On Wednesday the 19th of November many thousands of students attended a rally in central London which called for an end to the reckless approach of the current government’s austerity measures, and specifically its dubious education policy. As per usual, this march suffered from a lack of mainstream media coverage and although well attended, such marches remain a fringe activity with many students not bothering to rock up on the day. There is a constant, nagging voice which suggests that these protests are meaningless displays of pointless antagonism. This could not be further from the truth. These protests represent a movement in dire need of greater momentum and engagement, not something to be written off so keenly.
To say that the protests continue to fall on deaf ears supposes that the powers that be are unable to listen. It is not simply our government’s incapacity to respond that is frustrating and deeply troubling, but its utter ineptitude. The reasoning that we should quit complaining because no positive response has been enlisted thus far misses the point; the protest is by nature a defiance of silent complicity, just as much as it is a cry for action. In failing to provide full support and backing for the recent campaign, the National Union of Students only confirms that it sold out years ago. For most, all the NUS represents is a poxy discount card whipped out for money off their cappuccino. With positions filled by CV builders and careerists using it as a stepping stone to mainstream politics, many feel disaffected with the representative power of the union.
Although correct in highlighting issues of accessibility for disabled students, the NUS complaint that there was an “unacceptable level of risk to our members” is baffling and alarmist. We do not live in a country where it is likely that student protestors will face bullets, although police conduct at these events is often questionable, and sadly brutality and excessive force occasionally rears its ugly face. If the NUS is concerned about the safety and welfare of its members then it should have placed full support behind a campaign which condemns the unacceptable education and general austerity policies of the current government.
The situation is the direct result of failure to engage on the part of each of us. In choosing the lie-in or Starbucks sojourn over the march and picket line, we actively contribute to an apathy which gives the green light to continued policy bumbling by our government. If joining the protests is seen as a fringe or radical activity by only the more politically vociferous amongst us, then policy drafters are less likely to make compromises when we do not demonstrate opposition at the ballot box.
Conservative promises of free market magic boosting standards, Labour’s flirtation with lower feess; neither of these is satisfactory. The protest movement should not end when a politician voices lacklustre support, or even when the political establishment recognises that free education is an inalienable right, but when tuition debt is cancelled, staff paid properly for their work and accessibility to higher education is no longer determined by socioeconomic background. Though a lofty and idealistic call, it seems more honest to shoot for the stars than to give in and thank parliament for the scraps they so generously toss from their banquet.