Students are showing us the way
Since leaving full-time education, I have worked with the student movement in several ways – through backing campaigns, through being employed by a students' union, through giving freelance media training to groups such as People & Planet and the Student Christian Movement.
And I have never felt more proud to be associated with the student movement than I do this week.
As I write, sixth form students at a school in Camden are staging a sit-in. This is just one example of the peaceful student occupations that have broken out across the UK in recent weeks – locations include Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and York.
I grew up in a council house, attended a comprehensive school and went to university in the nineties without paying fees. People from social backgrounds such as mine will be even less likely to go to university if the coalition's fees proposals go through. I'd hoped that there would be strong opposition to these proposals, but not in my most optimistic moments did I imagine such an outbreak of resistance as we are now seeing.
What's remarkable about the student protests is that they have been almost entirely devoid of violence (with a few regrettable, but rare, exceptions), genuinely spontaneous and organised from the grassroots. The same is true of the direct action against corporate tax dodging by companies such as Topshop and Vodafone.
The official opposition of the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen in this real opposition to the government's cuts agenda. While more left-wing parties, such as the Greens and Plaid Cymru, have been more enthusiastic, they would not claim to have started the protests. The leadership of the National Union of Students has been running to catch up with what's happening on the ground.
Not only are students showing the way for the rest of us to follow, but now Christian students are reminding Christians as a whole of the need to stand up against injustice.
The Student Christian Movement (SCM) has declared its support for nonviolent direct action. SCM's Tim Stacey said this week that, “The proposed changes to education funding are incompatible with Jesus’ radical message of inclusivity and justice”. As a Christian, I am excited by a national Christian organisation taking such a principled, radical stance against the abuse of power.
Of course, there are many criticisms of the student protestors. The most offensive are perhaps the patronising remarks rather than the straightforward disagreements. There are those who say that students are too young to understand, that they're acting without thinking it through, that they'll change their minds when they're older.
But for every young person who is naïve, there is an older person who is too cynical to change anything. For every young person who acts without enough thought, there is an older person whose caution prevents action. For every young person who will sell out after getting older, there's another who will stand firm to the end.
My message to today's students is this: I'm sorry that my generation did not act enough to prevent a political situation that has led to these vicious cuts and higher fees. You are showing the rest of us how to resist injustice nonviolently and from the grassroots. Now we must learn from you.
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