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The Student Movements Strength Is In Its Grassroots, It's Time To Revitalise It!

18/04/2017 12:42

Two years as a Students' Union President has taught me a few things: you put on a lot of weight as a sabbatical officer, people really do email you about getting puppies into the library at exam time and if you have family that live abroad they may think your the mayor of London.

But, most importantly, As President of the Union of Brunel Students I have learn and seen first hand that the most power students hold is through local organization and activism.

My training as an officer had convinced me that it was in University committees where I would be most effective. While that wasn't wrong, the strength of representation on governance bodies is invaluable to students on a national or local level; it was somewhere else I found true influence.

It was standing outside our local council with hundreds of students behind me as we held the biggest demonstration against our maintenance grants and, rallying society committees against the PREVENT strategy and the clamping down of free speech - that is when we were at our most influential.

We didn't win on maintenance grants, but we did prove to our institution that we were capable of organizing on a mass scale. That won us the biggest increase in bursaries in our history. We have yet to be successful in overturning the legal requirements of PREVENT; but we did resist the banning of perfectly valid speakers on our campus.

There is no doubt that in any ordinary scenario where a Students' Union negotiates or faces off against their institution or government, there is a disproportionality of resources and power. Often our funding streams and block grants are placed on the line. I know the feeling of balancing between the need to keep important projects going and pushing back against decisions you know to be just wrong.

I happen to be among those that believe that the development and training of strong student volunteers and groups on campus can entirely change the dynamics of the relationships between Universities and those who they serve.

Election season provides us with a host of new possibilities. The possibility of a National Union of Students that facilitates and supports the training of volunteers, societies, sports clubs and activist regionally. Providing opportunities for thousands upon thousands of students to be given the tools and networks to own their education. Giving our members the opportunity to change the lives of those around them and across the globe. Working with our liberation groups to support and develop their work across the UK.

Picture this: an NUS that prioritizes providing accessible training and networking opportunities to students regionally across the UK. An NUS that doesn't feel an inherent dichotomy between activism and student opportunities. But rather believes them to be instruments in the same orchestra.

Our national movement has a problem. It has failed to develop the talent of millions of students across the country and has failed Students' Unions in the process. We have spent more time playing the fractured partisan games of petty twitter fights and less time providing urgent support for their members on the ground.

That is the greatest task ahead of us. To overcome the same old electioneering of the past and taking on the work our members expect of us.

When students resign the idea that an alternative is possible many lose hope that a better world can be won. It can and we will, if, we choose to.

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