Archive for the ‘ student ’ Category

(Almost) live from Manchester occupation

On Wednesday, after a 6000 strong march through Manchester against the higher education cuts and rise in tuition fees, I was among a group of students who occupied part of the Roscoe building. We got loads of press coverage, my flatmate who has never been particularly involved in activism before got on TV, and we have pretty much been constantly giving radio interviews.

A small group of people who came out to meet the BBC reporter. You can see me if you look closely.

 

The has been minimal disruption to lectures, with many lecturers continuing normal timetabled lectures in the theatre. We figure that while we are using the space to organise against the attacks to our education, we should allow the space to continue to be used as a place of “normal academic learning” as much as possible. On Friday afternoon, when there were no timetabled lectures, we held our own. One in particular was a talk by Japhy Wilson about the crisis of capitalism which was fascinating. I have recorded the talks and discussion as audio files that are available to download below.

A group of students are continuing the occupation over the weekend. I’ve been delegated to go to the national co-ordinating meeting for the Education Activist Network on Sunday, so the best way to find out more about the occupation is to check out http://www.roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com and follow us on twitter at @mancoccupation You can also follow the Education Activist Network at @edactivistnet

Download the following file to hear Japhy Wilson’s talk today: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TWZHYLTW

Download the following file to hear the open floor meeting: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=97I3RS78

Note that the files might take a few minutes to become available on megaupload. Also note that I’m not really totally sure how reliable megaupload is on a large scale. I’ve only used it to distribute files quickly to mates before. We don’t really have anyone tech-savvy here!

these files are also available on the Roscoe Occupation website. www. roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com

The Browne Review: Where next for the student movement?

The recent publication of the Browne Review will not only have lasting consequences for higher education funding and the wider university landscape, but will have massive repercussions for the student movement.

The review itself was headed up Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive at BP whose savage cost saving cuts and subsequent health and safety corner-cutting there had him accused by some pundits as “the man most responsible for the BP oil spill”. It should come as no surprise to us that his review, which was instigated by the Labour Party, would follow his trend of maximising savings by slashing expenditure. The question remains, will his proposals be as devastating to the student movement as the oil spill was to the Gulf of Mexico?

Within a context of a 25% reduction in education funding, the clear winners in the proposals will be the elite universities who will be able to claw back their funding from the pockets of students paying increased fees. Other winners include part-time students who will finally be allowed to access some reliable form of education funding. The losers in the proposals are the less prestigious universities who can’t afford to put off students with a hike in fees and arts and humanities departments who are likely to be decimated by the proposals. Needless to say, students loose out on these proposals by paying more, but working class and some minority students will be worst affected by grants and scholarships not keeping pace with the increase in fees and living costs and being able to rely on the parental handouts.

the increasing costs of education may lead to students not being able to afford clothes

Whether Lord Browne’s proposals get the nod through Parliament largely depends on the whim of whoever is holding the party whip; but it is clear that the student movement needs to look beyond traditional party politics for it solution. The Liberal Democrats, once the darling of liberal students, are set to betray the movement by voting for an increase in tuition fees on top of their support for a 25% education budget cut. Whilst the Libdems might make a show of a small back-bench rebellion on the issue; it is proof, as if proof were needed, that the Libdems were never the “progressive” party they claimed to be.

With the Labour Party’s ranks swelling with Libdem defectors, and it enjoying a long history of support from the NUS bureaucracy, it seems likely that students will increasingly turn to Labour in search of a saviour. But, as the inventors of the Browne Review, can they really be trusted? It seems that a slash and burn approach to education funding would also be on their agenda if they had managed to make it into power again, and whilst they can (and no doubt will) criticise the ConDems from the relative safety of the opposition benches, they do not represent a viable, progressive alternative for us.

So, where next? With the National Union of Students flagship graduate tax seeming more and more like re-branded tuition fees, the rank and file of the student movement will have to look elsewhere for support in the fight for fair and genuinely free education. How we respond to the current attacks on our education will be key, and its clear from looking at our movements’ history we never got anything without fighting for it.

Add me on twitter @charliethescarf and subscribe to this blog by clicking on the button to the right.

What is Marriage?

Yesterday I gave a speech at York University about the institution of marriage and how it relates to me. Here is the transcript.

