What do we want?

On Monday the campaign for the old city arts had an open meeting to discuss what we want to do with the building when we get it. Up until this point most of our energies have been channelled into the ‘campaign’. A large part of this process was meeting up with a wide variety of people to tell them about the campaign and gain their support. The hope was that by keeping the future open in terms of what we would do with the building a space would be created that could allow others to feel included, to put forward their own projects and desires. While this worked to some extent it was thought that we also needed to think about what we wanted, to remember that we were not just ‘campaign organizers’.

Those who came to the meeting suggested what they were personally interested in doing with the building. There were several suggestions for educational projects that were explicitly in opposition to the forms of teaching and research that currently prevail in schools and universities. These included critical pedagogical and research methods that sought to learn from concrete, everyday experiences and problems, learning and researching with people rather than at distance; holding regular and ongoing courses on subjects that were not usually taught or available to people and workshops or collaborative projects, including, for example, a hacker space. Related to these projects was the idea of using the building as a resource or archive, such as a library, but including recordings or records of various events that took place in the building. Also as a place to generate publications, zines etc.

A specific project called ‘Radical Love’ was proposed to take place from the 13th-15th September. This would take the form of an ongoing seminar involving up to 30 people presenting their various work.

Following on from the recent emergence of people’s assemblies in North Africa, Spain and Greece, and now in Ireland through Real Democracy Now, it was suggested the building could be used to hold regular and ongoing assemblies for people in the city. There are not many indoor spaces in the city where this kind of event can happen. The assembly would be a place for people to meet, to voice their problems and angers but also a way to generate political projects.

Other suggestions were more general in terms of how the building could be a place to support other projects: a roof garden or community garden; a cafe; language classes.

The question arose again, a question which had defined the discussion from the start: how much was the building to be defined by us and our desires and how much by others?

On one hand it was argued that it is more important to fight with people than fight for them: that it is better to put forward our own problems and needs in the hope that they will resonate with people rather than setting up a  building to ‘facilitate’ other people.

On the other it was argued that the building could quickly turn into another ‘independent space’ which was full of ‘our’ creativity and desires but had no impact politically in terms of creating some sort of counter-power to the state and market. The danger in this situation is that the building becomes another ‘island’ with no concrete support from beyond its limited circle, no political potency. In order to become a stronger force, more than just a building, requires strong connections of solidarity to be formed with other communities and individuals around the city.

Rather than being two opposing sides a common idea is that there needs to be something concrete and real in our demands for the building (something more than just getting an empty space) but these demands need to be universal not just specific to us.

But there has been a concrete demand that has resonated with people from the beginning: a frustration and anger at the way our collective lives are being constantly undermined and destroyed by a present and future ‘reality’ which the government and other ‘experts’ tell us is unavoidable. The campaign for the building came out of this anger, and a desire to do something to challenge it- by claiming a building. This anger has the capacity to resonate.

Autonomy was suggested as a term or concept that seemed to encapsulate much of what we had been talking about. Autonomy from an ideology that tells us we can’t do anything on our own: whether that be a ‘reliance’ on state funding (community development, arts, university) or a ‘reliance’ on keeping the market happy (austerity, commercialization of education). The building is an assertion of our autonomy. Within it people can pursue what they want as an expression of this political statement of autonomy. This seemed to overcome the problem of labeling it ‘educational’ or ‘cultural’ or ‘social’ which can, especially now, tend to be generic and meaningless. At the same time autonomy can suggest ideas of self-reliance which is the opposite of what is intended in terms of the building being part of the generation of a real, concrete counter-power in the city and country. But concepts are not static. Having a term like autonomy at least allows us to develop some common understanding of what we are doing, or feel we are doing.

We ended by deciding to hold a series of events over three days at the end of August (Thursday, 18th- Saturday, 20th) outside the building. These events would be a demonstration of the things we would like to see happen in the building. By doing something, with people, we also leave the comfort, and sometimes frustration, of only thinking in meetings.

If people have ideas for the three days please come along to our weekly meetings, Mondays at 6pm in Seomra Spraoi, or else email campaigncityarts@gmail.com.


From the university to the streets

A question often asked is what the university has to do with the general crisis in society? Clearly all public institutions are faced with cuts to their funding. In the university this has led to calls by university managers for a re-introduction of fees as well as a host of other options devised to generate resources from the private sector.

