OXFORD, UK -- The Socialist Workers Party posters posted over the glass of the ground floor windows clashed more than just a bit with the architecture of the Radcliffe Camera. Student protesters from the Occupied Oxford group seized control of James Gibbs's 1748 Palladian masterpiece last week, hanging red banners from the second floor and barring the doors to police. They were eventually dragged out by police after a two day siege.
Student protests have spread across the UK like wildfire in the last two weeks in response to the Con-Dem government's proposals to raise tuition fees at universities by £9,000 (about $14,000), with children as young as 13 joining together in a mass protest across the country yesterday. United by social networking sites it's hard not to read in these protests the beginning of the Revolution described in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Multitude. Huddled against the incoming winter, we felt we were seeing a microcosm of what was going on around the country -- mass outrage at a government that was trying to make higher education accessible available only to those with money.
Of course, the consequences of the cuts will be horrendous, and already some of the student voices ringing out across newspapers and television sets have the tone of a people that have little hope left. They speak of the future doctors, nurses and teachers of this country being condemned to a life of unskilled labor. Doesn't the government realize that policies such as these can only further destroy the country, stultifying the population and creating worse and worse class divides? The only people that will benefit are the wealthy who have constantly complained about the lower classes outperforming them at university.
At least people in the UK are standing up and doing something about this. Obviously this is no May 1968, but people care, unlike in the USA, where higher education has been hijacked by corporatism and students are so apathetic they won't stand up for anything. Case in point: October 2 at Yale we had an incident where cops raided a nightclub, tazed and beat up a kid for using his cell phone and arrested several others for asking questions and trying to use their phones. The incident was recorded on a cellphone camera, and policemen were recorded shouting, "Anybody else? Anybody else? Who's next?" after beating the student.
How did Yalies respond? They politely filed complaints forms and informed the media. No matter that they knew the police complaints system in New Haven was corrupt, no matter that they knew the University would do its best to gloss over the incident. Even when me and a few Yalies took to the streets with New Haven residents in a protest against the New Haven Police Department's brutality (mainly racially motivated) at the beginning of November, Yale students numbered about 15 in a crowd of 75. Now compare that with the 30,000 students who took to the streets in London last week.
Police oppression is arguably worse than the proposed tuition hikes, but when tuition hikes happen in the US, nobody notices. That's because the university system is almost completely private, and the government doesn't seem to care very much about making sure kids from low income areas are educated at a higher level. Those who are very able are of course allowed access to private institutions through scholarships and financial aid packages, but it's just not good enough. The governments of this world should think less about lining their own pockets and fighting hopeless wars and more about the future of their countries.
So, while the students occupying the Radcliffe Camera are annoyed a couple of people that want to read, they're helping to show the world that people care and should care about getting educated. The right to a good education should be non-negotiable and governments across the world must respect that.