Active nonviolence is the way forward for students

By Symon Hill
December 13, 2010

Faced with Parliament's vote in favour of the tuition fee hike, it is vital that those of us who are campaigning against it avoid the twin temptations of giving up or resorting to violence. The Guardian today (13 December) published a letter from Ekklesia and the Student Christian Movement suggesting that active nonviolence is the best way forward.

The letter is as follows:

In the wake of parliament's decision to increase tuition fees, the images of violence on the front of many newspapers hide a more exciting story (Police tactics questioned as PM condemns 'feral' protest, 11 December). Tens of thousands of young people have demonstrated that they do care, not just about themselves but about future generations. They want them to have the same opportunities in life as they and many of us have enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority have chosen to express their feelings of anger and betrayal nonviolently through peacefully occupying buildings, staging teach-ins and taking to the streets. While the media have picked out violent images to focus on, what has happened over the past few weeks could actually be celebrated as the latest example of the power of nonviolent direct action overall.

From Gandhi's salt marches to Jesus challenging the money-changers in the temple, ordinary people can make a difference. Students, so often portrayed as only being motivated by self-interest, will not be silent in the face of injustice.

It is not only that the majority of protesters have been peaceful. Even the majority of those who broke the law have been peaceful. Much of the discussion has focused on the few who have wrongly chosen to inflict harm on others, while politicians often conflate lawbreaking with violence. The two are not the same. Politicians have accused students of trying to undermine the democratic process. In reality, the people guilty of this are those MPs who reneged on their pledge to vote against any increase in fees.

Faced with this situation, Britain's students must avoid the twin temptations of giving up and resorting to violence. As Martin Luther King and Gandhi repeatedly pointed out, active nonviolence is both more radical and more effective than either of these options.

Hilary Topp, Student Christian Movement
Symon Hill, Ekklesia (Christian thinktank)

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