In order to examine what marriage is today, its important to see it within its historical and social context. Marriage first became something that fully involved the state when common-law marriage for practical purposes was abolished under the marriage act of 1753. Before then, legal marriage was mainly a practice of the aristocratic and bourgeois classes; its main purpose to secure business relationships between rich families and appropriate property away from women and the working classes.
As the UK moved from mercentilism to industrialism to a neo-liberal, ostensibly capitalist economic system, the way that legal marriage was used in society changed from being something that was used solely to secure business relationships between privileged families and something that was more accessible to some sections of the working classes. This is seen as a sign of liberal progression by some commentators, but I’m not convinced.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production within society is privately owned. The ruling class, who are the owners of the means of production, have the most economic power, and therefore more political power within our society. They seek to extend their economic and political power by exploiting those who don’t own the means of production, the working class, by forcing them to labour in order to produce surplus value, so they can extract profit. The ruling class seeks to ensure their continued domination by using a tactic of “divide and conquer”; encouraging racism, homophobia, disablism and other forms of bigotry to take root in communities, so the working classes are fighting amongst themselves as opposed to combating the root cause of their exploitation – capitalism and the ruling class.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with marriage. Well, the institution of marriage and the concept of “family” it supports, has evolved into another tool to divide the working class by splitting communities in to atomised nuclear family units. This isolates individuals from their neighbours, and decreases the shared resources within a community, increasing profits for those in power. The concept of the family is then further used to exploit a right wing agenda – one recent example being the attack on the LGBT community in defence of the “family” by members of the conservative party. Its interesting that most political acts which supposedly support the “family” could arguably be seen as attacks on the community, and the working class as a whole.
The notion of the family and the institution of marriage is part of this process of division alongside forces such as racism and misogyny, and in some ways they both depend upon each other for their very existence – division in one area of public life giving rise to another form of division. From 1753 onwards, the state entered our bedrooms in order to police our relationships; granting legal marriages to those that were deemed fit of privilege. Now the state wishes most people to enter into marriages, giving them minor financial incentives in order to further atomise the working classes t the benefit of those in power. Whilst I have no issue with people living together, or publicly showing commitment to each other, buying into the institution of marriage is essentially supporting and aiding your own oppression by the state and the ruling class. Whilst there might be a some rare cases in which the benefits of marriage outweigh the disadvantages, such as marrying an asylum seeker to save them from a greater oppression, in most cases marriage represents a misinformed backing of the state and capitalism*

On the subject of gay marriage, I’m sure others speaking tonight will talk about issues of assimilation and heteronormativity. It is my question to ask, then, is advocating incremental change in fighting for the ability of queers to marry progressive? If we ifght for so-called equality within a framework controlled by heteronormative elite, how are me liberated?Is it better then, instead of arguing for gay marriage, to argue for the abolition of marriage altogether, to take direct action against the root causes of our oppression and move towards a society in which hierarchy and division no longer exist and power is held by the community and not the ruling elite?

* In case some of you don’t know me personally, I am currently married, going through a divorce. I married my best friend to take advantage of a relatively large pot of money that would become available to us through student loans and various bursaries should we show we are “independent” of our parents. Obviously, at the time I thought that action was justified, and it has, and will continue (even after the divorce goes through) to massively improve my standard of living whilst I’m a student, and will be essential to my affording to do a masters after this current degree. Im obviously still campaigning for free education and grants for all students though!

Add me on twitter @charliethescarf and subscribe to my blog by clicking the button on the right.

I recently joined formspring. Feel free to ask me things, and if your question is interesting enough, Ill write a blog about it: http://www.formspring.me/charliethescarf

What is Terror? The Personal and the Political

Activist Tami Peterson talks about her own personal experiences of terror and its relevance to the student movement, in this beautifully articulated piece. Thanks to Tami for letting me share this.

There’s been a lot of talk about “terror” and a lot of people saying that what happened with the siege of the aid ship and the wars that continue to rage in Afghanistan and Iraq are nothing to do with students and should not be of concern. Well I’m a student and these issues do matter to me, and not only do they matter they effect me dramatically both personally and politically. While I don’t expect people to agree with me, I do expect to not have my experiences discounted. So for all of my fellow students who cannot speak out about their experiences of terror and the private outrage they feel that their experiences and views are considered “not relevant” I share my own:
What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly personal. The memory of my heart thumping, chest pumping, stopping and my blood running cold. It’s shouting, screaming, chaos. It’s watching people jump out of buildings twisting and turning grotesquely before hitting the ground, burning paper fluttering slowly down like a confetti parade and fireballs high above your head. It’s desperation. It’s “MISSING” notices which fill the square a few days later. It’s knowing most of them weren’t “missing” at all. It’s looking down into grey dust and seeing shoes and glasses and not remembering if I saw a body. It’s that police officer who saved my life by screaming at me to run the other way and not knowing if they perished themselves. It’s looking into the face of death and thinking “Ok, that’s it, I’m dead” and then always feeling a bit guilty that I actually made it. It’s the shopkeeper being threatened for being a “fucking terrorist” the next day as I stood there impotent. It’s the shame I felt at not having jumped to his defense. It’s the cowardice I felt at having hid my political books in a box under my bed the next day just in case they finally did make use of that file they’ve had on me since I was sixteen. It’s the fear of not having any idea which titles would be considered subversive. It’s yet another apocalyptic nightmare where I am trying to escape from more terror, bombed out city landscapes and US military jets never knowing if they are there to protect or harm. It’s the eternal sound of a screeching descending plane, PLANE #2, as it heads towards the WTC, a sound which relives itself daily, hourly in the flight path above my head. It’s wondering if the fear I feel upon looking up will ever leave or if I am stuck with it forever. It’s the inability to live without feeling terrible anxiety at low level noise, a horrendous rumbling like when they fell, a rumbling so loud it reverberates forever in my brain. It’s the embarrassment of jumping when there’s a sudden noise. It’s the shame of being unable to take a bus without a panic attack after 7/7 for weeks. It’s the shame of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s the embarrassment of nearly passing out on the stairs during a fire drill because of having a flashback. It’s being monitored on the health registry watch list just in case we all get sick from breathing in the dust. What is terror?