But these are symptoms of a more general crisis. While it is important that we fight against these tendencies the most we can hope for from such reaction is that we maintain things as they are. By constantly being defensive we turn the university back into the closed institution of the past. We forget to think about what it is we are defending- is it exams, jaded teachers, boring, outdated text books, hierarchies, bureaucracy, an increasingly worthless qualification in an economy with no jobs?

While we must reject the current consensus that subordinates everything to the market we have to go beyond that rejection. What we want must be fought for beyond the existing university walls. The university is not separate from the world that sustains it. Connecting to other struggles, turning education into something living, is a way to go beyond the limited hopes of defending what we have. We have to aim higher.

On 13th of May a contingent from the Knowledge Liberation Front will travel to Tunisia to meet up with students and activists who have been part of a living struggle. This is not only a journey to build solidarity but also a journey to learn. It is a living education.

Read the draft call

Liberation Without Borders Tour: From Rebel Universities to Tunisian Uprising

Reimagining the Students’ Union

Student politics is broken. With the exception of those running for Exec. positions who have begun to believe their own bullshit, we all know this without having to be told. We see the bizarre spectacle of candidates and their acolytes in brightly-coloured matching t-shirt rushing around trying to give you a sticker or a packet of Haribo in exchange for a vote, and making promises so outlandish that to call them impossible would be to credit them with an undeserved sense of dignity, and we feel instinctively that this is not the way that things were meant to be.

But that feeling that something is wrong hints at another way of doing things – at a dim unspoken vision of what student politics should be, and could be in some distant future. This article is an attempt to give some solidity to that alternative vision.

Even Zimbabwe holds elections

Right now, the Students’ Union is not a functioning democracy. What we have is an on-paper democracy: we have democratic structures (elections, Union Council etc.) but without any participation by the vast majority of students in the decision-making of the Union.

Part of the problem stems from the way candidates approach elections, most of which doesn’t even rise to the level of Jackie Healy-Rae clientelism, who had, at least, some idea of what the voters of South Kerry actually wanted, and (when the cards fell right for him) some prospect of getting it. In student politics, the electorate is treated with the utmost of contempt. When you are handed a can of Red Bull and told “vote for me”, the message is that it doesn’t matter what you think, all the candidate is interested in is your vote. When you are handed a manifesto which promises a new indoor ice-skating rink or an international airport or whatever, the message is that you as an ordinary student are too stupid to understand the intricacies of actual decision-making. Worse still, students have become so used to being spoken to in this manner that whenever genuine people come along, they must either adopt this approach to campaigning, or simply fade into obscurity.

In between elections, then, Union Council is supposed to serve as the organ of popular decision-making. The reality is somewhat different. Every year, Union Council is populated by the same clique of SU insiders, many of whom have aspirations of running for SU office in the future, with another stratum of wannabe insiders who haven’t quite made it into the clique just yet. Once elected (i.e. once they’ve found ten of their friends to sign their nomination form), Union Councillors are able to drop all pretence of actually representing a constituency, or even caring what their classmates think about the Union, and pursue their own personal agendas through the SU structures.

The Exec., meanwhile, undertake only the most minimal and perfunctory attempts to get ordinary students into UC positions, which usually involve visiting a couple of 1st Arts classes, with the result that many constituencies don’t even have tokenistic representation is the decision-making structures. So what’s the solution? The solution certainly isn’t to be found in vague nice-sounding soundbites about putting the U back in SU, which are so popular with candidates at this time of year. Candidates have been using similar slogan’s for decades and the U is still quite firmly absent from the reality of the SU. (Also, you can’t spell Union without ion, although I’m not sure what relevance that has.)

Nor is a solution to be found in electing student politicians who are good listeners or more approachable or more willing to take people’s suggestions on board. The reality is that the average student isn’t a well of fully-formed Good Ideas just waiting to be tapped by the right person. Good ideas come about through a process of mutual discussion, where the unique and subjective experiences of individual students are brought to the table, discussed, argued over, perhaps even fought over, and a conclusion is reached which is better than the sum of the parts. The problem therefore is a deeper one of how decision-making is approached. We need an SU which really involves as many students as possible in decision-making and which gives them the power to actually make decisions.

