Student Protests

November 24, 2010 § 1 Comment

The student protests have filled the media again today. Here are some brief thoughts for those of us who are thinking about how these exciting developments fit into a larger strategy. Because strategy is fun.

The opportunities

– The student protests have successfully owned the moral high-ground – even amidst incidents of violence. The press is still widely following the ‘they are the future’ narrative, and today’s images of boys and girls in school uniform being kettled by aggressive-looking police in riot gear should push that further. That will change. The story of these protests is ready for the next chapter.

– The thousands of young people taking to the streets for the first time are being radicalised by new ideas they encounter, feeling a sense of power amongst their fellow protestors and media coverage, and witnessing cases of police brutality. These ‘beyond-the-usual-suspects’ youth can become one of the central constituencies of future actions on various different anti-cuts issues. Those protests will, of course, need to include their student identity and concerns.

The dangers

– Protesters come in three groups – radicals, idealists and realists. Opponents are already marginalising the radicals (focusing on the fire-extinguisher and the damage done to the police van left conveniently inside the area being kettled today – particularly the story of a handful of younger girls in school uniform holding hands around the van to stop further damage being done), and will then turn the idealists into realists. That leads to failure.

– In a wider anti-cuts perspective, the worry is that each issue-group will be taken down one-by-one. First the students, then the NHS, then forests and the environment etc. All of these issues need to be woven into a larger story.

What needs to happen next

The first step already happened today – localising the issue. Up and down the country we’ve seen sit-ins at universities, and classes walking out of school to demonstrate. To get organised, students will need manageable groups – and locality is the best way for that to happen.

– Experienced organisers need to get in the game and share their knowledge. The lack of coordination has certainly played well so far – telling a story of anger bubbling up all over the place, new faces protesting etc – but if this is to have political impact and go beyond November 2010, we need organisers doing their thing. This means some basic activist skills –  have a buddy when at a big march, know your rights if police get involved, how to organise a meeting, how does a movement work, strategy 101 etc.

– Other issue groups need to vocally support student protests. This is a great opportunity to build a wider anti-cuts narrative that can weave into financial reform etc later on. Particularly public service providers would do well to build alliances with young people.

– A clear theory of change needs to emerge. Is it focused on Nick Clegg and breaking apart the coalition government? Is it focused on Michael Gove and forcing him to split the Cabinet? Is it focused on George Osborne? Where do students have pressure – perhaps via a secondary target? Headteachers and University Vice-Chancellors?

Other thoughts?

EDIT: This video is classic – as one young man approaches to further damage the honey-trap police van, students in school uniform ask ‘why are you here if you don’t give a fuck?’

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