What is terror? For me it’s something incredibly political. It’s the understanding that government officials on the television are telling me, yet again, that that horrible day is somehow a justification for the unleashing of shouting, screaming, chaos, descending planes onto others and that the context doesn’t matter, because it’s all to fight terror. It’s the feeling of helplessness that this appears to be accepted. It’s the mental images I get of people, people, people, huddled, scared, crying, thinking they will die, it is nightmares come to life. It is the apocalypse made real, but for others. It’s the media pumping out yet again more justification for terror. More terror, pure terror. It’s leftists telling me that they didn’t condemn 9/11 because there are lots of bad things happening in the world. It’s people telling me they shouldn’t condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza because Israel is always against terror and the Palestinians are always terrorists. It’s my government telling me that I should support sending terror to Afghanistan and Iraq in order to end terror. It’s people calling me a supporter of terrorists because I oppose terror while using the actual terror that I’ve experienced as a reason for calling me a terrorist supporter. It’s every attempt by a regime to impose terror on its people. It’s every attempt by a group to terrorise others in an attempt to claim they are responding to terror by using terror. It’s getting screamed at as myself and other protestors stood on the streets of NYC to oppose the US war in Afghanistan because they say we support terror. It’s my great frustration with their belief that I was standing there to support terror when I was trying to oppose it. It’s fellow demonstrators yelling at me on anti-war demos because I tell them that their conspiracies about 9/11 are offensive, particularly when they don’t give a damn about supporting workers dying from the toxic dust. It’s Muslim students being harassed for being “terrorists” when they have never touched a weapon by those who have been trained in weaponry. It’s women having the hijab ripped off by racist thugs on trains. It’s people I love being considered suspected terrorists in the name of protecting me from terror. What is terror?

Follow this blog on twitter @charliethescarf and subscribe by clicking the button on the right.

NUS LGBT Conference Report

I was lucky enough to be sent to the NUS LGBT conference this year. The NUS LGBT conference is the decision making body of the NUS LGBT campaign, and has policy making, workshops, parties and whole lot of bitching, factional in-fighting, backstabbing and more. Just what you expect when you put 300 political gays in the same room as each-other, really.

The first zone of discussion we got to was policy on Welfare and Student Rights, in which I had a few motions. We first reaffirmed our position as an anti-fascist campaign, and re-affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Some misinformed person spoke against affiliation, saying that UAF are too confrontational and violent, whereas in reality they are not confrontational enough; often organising counter-protests far away from fascist mobilisations and discouraging antifascists from actively breaking up fascist demos.

We then supported a motion to fight public spending cuts and affiliate to the Right to Work campaign. Next came a motion that resolved to fight anti-religious sentiments within the LGBT community. I spontaneously decided the speak against this motion. I feel that any progressive campaign must take a stance on materialism, and that a political criticism of religion is necessary within the movement. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to get my thoughts in order before making the speech and it came across as anti-religious.

We then voted on campaigning against cuts to sexual health services, to support LGBT workers, and for more work on trans issues with Further Education colleges.

Next was the Liberate Prisons Now! motion which argued to support LGBT prisoners and to adopt a position of wanting prison reform. I submitted an amendment to support the work of the Bent Bars project, which was successful. I then took parts on some of the main motion which were poorly written and could be taken as something entirely different to what the main submitter had intended. We voted on the parts, and they remained, with one vote in it. There were other parts discussed, but I think the whole motion made it into policy, if I’m not mistaken. For more info on LGBT prisoners,  see my previous note.

