Tamara Hopewell Barreda on the importance of political activism
Last week roughly 8,000 students took to the streets in support of free education. The mainstream media coverage of it was pretty poor with most focusing on the small number of violent acts. For a number of reasons Freddie Michell felt that the protest was messy and unsuccessful, I feel differently.
He is correct in saying that amongst the sea of placards there were also socialist flags, red and black anarchist flags and placards in support of the Green Party. He is, however, misguided in suggesting that this meant that everyone at the protest represented one of these political positions. One would hope that those waving political flags were doing so in an act of solidarity with the protesters. If anything, it should be taken positively that the demonstration was able to unify students of differing political views. He has missed the point that the banner of Free Education quite clearly shows the demo’s aim.
This movement is about solidarity; it transcends political alliances.
Michell claims that if he carried a placard with the UKIP slogan or a Swastika, he would be removed from the protest for “not supporting the purpose of the march”. He is right, this would probably happen. It’s not however because everyone on the protest is left leaning and closed-minded, but rather because fascists don’t tend to be very popular.
It is true that political beliefs should not alienate people; this diversity should stimulate debate. Many political factions believe in free education, so it’s no surprise that there are political flags and slogans at demos.
This movement is about solidarity; it transcends political alliances. Once again, the differences only serve to prove the point that the movement has had the power to unite many different people. Everyone that was marching was marching under the banner of free education.
It’s possible to see how these political views could cause issue in terms of what exactly the rally was about. Was it just about free education, was it about a change of government, a change of political system, or was it about a change in the education system?
At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. There needs to be a change in some way, in order for education to be free; it is just the degree of change that students disagree on.
For some, free education means working within the current political system with the main parties. I believe that the only way to achieve free education is through a radical change in the political system. I don’t think it matters if people were unsure who exactly they were angry at, as long as they knew that they agreed with the goal. The demo was one for Free Education, and we should take it as such.
There needs to be a change in some way, in order for education to be free; it is just the degree of change that students disagree on.
We shouldn’t see the demonstration as a failure or a ‘mess’. It is not because of a few paint bombs thrown at Starbucks or flares let off in Parliament Square that protesters aren’t being listened to. The majority of the demo was in fact peaceful; our media simply felt this wasn’t newsworthy. The next day, readers of headlines such as ‘Student protest over tuition fees ends in scuffles with police’ could be forgiven for thinking that this was all that happened. The majority of the mainstream media barely commented on the speeches given by a wide variety of people, from sixth form students to the leaders of the Green party. We aren’t being listened to because the media refuses to portray protests fairly and accurately.
People seem to have lost faith in the idea of popular political activism. After the million-strong march against Iraq the government didn’t listen. When 30,000-50,000 marched against fees and cuts in 2010 the government still voted in favour of them.
The loss of hope has led to apathy: the latest demo only drew 8,000 or so (the numbers vary depending on the source). This shouldn’t, however, stop us: it should make us stronger. It should make us more willing to fight for universal free education.
Featured image credit: Flo Lines