One might conclude that the impassioned actions of hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life have come to nothing: that this deeply unpopular government remains unstoppable. However, it would be to underestimate the power of the establishment to presume that a series of street protests or student occupations alone could bring it down. More than that it would be to misunderstand the nature and direction of the movement that has emerged in opposition.
The government has been threatened and accordingly has responded, not with overt oppressive force, which would only escalate the threat it faces by providing a clear apprehensible object of hate that would unite people. Instead, the tactics consist of a string of measures, statements, and policies that encourage us to regard our own individual interests as different from, and in some cases, in conflict with those of others. Our attention is deflected away from a singular establishment that manages and profits from the reordering of our social life, and redirected towards those other ‘individuals’ whom we end up seeing as competitors. Therefore, we find ourselves applauding those political leaders who castigate the bankers; criticising those education workers and students who want more investment in education at the expense of a reduced investment in other public services; demonising those ‘lower ranking’ members of society who ‘drain the public finances’ by being in receipt of ‘unnecessary’ benefits of some kind.
Their greatest weapon is distraction and division. At the student occupation in Aberystwyth, this is something we encounter every day. When we speak to lecturers, students, and members of the community we receive vocal support. Many people recognise our objectives and are in agreement with our methods but something stops them from supporting us in a more direct way.
Every occupation suffers from small numbers. Students and staff are too preoccupied with the details and distractions of their own lives to commit to actions that might precipitate real change. They fail to recognise that they are the missing ingredient that is required to reach critical mass; they possess within themselves the possibility of either success or failure. They dwell in a state of constant deferral: they will only act in the future because the present makes too many demands on them.
This idea of ‘the future’ is perhaps the most pernicious way of neutering effective resistance. Academics are absorbed in the requirements of accruing research funding; students are intent on balancing their desire for good grades with having a ‘rich student experience’, and so on.
What this shows is that at the most profoundest level, the establishment, the object which most hinders our realisation of a truly free life, is located as much inside – within our own self-conceptualisations and motivations – as it is in the very concrete institutions which we feel around us. Those students and, in some cases staff, who remain in occupation see this most clearly. Not only by noting the failure of other academics and students to act on their beliefs, but also through their having made some efforts to reclaim, through difficult and often exhausting action, their own present. This offers up countless difficulties because it reveals that in essence the site of the movement’s struggle is situated not just protesting outside the offices of senior management, but in the decisions we make to act now and support one another.
The strength of this movement, defined largely by student occupations on campuses, lies in the radical shift in thinking and being which they embody. If we are going to mount a genuine challenge to the establishment then those students, staff, and members of the community who as of yet only provide vocal support will need to realise that the future that we want is here now but if it is not to slip away, they have to join the occupations in order to seize it. As Noam Chomsky puts it:
“The protestors in Aberystwyth – like those in Tahrir Square, Maddison Wisconsin, and many other parts of the world – are in the forefront of global struggles for basic rights, freedom, and democracy, and merit full and committed support.”You can get into contact with Aber Students against the Cuts by facebook and email.