Re-imagining protest

Slade School of Art Protest

I am moving from being a student to being staff at a time where the future of education (not just higher education) is highly upsetting. I have also moved into a space where this future is being intensely debated – and where some action is taken and experimented with to oppose some of the planned measures. I write ‘experimenting’, because it is clear that, while lots of people have ‘been on a demo’, not many people have been in charge of organising a protest. When I first joined the protest on 10 November 2010, it felt like demonstrations followed a tried and tested recipe – in fact it felt like the time where I worked as a film extra for the BBC on ‘The Last Enemy’ which featured a large ‘generic’ protest scene on rollerblades/skates. Although I had admired some of the creativity behind some ‘protest art’, for instance, on the blog of Tracey Moberly, the enormous amount of creativity that is part of many protests did not become truly tangible until I became involved in the ‘behind the scenes’ part myself.

Chalk graffiti around UCL

By creativity, I do not only mean actions such as keeping ahead of police tactics such as kettling (see also this Guardian article on kettling at the G20 protest), effective use of social media or painting eye-catching placards, but also the on-going attempts to re-imagine ways of protesting. I have been following many occupation blogs and some of the public twitter posts, and you continue to find analyses of previous protests and what they could teach current activists. This can lead to sometimes bizarre, but thought-provoking considerations. A recent tweet by the UCL geographers, forwarded from the UCL occupation twitter, read:

‘Inspiring talk today about 80s Polish student protests. Apparently dressing up as gnomes helped take down regime. Something to think about?’

Further, meetings are happening day in and day out about new methods. Discussants are invited (amongst them geographers, artists, politicians, comedians), workshops and teach-ins are organised, new things are tried to test reactions. The most publicised example of a workshop so far has been the Long Weekend, a two-day event at Goldsmiths. For my ‘former people’ at the Open University, a further challenge presents itself: how do you support a student body that is dispersed across the whole country? Or could this become an advantage?

Open University Students at a recent Protest (Image Source: Open University Students Association)

So far, most of these protests are gearing up towards the ‘Big One’ on Thursday 9 December 2010, but I am sure, this demonstration won’t be the last application of – and creative engagement with – large scale protest in the next few years…


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