Thursday, 29 January 2009

Shame on the Cambridge University management!

The Cambridge University occupation in solidarity with Gaza have been having a tough time of it, with their university administration using such devious and intimidatory tactics as photographing occupants and recording their details (multiple times!), throwing away occupants' food supplies, stop-and-searches of staff and students to ensure that no food gets through (on "health and safety" grounds!), issuing legal threats, giving impossible time-frames for negotiations, preventing students from joining the protests and telling students that they would not be allowed to re-enter the occupation after they had already left. Yesterday visiting speaker Craig Murray was prevented from entering the building and had to address occupants and gathered crowds from within a ring of university officials acting like a police kettle. Cambridge students have explicitly stated their commitment to a peaceful occupation and to the non-disruption of their fellow students from the outset. Many staff and students and even politicians have expressed their outrage and support. The occupation says "Cambridge University claims to be stand for values of freedom of expression, and these worrying actions prove this claim false and set a dangerous precedent for future student activists." This kind of authoritarian harassment and siege from the University of Cambridge is unacceptable, hypocritical, disruptive to other students, and generally does them huge discredit. Please use the template on the right hand side of this page to send a letter of disgust (or write your own) to the vice-chancellor at


  1. New from Sheffield Hallam Occupiers

    We have been told by the University administration that they want us to leave at 9pm this evening and will involve the police if we refuse to leave.

    They have refused all of our demands, and specifically refused to grant an amnesty to all participants. At this time we do not know what this means as far as consequences brought by the university against Hallam students.

    The group will be making our decision on whether we will continue the occupation closer to the time.

    Any offers of advice that could be offered by other campaigns would be much appreciated.

  2. As an ex-Sussex student who was active in various campus campaigns in the mid-90s, I want first of all to congratulate you all on your long occupation. The fact that you have not only moved beyond the general poisonous apathy prevalent in society, but also the turn-up-on-a-demo-and-then-go-home leftist passivity that stunts so many genuine moments of protest and rebellion is to be both commended and celebrated.

    However, I think you made some mistakes during your Occupation, and I hope you'll have the patience to bear with me while I think them through.

    First - your curious victory declaration. I don't really understand it. I've read through the University's statement and to me it looks like nothing more than warm words. Even the most concrete concession, to extend certain scholarship opportunities to Palestinian students, looks very vague and something that they can wriggle out of in due course. And the fact that they've taken it down from their website already surely speaks volumes!

    A cynic could argue that they've handled this occupation very well. From what I've picked up on, they largely dragged out 'negotiations' (though considering the power imbalance between the Admin and the Occupation I use that word with caution) until the Occupation was running low on both energy and support - in terms of numbers and enthusiasm - and then withdrew, knowing that the occupiers would have a terrible choice to make: either accept defeat and walk out with nothing, and morale fatally damaged, or botch together some sort of statement that essentially meant nothing, but allowed everyone to save face.

    It seems you went for the latter option, and I don't blame you. There's nothing worse than being at the end of a political movement that's shot its load. In those circumstances, there really is nothing more important than trying to get out with any measure of positivity, so that the group, or at least the core of the group, stays together to fight another day.

    But it does seem in the cold light of day that you achieved almost nothing. Be honest with yourselves, that statement from the Admin means jack shit. In a year it will mean even less. And that's OK, because I'm presuming your Occupation created many other important things such as wider politicisation, friendships, and above all a sense of collective action - rather than everyone freezing in their atomised and horrified existences - all things which can lead forward into a different future.

    But this is something I feel very strongly about, from years of studying and experiencing what is generally known as 'the Left.' We really must stop deluding ourselves about our 'successes', just as we must also stop buying into the media bullshit that what we have to say no longer has any resonance with 'ordinary people.'

    Because people can see through spin in seconds. Whether it was Gorbachev boasting back in 1988 about how the Soviet economy was reinventing itself, when really it was crashing (ancient history, I know), or whether it was the SWP crowing in 2003 about the success of their anti-Iraq war demo (huge, passive, completely ignored by the British state, and an awfully wasted opportunity for 'us') people know an untruth when they see one. Similarly, your 'victory' is uncertain, to say the least.

    What you have created, though - and out of nothing - is a vitally important sense of collective action and endeavour. And that spirit, if built on, one day really could lead somewhere.

    A couple of comments too about your tactics. I've disrupted lectures in A2, and it's hardly the centre of the universe. Why did you choose there? Wouldn't Sussex House have been a better place? If you're going to target an institution, surely you go for the heart, rather than the big toe?

    I have an idea that it comes from this desperation, in fact, NOT to be disruptive. Not to inconvenience anyone, not to stop anyone from being a Good Student Unit, nor any lecturer from earning his / her money. On moral grounds this seems questionable, as well, perhaps, as reflecting a lack of confidence in your ability to mobilise genuine mass support. After, life in Gaza was disrupted, to say the least, so if you have the courage of your convictions and really believe that Sussex University is in some small way aiding the Israeli war-machine, shouldn't you have looked to create maximum disruption on campus? From my understanding, you allowed lectures to continue in A2 during your action, which seems a bizarre surrendering of the both the Occupation's power and space. Little more, in fact, than a glorified candle-and-silence vigil...

    This urge not to piss anyone off, at any cost, really goes to the heart of the matter. It assumes, in the end, that we're all on the same same side, and if only we only open our eyes and see what's going on, we could get it fixed pretty quick. But it isn't like that. Different groups in society have their own interests, will fight for those interests, and sooner or later you have to take sides. The Admin's job is to run an higher education institute, churn out graduates with credible degrees, maintain a research profile, and turn a profit if at all possible. Your 'job' was to do what you could to stop what was going on in Gaza. Because your Occupation was a relatively low threat, and didn't impair the functioning of the university, on this occasion they could accommodate you. Had you taken a more militant line, with demands that weren't so easy to smooth away in a 'statement', things would have been quite a bit different.

    In fact the whole thing was bound to be bit tokenistic, whatever the level it was pitched at. Unless there's some new development I'm unaware of, Sussex University doesn't significantly contribute to the Israeli war-machine. Maybe an opportunity to move beyond the symbolism would be a campus push behind the Smash EDO campaign, just down the road in Moulsecoomb, and which I'm sure you know all about. They make real things which kill real people. In the Middle East. Wednesdays is the regular day of protest, and May 4th is the next big mobilisation.

    I hope you take these comments in the comradely spirit in which they are intended, and I apologise if I've misinterpreted any aspects of your Occupation.

    Well done again.