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UK’s Battle of Ideas

By 12/05/2010September 8th, 2014All Posts, Andrea's Posts

Check out Celine’s December post for more on the UK protests.

There is a battle on in Britain at the moment, over the loss of half a million jobs and massive cuts in social funding the likes of which the country quite honestly can’t imagine. Having fought so hard in the States for even a taste of what is taken for granted here, I can imagine it of course…being a citizen of both countries I am entirely furious about it. What I find heartening, however, is that people here are still actually talking about a state that actually takes care of its people and a fight for free education.

When did Americans give up that particular dream?

This is the power of discourse, it is not simply the way we talk about things and the words we use, but what potentially limits our ideas and the things we can dream of.

In the U.S., where we have lost so much ground, it is almost impossible to conceive of a campaign to abolish all university fees. But in Britain, this was happening. Here is Nick Clegg, leader of the liberal democrats on the subject:

Scrap all fees he said. This was part of Clegg’s campaign not just to get the student vote, but to get students to campaign for him. Recent evidence has come to light that he always meant to renege on all of these promises in the event of a coalition government with the Tories. These guys never had to pay for their own educations, so it’s pretty rich to tell all future generations that they have to.

You can see though, that here the focus is on stopping education cuts and fee raises, not on scrapping fees all together.

Students are also divided on this deeper question. At LSE (London School of Economics) we’re campaigning to Freeze the Fees, while others are campaigning to Fuck the Fees or, alternatively, for free education for all. But that’s not such a stretch here in the UK where most people remember when higher education was free.

So it’s frightening how quickly the idea is accepted by so many that wars and tax write-offs and bank bailouts should all come first.

Here’s one of my favourite comedians, Stewart Lee, for once not being so funny, but breaking down the history of education, and what it means to fight a battle on your own terms

Another short video from the students at Goldsmiths College is absolutely brilliant in illustrating what fees actually mean; talk about complicated things simply explained!

So, in a recap that makes me incredibly happy for three reasons: hard facts, good music, and name calling, here’s a final popular explanation for what’s happening now.

If the reasons for anger are clear, the justifications for police brutality are not all.

Students and others are protesting. The march on November 10? Over 50,000 people showed up –– it was extraordinary. And then again on the 25th, but on the 25th it was different. A whole day of events were planned, but the police kettled over a thousand protesters just after noon. That means that protesters were caught between two lines of cops on a section of road and couldn’t leave. Such a tense situation with the police that early in the day kept many people away. I have friends who were held until around 8pm, and it wasn’t far above freezing.

I was outside protesting for free education and the release of those on the inside. Also freezing. And then, for the first time in my life, I was charged by horses, feeling sure that I would be run down. I have never see that many people panicking, there was screaming and people hurt.

I can’t explain how afraid I was, and then how angry. I had already seen a policeman on horseback beating someone with his baton –– they all had their sticks raised as they steadily pushed forward.

There were several short charges –– but the long one? I ran full out with everyone else and it didn’t feel as though they would stop. I lost my lens cap when I ran into a pylon. I was sure no one could have got video of it. I think the police thought so too, they steadily denied anything of the sort could have happened until this was released on youtube (the charge itself is about a minute in):

The Guardian picked it up, and so they came out and said oops, seemed like the police had lied to them.

So here is a redux on some of the things I have been thinking about:

  • We need to keep our minds open to all the possibilities and make sure we aren’t blocked into only certain lines of what is possible;
  • We need to get more alternative points of view out there creatively and get people thinking, and;
  • Wherever possible, we need to fight! (and upload our videos to youtube).

Of course I’m looking forward to the next protest. And there will be more on discourse to come.

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