Two weeks ago there was an intriguing, if slightly ostentatious interview with Shia LaBeouf on DAZEDDIGITAL. LaBeouf, the once innocent Louis in Disney’s Even Stevens, turned controversial and plagiarizing conceptual artist, or what he terms a metamodernist, said something that resonates with our generation. He commented, “I am a deeply ironic, cynical person. I was raised on The Simpsons and South Park, it’s my default setting… [our generation] want to change things, we want to have hope, we just don’t know how or where to look.” – I think this rings true of our digitalised, savvy and ironic generation. We all know things are f*cked and something is fundamentally wrong, but quite what that is and how to change it, is the challenge.
The political betrayal of the liberal democrats in 2010 still feels like a deep wound for the many who voted and hoped that something could be different. Instead the last four years has been a constant onslaught of restructuring, disciplining and punishment for our generation. We face a lifetime of debt-slavery, £9000 fees will rack up debts of up to £50,000, and even after we graduate we’re the graduates without a future. Those who’ve been forced and priced out of education face endless precariousness in the battlefield of the job market. Zero hour contracts, minimum wage and no trade unions or bargaining power have become the norm. And for those thrown to the bottom of the heap, playing Xbox, taking ketamine and depression are the symptoms of this enforced boredom. Welcome to austerity Britain. What are the causes of this new economic and psychological oppression? What are we to do about it? How are we to resist this pacification?
I guess a starting point was last Saturday (6th December). Over 500 people demonstrated on Saturday demanding free education and a radical alternative to the current state of boredom. On the protest itself we brought traffic to a standstill, shut down tax dodging stores and banks, and generally disrupted the everyday pattern of consumerist life. Importantly we united the two campaigns for free education at both Brighton and Sussex, we brought together students, trade unionists and members of the community, we beckoned a response from the local MP, Caroline Lucas, and we received local and international media coverage. Although our achievements appear small they are a stepping-stone to building momentum and a movement for free education. As Vincent Van Gough once said ‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.’
Nationally the locus of a resurgent student movement is beginning to appear. Saturday 6th December saw protests across towns and cities for free education – including London, Birmingham, Hastings, Chichester and Bath. Wednesday 3rd saw a series of sit-ins, die-ins, rallies, protests and occupations from KCL, UCL and SOAS in London, to occupations at Manchester, Sheffield and Lancaster, to blockades at Bath, and of course to the brutally repressed occupation at Warwick University. Although the police stood off from our march on Saturday we should have no illusions as to the contempt with which they treat protests and protesters. They knew full well that if they put the boot in on Saturday, thousands would have been out on the streets against police violence on Sunday.
The question of police brutality and racism is pertinent both here and internationally. The aggressive eviction of Warwick occupation, the use of CS spray and the threat of electric Tasers is a ramping up of police and state violence in our universities. This weekend in Greece marked the sixth anniversary of the fatal police shooting and murder of unarmed 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos in 2008. Horrific footage can be seen of arrests and beatings in police custody at the commemoratory protests. I’m sure everyone has also seen the images of the ongoing protests in America against police racism, murder and brutality. Eric Garner, an unarmed and innocent by-stander, was put into a chokehold and suffocated to death, his last words, repeated 11 times, were “I CANT BREATHE” – and yet there was still no indictment against the racist cop who killed him. On Wednesday 10th there was a die-in protest at a shopping centre in West London in solidarity with the protests in America. Despite the peaceful and non-violent nature of the demonstration police kettled protesters and arrested 76 people!
The policing of austerity and the enforcement of conformism and boredom are genuine threats to all our movements. And there is only one-way to counteract it – the people of Ferguson beautifully capture this when they say, “we will continue to struggle because without struggle, there is no progress. We will continue to disrupt life, because without disruption we fear for our lives.” What we have created in Brighton is a small rift that is part of a bigger wave. I believe we need to harness and continue the creative, fun and ironic essence of our campaigns and movement. The Italian students of the 1970s raised a sentiment that articulates this, and I think we can try to rekindle this spirit today – “Collective happiness is subversion, subversion is collective happiness”.
By Moses Milner, Activist from Free Education Brighton