Notes on Student Protest: Lancaster, Friday 13th, 2009

Notes on Student Protest: Lancaster, Friday 13th, 2009

Revolt against the false fathers, teachers and heroes…

– Herbert Marcuse (1966)

A phrase haunts my mind… Tragic though it undoubtedly is, it sounds very fine. But it is inaccurate:

“We  will recuperate our own protest”

Today I went with stupid hope in my heart to join with student protest in Lancaster. Slightly late, I ran down the street, toward the marching banners. The protest, as all who were there must know, was against the current Higher Education system: against raising fees, against removing the fee cap, and for “fairer funding”. The protest was organised primarily by LUSU (Lancaster University Student Union – NUS) members – and I really am truly thankful to them for having got people out there on the streets.

We walked up through the town, chanting, turned and crossed onto Dalton Square, to stand opposite the Town Hall. It was a good cheerful atmosphere: jubilant, cheeky, youthful. Let me say now that this is where my alliance lies: with youth, irreverence, solidarity. In the mass there is an energy analogous to that of those green shoots we have all watched at high-speed, bursting concrete and sealed boxes. It is this energy that is the essence of protest, and it is this that links in solidarity all who struggle.

It is also this that scares the living shit out of those who rely upon and nurture the system. We are as puny as those green shoots, whilst they wield armies, nuclear weapons, and worse – that deadly crushing weight that is bureaucracy: which has blinded and deafened our powers of empathy and analysis, asphyxiated autonomy, and which finally has come to stand over us, leering busily, rusted gutting knife in hand, cutting out of us the corrupted remains of our imagination. It often seems that all that we have left to us is that lingering libidinal energy; but it is exactly this that the bureaucratic system can neither master nor contain (only divert, distract, diffuse).

The truth of this struck me today, witnessing that we no longer know even what it is we want, our desires have been so manipulated. A further painful insight: as students we have reproduced in our own system the very structures of power and of governance that we oppose. What is student “democracy” but a flimsy facsimile of British “democracy”? What are our NUS leaders but children aping their bullying fathers? LUSU, in its current form, is nothing but a playground for wannabe MPs. (Did you hear, did you hear today, if it wasn’t obvious already, Ben Wallace’s condescending comment? Perhaps he is more astute than he looks. It was something close to: “I’m sure one day Michael [Payne, LUSU President] will make a great MP, though unfortunately he wants to join Labour”.)

What did we achieve today? Perhaps we should ask first what we lost today. We should ask why it is that we crave leadership so badly that we reproduce the Master/mastered relationship in every aspect of our political lives. Perhaps we should question why it was that we were as a crowd so willing to start singing: “Ben Wallace is our hero”, when, if you were able to hear clearly, there can not have been a single aspect of Ben Wallace’s little speech that you can have agreed with.

What did Ben Wallace’s speech contain? More of the same: wait until the HE Review is out; you students should think of yourselves as consumers of education; be unhappy little consumers, but be patient little consumers.  Does he not know how the word “consumers” insults our pursuit and, more importantly, the bond between us and our tutors? Does he not know that we have no faith in the powers of any government review? Does he not know that we despise him and his words; surely MPs must know by now that they are hated?

Why do we collude with this? Why do we try and work within the system? Why use “democratic” means? It is these professional politicians, this system, and this sham-democracy that chains us. And yet we have accepted its judgments and promises? I would rather we had achieved no pledge signing today; I would rather we had failed with dignity. I would rather we had maintained our own sincerity intact, refusing to collaborate, our aim being only to express our anger and our hatred at the system, and joyful solidarity with each other.

As it is, that haunting phrase – “we will recuperate our own protest” – remains inaccurate, because there is nothing to recuperate. We set out already recuperated; we never stood outside of the system, from the beginning we only reinforced it.

Of course, it is easy for me to say this; in that crucial moment I lacked the courage to shout out:

“What ever happened to free education?”


“Fuck Fees; Fuck MPs!”


“Education is not for sale!”


“Students, not consumers!”

and simply

“Fuck you!”

I lacked cojones at the critical moment. I chickened out. Now I am consigned to a negative role; I didn’t manage to assert a presence, a positive force. Now I’m ashamed, and bitter, and really fucked off.

In future, let us not ask for our Lords and Masters to be clear with us, so we can participate in their system. Let us demand free education, and full funding for universities, students and academics. In fact, let us demand wider change, in solidarity with the struggles of others throughout the world. Let us reject politicians and their rhetoric, spit out their language, shit on their terms, revile their system, and participate in our own way. Let us no longer demand, in fact, but act: let us bring about a revolution!

Love and solidarity!



~ by Wit on November 13, 2009.

3 Responses to “Notes on Student Protest: Lancaster, Friday 13th, 2009”

  1. Article is brilliant and blah blah.
    But, for fuck’s sake, stop taking things so personally! You will end up a dead poet (but never, unlike others, a cynic)before you even begin!

    To ‘help’ you cheer up, here is the official view on today’s:

    [Hey everyone,

    I bring good news!

    Mission 1 of the campaign – Accomplished!

    Thanks to all of those 1,300 of you who signed a letter to local MP Ben Wallace, today after a protest of over 200 Lancaster students at the Town Hall, Ben agreed to sign our pledge.

    He came out and spoke to the students and had a press photo with us and the pledge. A massive thanks to everyone involved.

    BUT – this is just the first step. Next week the action comes to campus – more details to follow and we need over 500 students involved!

    Photos of today will be uploaded soon and look our for local news coverage on BBC Radio Lancashire, The Bay FM, Lancashire Evening Post and the Lancaster Guardian.

    More information soon.

    We can win this fight.




    (Also amazing: all one needs to do to know wht’s what, is to decipher to whom “we” (our, us, etc) refers to in the LUSU text. And if one does the same with your text and then compares results, s/he’ll get a most full and accurate micrograpgy of the story of popular struggles against beurocracy)

  2. Waow loved reading your blogpost. I submitted your feed to my reader.

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