education, we regain freedoms that were taken from us in generations passed, and move more stably towards a freer, more creative, and more joyful world. We've lost our footing in the last few generations – perhaps a lot of people fell asleep, and let the politicians gain many ones over us. But the Free Education fight is a huge part of the movement towards this better world.

I am shocked that the NUS pulled out of the march. I knew that some part of the NUS lacked a lot of backbone after experiencing things two years ago, at #demo2012. But I didn't expect that they would do something so foolish, aggressive, and cowardly as this. By pulling out of the demonstration in the way that they have, they are effectively marginalising the 'hard-line' protesters that go on the march anyway. We are all going to be marginalised, and will be noted for having been on the Free Education demo. The NUS pulling out has led to many Students' Unions (most of the Unions in Britain are affiliated with the NUS) shamefully dropping their pledge to Student Democracy.

In Bath, both Unions have dropped out of the march for pretty much the same reasons. At Bath Uni SU, an online poll was conducted that decided that Bath Uni SU should provide transport for, and support, the march. Despite 86% of respondents supporting the march, on 6th November, the same day that the NUS released their statement of pulling out of the march (less than two weeks before the march – an unrealistic time for a student group to gather and plan a coach...), the SU pulled out, citing the NUS reasons of problems with risk assessments. At Bath Spa SU, a motion was brought forward to the Student Council on 28th October for the SU to support and provide education for the demonstration. The Student Council voted widely in favour of the motion. There was confusion after November 6th, and little was known about what was going to be happening. Fliers had already been distributed around campus, and in the Students' Union, and continued to be so after the NUS announcement. But on 12th November, Union President Bruce Galliver released a statement that, despite his personal strong support of the march and of the SU providing transport, the Board of Trustees had voted 8-to-3 against the SU supporting the march and providing transport. This is despite Bruce offering that the SU provide a 'Demo survival pack', 'two delegated SU stewards', and 'our own risk assessment'. Despite his clear encouragement, in a letter sent out to all of the Trustees on 11th November, for reasonable measures to be taken in order to still provide support and transport (see here), it was not stated that the Trustees had engaged in any kind of dialogue about the matter.

What we are seeing across the country is a clear disregard of Student Union democracy, as Unions across the country are pulling out of a march that their members voted in support of. We are not receiving adequate reasons for why Unions are pulling out ('on health & safety grounds' does not count as 'adequate', for there is always the opportunity to take extra measures to ensure that all things are covered for), and instead are understanding that Student Democracy is becoming weaker, and listened to less.

And this is why we really need this demonstration. This demonstration is for Free Education. The meaning of 'freedom' is strong, extremely strong, for me in relation to this demonstration. It is iconic, what is happening across Britain with the 'freedom' to act democratically being revoked in the weeks leading up to the demonstration. We will be marching for freedom: not only for an education system that is 100% inclusive of all peoples irrespective of economic background and that doesn't purge students into financial instability afterwards, but also for an education system that allows for a freedom of democracy to exist.

Notably, you will notice that November 19th is not a one-day event. Students are being encouraged to Walkout/Occupy/Resist on December 3rd, on the National Day of Action for Free Education. Students should 'use the time between the 19th November and 3rd December to build on your campus. Run rallies, meetings, stalls, protests, and link up between universities, colleges and schools in your local area'. There is longevity to it all. There is something big happening out of it – it is now time for us to take back what they stole, to bring our future, and the future of generations that will follow us, into our actions. We need to plot out what should be happening on the map, to make it all a reality.

Maybe it is more beneficial to the movement that the Student Unions have backed out. As financially-vested bodies, they have people that they must always respond to, and they are often made liable for their actions. But we can ask, still, that members of the Student Unions join us in our independent movement, making a Free Education a reality before our very eyes. For, in our independent rise, we will make a reality of what we collectively see must happen, without having to be suppressed in our ideals by any individual or governing body.

After November 6th and November 12th respectively (when the Unions pulled out), groups of us have organised to provide forms of transport for people wanting to join the march. Bath Spa students will mostly either be making their own way there from Bath, or will be joining the Bristol Uni coach. Bath Uni students have been invited onto a National Express coach, as lots of tickets were bought at one time. There is no funding available currently in the activist movements in Bath – and it is a suggestion of mine that we may sort out some kind of a collective fund to support when occasions like this happen (in 2010, the UCU provided transport from Bath to London for the November demonstration – they are not doing so this year, and none of us appear to have a spare £500 to pay for a coach). Let's get ourselves stronger, and support each other in all of the struggles that go on. And, no matter who you are or where you stand, come to London if you can for the Free Education demonstration, or give support to us working for a Free Education Future!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Occupy Bath and the Re-Imagining of Democracy in Parliament Square

Local activist and one-time resident of Occupy Bath in Queen Square, Simon Jilley, reports on Occupy Democracy and the continuing efforts of Bath activists to create a better world for all...
Just over three weeks ago, several Bath Occupiers headed over to London with the TUC wagon to be a part of something pretty massive. Not only was there to be an 80,000-strong march on Hyde Park to add ourselves to, but, perhaps more current to our sentiments, the day marked an energetic beginning to a 9-day occupation of Parliament Square.

