How to not shrink and die…

2 Dec

An inquisition into the state of the ‘occupation of the political’ occurring within the occupied Michael Sadler lecture theatre:

The occupation of the Michael Sadler Building at Leeds University has been going on for over a week now, and I have a number of questions (and suggestions) regarding the way it is run. I am a Phd student, which means I have to work full time – I would raise these points one by one in general meetings, but I don’t have the time to do that, or the inclination to be repeatedly shouted down.

1. Why do we have no process in meetings? We have a chair (or faciliatator), who points at people who want to speak, and at some point we take a vote. There is no process concerning when a vote is taken, who gets to speak for and against, and meetings are plagued by personal insults (more on this later). The process of raising your hand to speak, and the process of voting (rudimentary though they are) are never explained at the start of meetings.

2. Why do some individuals in the occupation think it is acceptable to systematyically drive people away from the space? Over the course of Tuesday (November 30th), I heard people being called ‘spoilt brats’ in a general meeting, I heard members of the occupation threatening violence against other members, and I heard a great deal more low level (and ruder) insults levelled against other members of the occupation. The insults were articulated (almost exclusively) by a group of people who had caucused for an hour before the general meeting. This looked like a systematic event to drive people away from the occupation – I know it’s a bit more complicated than that (because I’m aware of the ins and outs of sectarian politics) – but that is how it looked – it looked like people were being exiled from the occupation by way of serious bullying.

3. Why were people so seethingly angry about the brief flashmob in the Arnold Ziff building? Obviously, this was an action that was not properly approved by the occupation – no real vote was taken, and so process (whatever confused, non-articulated process we have) was not adhered to. However, people were so angry about the action at the ziff that they insulted, threatened, and bullied a number of individuals for hours and hours after the action. Why?

The stated reasons for this bullying were:

  • The action at the ziff put the Michael Sadler occupation under threat by ‘attracting’ police attention to the area. However, there had been large numbers of police in the vicinity all day.
  • The action at the ziff caused people to leave the Michael Sadler, to stand outside the ziff. However, the two buildings are right next to each other. When people said the Michael Sadler was threatened, we all went back into the lecture hall pretty quickly.
  • The action at the ziff hurt the public perception of the Sadler occupation. Really? Surely we want to be seen taking militant action against the structures of management that are imposing cuts, and are supporting the rise in fees?

4. What is the point of the Michael Sadler occupation? THIS is the most crucial question:

  • Is it the sovereign body of all education activists in Leeds? No. It has no legitimacy for this.
  • Is it a shining example of how beautiful a truly democratic society can be? No. We’re all learning the hard way how difficult democracy is at first – meetings are long, processes are unwieldy, and personal conflicts erupt occasionally.
  • Is it a direct challenge to university management? Not really. University management are perfectly happy to allow the occupation to continue till the end of term – we are not disrupting the adminisration of the university.
  • Is it a base for organising, for launching action, for broadening the movement? YES – or at least, it SHOULD BE. The job of the lecture hall occupation is to encourage the movement to grow, to encourage people to do more things. To this end, the occupation must be welcoming, it must forgive people (especially new activists) when they make mistakes, it must give people the tools and confidence to go off and take action against fees and education cuts. Above all – it must NOT act to drive people away, and it must NOT act to destroy peoples’ confidence.

Look – no one wants to be involved in a movement where bullying is rife, where personal recriminations and insults fly back and forth all the time, where certain individuals are singled out and humiliated. If we keep on doing this, we will not win, because we’ll shrink and die.


One Response to “How to not shrink and die…”

  1. Chris December 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    I have to say I agree totally with this post/article; whatever you would have it called.

    I joined in the protest and occupation of the Michael Sadler building as an education to learn more about it with the intention of getting more involved in the future. I am sorry to say though that I left the occupation after just 4 hours, with the only lesson I felt I had learnt is that democracy can never work, people will never(?) agree.

    What shocked me the most and was the final straw for me, caused me to actually say to some of my fellow occupiers, ‘I’m leaving, I can’t put up with any more of this crap’, was having members shouting down people who simple had a different opinion of how things should run. I believe a group was actually told to shut up and leave for voicing their opinion regarding the idea of a chair/committee. In the end, we are all there for the same reason to protest the cuts. We should focus ourselves on the cuts, and not the minor disagreements of political structure.

    It must be said though that we need to decide on a structure, but when it’s decided, when the vote decides, we should accept it rather and focus on taking action against the cuts. Though some flexibility to change the structure (if structure is at all favourable, I should add) should also exist.

    Let’s work together. Not be against each other. Focus on who the enemy is. We are friends, colleagues, peers and comrades.

    Take the time to reflect and remember.

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