The next motion to be discussed on the order paper was my motion to affiliate to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), of which I am the Education Officer, to run education sessions on drug use in the LGBT community and to write to the Home Office calling for an evidence based drug policy and an impact assessment that the current drug policy has on LGBT people. The main submitter of the Prisons motion put in a procedural motion to have this motion moved to the bottom of the agenda (where it may not be discussed) which I took to be a petty retaliation to my taking parts on her motion, and perhaps a cynical attempt to make people vote against the motion. Fortunately, the Daf Adley, one of the NUS LGBT officers, spoke against the procedural motion and it was not adopted. Lev gave a good speech in favour of the motion, and Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS gave a speech against, in which he made it clear to the entire of conference that he had no idea what SSDP was. I took the final speech on the motion and it passed with a good majority. If you want to find out more about SSDP, please contact education[at]ssdp.org.uk

We then passed fabulous policy on supporting Queer Homeless Youth, policy against service restrictions to students who owe their Universities money, to support LGBT carers, and tackling homophobia in schools.

The next zone we discussed was Education where the most controversial motion was on Free Education. The NUS President Elect, Aaron Porter, spoke against the motion, demonstrating the NUS leaderships usual tendency to capitulate to government in return for a career in parliament. Fortunately, we passed the Free Education motion with a good majority. We also passed motions defending EMA, condemning education cuts, and pushing for better equality and diversity in the FE curriculum.

We then discussed was the Society and Citizenship section. Here were reaffirmed our stance against the commercialisation of Pride and that pride should be political, as well as showing solidarity with Pride’s in the Baltic countries which are often banned, broken up or attacked by fascists. We supported a motion to continue to support LGBT asylum seekers and the Love Without Borders campaign. We then discussed a fantastic No Borders motion to campaign for an end to the border regime and to affiliate to the no borders network. It passed… making me very happy.

Next came up two amendments, which I think should be discussed here together. One was to support LGBT liberation in Palestine and condemn the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the other was to support LGBT liberation in Iran and to condemn any future occupation or invasion by anglo-american powers. The Palestine one came first, and people argued that we should not take a stance on the occupation because it is an “international issue” or irrelevant to LGBT issues, and the all the parts referring to condemning the occupation or campaigning for an end to the arms trade to Israel were removed. The Iran motion, which was equally international, and possibly less relevant than the Palestine amendment (it was condemning a future occupation that may not happen, whilst the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is very real) was passed without any parts being taken on it. This is ridiculous and can only represent racism against the Palestinian people on conference floor by those who voted to remove those parts.

We then discussed a motion to campaign against military presence on our campuses, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to scrap Trident and to instead funnel that huge pot of money to LGBT healthcare. Someone made the speech against saying that the military does useful stuff on campuses. It is my personal views that the members of the military are complicit in murder, and they should get the fuck off our campuses. There were a lot of parts taken on the motion, I’m not sure what happened to them.

We then passed policy on continuing the Donation not Discrimination campaign, supporting Votes for Students (I spoke against), and campaigning for Votes at 16. Next came motions to campaign for the government to recognise non-binary gender identities, a rather amusingly titled motion – “Buggery: we wont take this lying down” from our delegation, and motion calling for the media to be more trans-aware and to condemn the pope on his recent homophobia.

We then discussed the reform section, which dealt with changes to the structure of the campaign. The only thing that I think was dodgy was the decision to create a gay men’s caucus. I was somewhat conflicted on this issue. I’m not a gay man, and felt slightly uncomfortable having a say in whether they should be allowed an official caucus. However, as any groups are allowed to self organise in fringe meetings, and in the 3 years I have been going to these conferences, I have never seen a gay mans meeting, it seemed to me that they didn’t really need one. Also, caucuses are there to let minority voices within the campaign self organise, and gay men are a majority in the campaign. The fact they have a caucus makes it seem they experience a similar level of oppression as black or disabled lgbt students (who are oppressed once because they are LGBT, and again because they are black/disabled), whereas gay men are simply oppressed because they are gay, they are not oppressed because they are men.

We then moved onto the Strong and Active Unions zone, where we voted to condemn the recent changes to the way which delegates are chosen to NUS annual conference, which arguably makes it harder for minority groups to get involved. We confirmed our commitment to being a feminist campaign, and then passed a few motions about activist training and ensuring that committee members can be held to account. We then passed policy on supporting FE colleges with LGBT work, telling unions to organise queer-friendly clubnights, and one to improve the website.