As Alex and myself arrived at Parliament Square, having taken a planned detour whilst en-route to the march, we were greeted by vivacious greetings from the Big Ben-side of the Square, as our drumming was warmly welcomed over to a small group of pavement-occupiers. Strategically, we worked our way around the square before joining the group, as to suss out the situation police/security-wise. In the 1-minute journey across the square towards the demonstrators, we met a kindly warden who advised that we were not allowed to drum on that particular 30-metre path that crossed the square; then we met a couple of Met's finest profilers, who asked us all about ourselves and our drums and what we were doing, yadayada. To add to tensions, two GBC Legal Observers rushed over to us as the Met were trying to spark conversation, apparently assuming that our arrests were imminent.

We got to our group, about 30-or-so there, and brought the drumming vibrantly to the surface. We drummed, shouted 'FREEDOM!', sang our 'freedom song', and chanted some more about freedom. Within a few minutes some Westminster Council fellows came on over, seemingly claiming [but we couldn't hear for sure...everyone started shouting and chanting and singing and we drummed when they came over] that we couldn't play there despite having been specifically told by our profiling coppers a few minutes previous that we could. So, we kept our tune, as it was raising spirits, and people were really encouraging us. We continued playing for quite a while, till another friend came along, and played some more before Alex was given direction to do the speech from The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin). 
Greed has poisoned men’s souls...more than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness...the hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
Soon we had rounded up a few people for the rally, and promised others that we would return with a huge crowd more. I didn't quite expect that we could do that – but the intentions were out there, and there were thousands on the march, so why not?

The march was very regimented, with lovely neatly formed groups from particular unions and groups that we rounded past with our drums and chants for freedom. The black block darted off, over the railings, shortly followed by the 20 cops that had been following them probably for the whole march.

We got to Hyde Park, where a Green Party spokesman from Taunton was slamming the talk about how 'THIS IS GOING TO BE A FIVE PARTY ELECTION!!!'. The whole situation, combined with my lack of sleep, reminded me of Alex Jones' appearance on Waking Life. But, it precipitated what was then to come for the Green Party – an absolute onslaught on the media for failing to represent the party at an acceptable level. Hash-tagged as #invitetheGreens, the campaign has pushed the party into a bit of a publicity limelight over the past fortnight.

A Hare Krishna stall was there, serving up the same kind of irresistible nourishment that they continuously provided throughout the 2011 Occupy St Paul’s, and at plenty of other demos, completely for free. It felt like I was on another march that had climaxed in the middle of nowhere, and I was starting to get anxious to move on back to Parliament Square. The idea of a rally, anyway, has never appealed to me in the slightest – let alone a rally, as was apparent in this instance, that didn't seem to even physically exist (I saw no stage, nor knew of there being any main gathering place anywhere in Hyde Park..). We'd all finished our prasadam curry, and my two friends were stretched out on the grass, seemingly getting ready for a siesta. The samba band, who had been playing about 50 metres away from us, had stopped playing, and all was becoming quiet.

I noticed that one of these two towers, which we'd marched near for some of the march, read 'democracy'. I was jubilant as I read the other: 'OCCUPY'. They had each been carried upright by a few people, but now were being brought to a horizontal, like as if a movement was being planned. Five or six people took each tower, red and black flags started waving, and the samba band were about to start up again.

I rushed my friends to get themselves ready to go – we had another march to get on! As Occupy Democracy, Reclaim The Power, the Black Block, and plenty of non-affiliateds gathered and started moving on out of Hyde Park, a police van rushed to a stop and a squad of maybe ten cops shyly marched alongside the group. Their presence was weak, and largely ignored.

We joined as the march was working its way out of Hyde Park, and reclaiming the streets towards Parliament Square. 'Whose streets? OUR STREETS!' roared our crowd, the samba gave the pulse, myself and Alex drummed too, and we gave our lungs to 'FREEDOM!', too. I met a few activists I hadn't seen in quite a long while, which was fantastic. The camaraderie was really really strong. We are united, together in whatever happens. I suspected that we may miss our bus home through this – but it didn't matter. This was something more important than a safe trip home.

