If there is anything worth fighting for, it is knowledge. From the spark which lit the first fire tens of thousands of years ago, to the stone tools used by early humans to hunt and build, to the ideas which gave us democracy and ethics, to the revolutions in coal mines and steam engines which created a new, industrialised world, to today's fight against cancer and AIDs - it is knowledge which allows us to move outside ourselves, turning our chaotic human impulses into movements towards a world both richer and more compassionate than what we've known before.
It is students, teachers, teaching assistants, professors and lecturers who know this better than anyone. But we also know that taking away the power that comes with knowledge is a key part of this government's assault on young people's social power. At the end of 2010 the number of young people not in employment, education or training reached a record peak of almost one million. That's 18% of 18-24 year olds, including almost one in four in towns like Grimsby or Doncaster which were left behind in the private sector boom. These young people are forgotten Britain, caught between record cuts to education and youth services and the worst depression since the 1930s, falling through the cracks of unpaid internships, oversubscribed jobs, ASBOs and falling GDP to emerge in a situation where all avenues are closed off to them, existing on the margins of a society with no place for them.
Students are not protesting because of a vague desire to rebel or a feeling of entitlement to free stuff. The politicians and media who criticise and belittle students do not know that by seeking to defend education and public access to it students are showing that it is they who know the true value of knowledge and its importance in our world. In an increasingly competitive world economy, how will Britain survive without a highly skilled workforce? In a world that's growing hotter, plagued by advancing environmental disasters and peak oil, how will young people create a future for themselves and the rest of the world without the scientific techniques needed to take the world in a different direction? With the world population at 7 billion and rising fast, it is young people who will need to work out responses to crises in healthcare and food. Education cuts do not just make the future bleaker and less hopeful than it was before. They are dangerous.
I worry that today's student protesters, many of whom have barely experienced politics up until now, will return home and no longer believe what the politics textbooks tell them about civil rights in liberal democracies. These young people are faced with a government which ignores their voices at any time that isn't election time - and for the many young people without voting rights, not even then - and a police force which, far from protecting the right to protest, actually sent letters warning against civil disobedience to those who had been arrested in previous anti-austerity protests, whether or not they had been charged.
Why are students protesting? Because it is us who study government-created courses in politics and history. It is us who write essays about the welfare state's provision of a more valuable and more civilised society; it is us who read about the men and women who fought for the welfare state as a way out of poverty, ignorance and exploitation; and it is us who look up from our textbooks and see how the welfare state is being eroded by rich politicians who take it for granted. But our books have also told us that the cornerstone of democracy is in the fight of ordinary people coming together against governments who stand against our rights and our futures.
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