Something like that already exists on paper within the structures of the SU, but in a way which makes it practically unimplementable, namely the Union General Meeting. If we’re serious about the idea of making the SU democratic in a real and practical way, then bringing back mass assemblies is something that must be looked at.

The Students’ Union is not the Make-a-Wish Foundation

Yes it would be nice if there was a new swimming pool complex on campus, or if the condom machines in the SU jacks sold cocaine, or whatever other Awesome Thing you can imagine. But not only are these things impossible, they are also not what student politics should be about. The Students’ Union isn’t supposed to be a mechanism for student to somehow get loads of Awesome Things from somewhere. It’s a Union. It’s about representation. It’s about collective bargaining. It’s about lots of struggles, some of them small and boring, some of them big and exciting, to make the lives of students materially better in tangible ways. It’s a real and serious problem that the everyday struggles which really matter to the lives of students never get seriously discussed, because we’re too busy talking about which of the Awesome Things that candidates plucked out of thin air is most desirable/feasible.

Putting the ‘politics’ back into student politics

The Student’s Union is also not some kind of apolitical neutral service provider. Like it or not, a lot of the struggles in which students find themselves (most obviously against fees and for grants, but there are others) are inherently and necessarily political struggles. But despite this, student politicians – even those with strong and deeply-held political beliefs – run a mile from even the whiff of a strong political position. Why? Anyone can say they are against fees and want to campaign against fees, and in fact every candidate in every SU in the country says precisely this. The important question is how and why?

There’s a big difference between someone motivated by left-wing ideology who believes the campaign is best fought on the streets and who sees the fight against fees as being linked in with the struggles of workers and a right-winger who believes that the solution is effective lobbying and that the fight against fees is a fight against (public sector) workers to decide who feels the brunt of the cuts. I’ve written elsewhere about why I think it should be the former and not the latter, but that’s not the point of this article. The point is these questions matter, and as long as candidates are allowed (and indeed encouraged) to pretend that they don’t have any political opinions, then we’re very much gambling that what they mean when they say “against fees” is the same thing we mean.

Aidan Rowe

University and the ruins of the present

Reading the manifestos of the candidates for Provost (President) in Trinity College you could be forgiven for thinking that we really had reached the end of history. Nowhere in their over-inflated promises is there any hope that the university has a future beyond the market, an endless competition for funding, private finance, international students, ‘top’ academics and ‘brand recognition’. They write of hiring ‘development officers’ in New York, Beijing and London to generate funds from ‘philanthropists’ while at the same time supporting the re-introduction of fees and cuts to teaching staff. They all accept the government’s decision to cut funding for public institutions because the banks and bondholders are considered more important than free and equal education. This consensus is mounting all around us and it makes no sense.

But there is resistance.

Below is an eloquent article from friends in America who remind us that: “there is great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.”

Read the article

Occupation and Solidarity

Here is a statement from the students who yesterday occupied a building in UCL. The occupation is in solidarity with lecturers and other university staff who are the latest subject of attack in the ongoing subordination of the university to the neoliberal consensus.

‘In solidarity with striking lecturers and support staff students from UCL have occupied the Registry – the main administrative wing of the university. As students, we do not have the power to withdraw our labour in solidarity with staff, and so we have decided to occupy in order to fight the current attack on our lecturers’ pay, pensions and conditions. Management may not value the staff at UCL, but we students do.

This is, however, a much broader fight. We are still committed to a fully publicly funded education system and to resisting the privatisation of higher education. Lecturers are suffering this attack because of ideological reforms to the higher education system, implemented under the pretext of a financial crisis that they did not cause. The students and lecturers are what make this university, not the financial managers. We refuse to be divided from our lecturers and treated as disgruntled consumers. The true divide is with management and the ideological destruction of higher education they are complicit in.

We stand with our lecturers. We urge all students to join us in occupation in solidarity with their lecturers. Their fight is our fight.

We are all in this together!’

Eviction of Anti-Cuts Space

Last Thursday saw the eviction of students from a University of London building on Bedford Square, London. The space had been occupied for just over a week. It was created as a resource and meeting-place for activists and anyone involved in new social movements to fight the Government’s austerity measures.

These actions show how quickly and unthinkingly the university authorities can turn on their own students.