A police line were waiting for us at the end of one road, about halfway to Parliament Square, lined up. They were hardly formidable-looking, lacking the riot shields and batons that I came to expect through my time last year at Balcombe. There was a park on our left, so we all hopped the railings and walked through the park, leaving the cops a little embarrassed by their stunt.

We got back onto the road, causing very little road disruption and even being supported by a few motorists along the way. As we approached Parliament Square, I was feeling very excited at what was soon to follow. The hundred-or-so of us in our march were to return to Parliament Square as a huge wave of energy, taking the Square from the oppressive forces that dictate this 'democracy'. A slim line of police stood between us and the Square. We weaved around them, and marched straight into the centre of the square. I remembered finishing a Stop The War march in 2007 in this square, as a samba band kept rhythms going and police started surrounding the square. This was a similar scene – but there were plenty more of us than them, and we were committed to doing something incredible. We weren't going to be moved.

So as myself and my two friends ducked out of the square some minutes later, as we had a coach back to Bath to catch as well as thirty-or-so comrades on the coach to elate to, we left realising that this is the start of something beautiful, again. What began as a mere idea, conjured by a collective of 'subvertivists' under the 'Adbusters' motif, became an assembly of whoever and whatever, all across the world. Reclaim The Square became a common reality. What is strange for me, though, is that since early 2012, when the last of the camps were decamping and people getting burnt out, there has been little motion towards taking this much, much further.

Now we are over two weeks since that initial action, and just over a week since Occupy Democracy ended the 24/7 occupation of Parliament Square. Russell Brand brought the occupiers pizza, but occupiers were warned that, should they fall asleep on the pizza boxes, they would be prosecuted under the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill for using 'sleeping equipment' in Parliament Square. Tents and structures are banned in Parliament Square, to which police also claimed that umbrellas were banned as a form of 'structure'. Tarpaulins were banned, leading to two 'Battles of the Tarpaulin' between the occupiers and the police. The police kicked the occupiers out of the central square after the second Battle of the Tarpaulin, creating a #TarpaulinRevolution on the periphery of the 2-metre police fence guarded by police dogs. Banners and posters were banned from Parliament Square, in one of the most obscure depictions of policing in a 'democratic nation' that can possibly be imagined. People were arrested for giving food and drink to activists, and the Police even arrested the deputy chair of the London Assembly's Police & Crime Committee, Jenny Jones, in one particularly embarrassing episode for the London Met/the government. The Occupiers persisted through wind and rain, through police brutality, and through a media blackout for the first few days. And what has come of this?

A Return to Parliament Square is planned for 6pm on Friday 21st November. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts are calling to 'Build A Movement Not Just A Demo', urging students to Occupy their campuses, organise walkouts during classes, and 'resist'. Focus E15 Mothers, on 29th October, occupied the East Thames Housing Association Headquarters, turning the entrance to the offices into a creche for the day. The Adbusters collective called us all to greatly unify ourselves, that the right time for revolution will be the right time for revolution ('our battle tactic will become one of subtlety and subversion, hover and sting, actively waiting for our revolutionary moment to come').

The Occupation of Parliament Square made the TUC rally mean something to me. I am often one for quite controversial statements, and will not hold back again this time. 'Britain Needs A Pay Rise' is a shallow and fairly arrogant idea. What will a pay rise do, when we are living in a society of broken communities? In my experience, money does not save any troubles around us, but often leads to increased isolationism and paranoia. In this time of austerity, we need to look beyond the financial ripping-off that we are experiencing.

We are living in a society that claims to be democratic, and where we are fooled into thinking that we can actively change anything that is happening by voting for another party, or by going on a march. I felt unwelcome at the 'Britain Needs A Payrise' demo, and I know a fair few other Occupiers refused to join the march because of a complete disconnection with the focal point of the march. It was a big, digitally-printed, banner-waving, boxed-in march for the middle-class/Unionised working class to feel like as if they were actively doing something about austerity. The feeling on the coach to and from Bath reflected this. People spoke of this year's march in relation to last year's march, like as if the march is a yearly commodity, that it's just a day out strolling with thousands of other people through the city and occasionally, should the occasion arise, shouting a pre-printed slogan. There was a general feeling of a reluctance to actually do anything. The Occupy Democracy and Reclaim The Power activists emblazoned the march with a meaningful purpose. Through the march, we gathered energy and pace to march powerfully on Parliament Square, and kick-start Occupy Democracy. It is in rooting myself with collectives that actually are as direct as RtP and Occupy, as well as the countless grassroots activists that are occupying, resisting, and risking arrest and personal livelihoods through standing up for what they believe in, that I continue to believe and feel that change is happening, and that the world around me is gradually becoming liberated. For now, just as much as any other time, a question resounds in my mind: if not now, when?