The next motion discussed was one on polyamory that I had written. Ive been supporting poly motions for the last 3 years, so I was very happy that this one finally got discussed. I had a rough night the night before so decided to give my speeches to Sky Yarlett, who did amazingly. The motion was to put out education materials on polyamory, and to change our current material so nothing assumes that people are in monogamous relationships. Some misinformed people spoke against the motion, equating polyamory with promiscuity, which is exactly why we need to educate people on the matter. Someone also said that producing material on polyamory might give homophobes some ammunition to use against us, which is just plain absurd. We shouldn’t not do something to appease a reactionary group! I was very happy when the motion passed with a good majority.

There was then a discussion on a motion to hold committee meetings in the devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, and an amendment to hold one in Northern Ireland. The argument for was that the committee neglect the devolved nations, and it was a step in the right direction in making reparations. A delegate from Northern Ireland made the compelling point that this was simple tokenism, and that if we were going to spend money on shipping committee around the UK, they should be going to meet grassroots activists and not for a meeting that could essentially happen anywhere.

We then passed policy on getting trans involvement in unions and (fantastically) opposing trustee boards of unions that have the power to make political decisions. Its great that we chose to keep our unions student lead! That same motion pushed to encourage a block election system like they have at Liverpool Guild of Students, where everyone runs for president, and the people who come second, third, etc. become vice-presidents with certain portfolios. The motion argued that such a system was more accessible to candidates from the liberation groups, but thankfully people on conference floor pointed out that such as system made it impossible to have a Womens Officer and often made it harder for liberation groups to get elected. Parts were taken, and they were removed. The last few motions of that zone were sent to committee to decide on as we had run out of time.

Next came the Emergency Motions, which most of them weren’t contentious. There was a big debate over the motion to support the Black Students Officer, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who was recently censured at National Conference. Both Bell and Daf, one of the LGBT Officers, sent a letter to Durham University Union condemning them for inviting the fascist BNP MEP Andrew Brons to speak on campus, and promising a demo against the event. They also said that should any students be harmed by the invitation to have a fascist speak on campus (as stats show that violence on campus increases when fascists are let on), that the blame would firmly be on Durham unions shoulders. Durham Union was a bit pissed off and threatened to disaffiliate from the NUS. Wes Streeting, the NUS President was quoted as saying that he would sack Daf and Bell if he could and voted to censure them at national conference. At NUS national conference, two similar motions were put forward to censure Daf and Bell, the one against Bell passed, the one against Daf fell. It shows that a degree of racism was present on conference floor. At NUS LGBT, we voted to censure Wes Streeting as he had interfered in the autonomy of the LGBT and Black Students’ campaign as our officers were acting as mandate to do so by their autonomous conferences. This I enjoyed immensely.

The conference as a whole was a success. Most of the discussion went the way I wanted it to, and we elected a good, left wing committee and officers. My only hope is that the more radical elements to committee stay that way and don’t become beaurocrats, as is usually the case with this sort of thing.

Add me on twitter @charliethescarf

Subscribe to my blog by clicking the button to the right… :)

Is Free Education a Queer Issue?

Free Education is an issue that has mainly been forgotten. The National Union of Students has abandoned the fight, and is instead pushing a ‘graduate tax’ which in the long run leaves students paying up to double the amount we pay now under the ‘top-up fees’ model, selling out students in the process of cosying up to the government.

As much as the fight for Free Education has been forgotten, the effects of this education tax are felt acutely in the here and now. People are having to quit university because they cannot afford to pay tuition fees. Numbers of students going into sex work in order to pay for their degree has increased by at least 50% in the last 10 years.* The average student will be saddled with a debt of £26,000^.

Our movement needs to show its strength by fighting back against the marketisation of our education

Of course, the spiralling cost of education is an issue that effects us all, but, disproportionately effects students from oppressed groups; the working class, BME, disable, and LGBT. Indeed, LGBT students are more likely to be estranged from their parents; and so often do not have the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on. Not only that, but due to the overly strict rules that the ultimately inept Student Loans Company have towards “proving” one was estranged, many students don’t receive the bursaries that they should be entitled to otherwise, simply because they cant prove their estrangement, but cant provide documentation of parental income either.

Opponents of Free Education will talk about just how much education provision costs, they’ll bring along the bogey-man recession to make it seem like an impossible prospect. They may even try and argue that free education isn’t something you deserve. All this is utter rubbish, when it comes down to it, it’s not about finding the funds, they are already there. They are just being spent on something else – ID cards, nuclear weapons, or imperialist wars in the Middle East. Its time we stop spending our money on this nonsense, and start investing it in education.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/student/news/article665019.ece

http://www.onlyfinance.com/Debt/Student-debt-and-their-fantasy-world.aspx

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.