After a march on the Lib Dem HQ, around 100 students occupied Appleton Tower at the University of Edinburgh last night as part of a wave of actions opposing cuts to education funding and a rise in tuition fees. Libcom caught up with members of the Edinburgh University Anarchist Society to find out more.
Why are you occupying Appleton Tower today?
Appleton Tower is used by a lot of science students, and gets very busy. There are a lot of Arts and Humanities students involved in the anti-cuts coalition, so it's good to get our message out further, and explain how the cuts will affect everyone, not just those paying fees next year. Also, Appleton Tower is accessible to non-students during the day and is not unnecessarily disruptive to too many students. We are situated on a main thoroughfare into the University and plan to hold a rally outside to publicise our presence. We've also been able to make use of the computers and projectors during meetings, we've had Skype links with other Unis under occupation.
Did you come prepared to go into occupation, and how have you coped with the practicalities of it all?
At the planning meetings before yesterday's march, we decided against an occupation, so nobody came prepared. After the march there was still a lot of energy and momentum, and there was a spontaneous attempt at occupying the Registry building. The police and security kept a lot of people out, so we came here. We decided to stay in occupation and sent out teams to gather bedding and buy food supplies. The teams did really well, although the security staff tried to prevent bedding and food from being brought into the building.
All the planning meetings have been using consensus decision making. How well is this working in practice?
It's actually been working really well considering there are so many of us! We've been lucky to have really skilled facilitators with a good sense of the crowd, who kept discussions moving without dominating too much. Everyone is clear on how consensus decision making works, and as we all share the same overriding sentiments, people have been happy enough to put minor objections aside. Defining our demands was the most difficult part, which threatened to take a really long time – there was disagreement about how “achievable” we wanted them to be, and there was a lot of discussion on technical points. One of the Students Union reps left while we were discussing our demands, he no longer agreed with the direction the action was taking. He felt we should not be targeting the University as they have spoken out against the cuts and against raising tuition fees,
How would you describe the mood on campus?
There's not enough awareness of what's going on, but hopefully after today's rally more people will know what's happening. We found that people have been a bit resistant at first, there's been an attitude of “oh, more troublemakers”, but once you get talking about why we're occupying, most people have been supportive. After the bedding issue was sorted, the security staff have actually been very supportive, they're facing cuts and job losses themselves and they've actually been friendly so far...
What would you like to see come out from the occupation, and how do you think the student protests can contribute to a wider anti-austerity movement?
We really want students to realise that if they are not happy with the University, or even with the government, that through direct action they can be really powerful, that things can be changed. It's going to be important to get different anti-cuts groups working together, so we can build links between student groups, workers and claimants across the country. There were school students marching with us yesterday, and it's their future and education on the line.
An American classmate told me this morning she has no sympathy with the protesters, as they've been paying for college for years. She also questioned why anarchists are arguing for state-funded education. What would you say to that?
Two wrongs don't make a right! Just because there is unequal access to education in America, doesn't mean it should be the same here. We would stand in solidarity with American students if they wanted to take action to improve their situation. Students are imagining a better future, we are trying to make changes that we believe are right, rather than accepting the status quo. We won't accept privatisation of our education. As far as state education goes, whilst ideally there would be no state, right now the alternative being pushed by the government measures is far worse. An anarchist society would always have socialised education.
Finally, we would like to thank everyone who sent us messages of support, and we would like to send love and solidarity to everyone involved in the occupations and campaigns against austerity measures.
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