When I was press officer for the University of London Union (ULU), I was frequently phoned by journalists writing articles based on the question “Is student activism dead?”. However, the sheer number of features being written on this question suggested that student activism's supposed death was far from clear cut.
But surely no-one can seriously ask that question any more. The last few months have seen a significant increase in student direct action, often around the arms trade and/or Palestine. But events at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) this week have taken things to a new level.
Even allowing for SOAS’ radical reputation, the protests that have taken place have reached staggering proportions, gained national attention and already achieved some of their aims. And it’s only a week since they started.
One area of surprise is the subject they are concerned with. The protesters who peacefully occupied the SOAS director’s office – and achieved his agreement to several of their demands – objected to the arrest and deportation of nine migrant cleaners.
This is not stereotypically naïve students pontificating about workers’ rights. It is students, academics and non-academic staff truly outraged by the mistreatment of people they knew, people they talked with and worked with and respected. Personal outrage often leads to the most meaningful campaigns.
The strength of the SOAS campaign lies in how it brings together these different groups for a common aim, not for their own agendas. I hope that Christians inside and outside SOAS are giving enthusiastic support. After all, in the image of our own Messiah overturning tables in a corrupted temple, we have an excellent model of nonviolent activism.
You can sign the SOAS petition at http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/28557.html .