In the age of Trump and May, Students' Unions are a beacon of hope.
With an increase in hate crime, a resurgence in populist nationalism and the peeling back of state support for those who desperately need it, you could be forgiven for wanting to turn off the TV and retire into passivity. For many bearing the brunt of this hate, this isn't an option, and for all of us campaigning and pushing for social justice, the tide seems unforgiving and persistent.
It takes times like these, amidst disillusionment by the establishment, to recognise the importance and capability of grassroots activism. As we saw with the #StopTrump demonstrations, there is a growing appetite for resistance here in the UK, either directed at Trump, or igniting the build up of years of disenchantment from the current political status quo. Trump, May and their policies aren't anything new, but what is new is a change in culture to how we approach racism, sexism and combat neo-fascism.
The emergence of grassroots responses becomes massively important if we are to build a movement that fundamentally challenges this sudden shift in culture. In February, we saw Peckham Pride organised by Movement For Justice and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) take to the streets and re-politicise a Queer Pride march to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees. We saw One Day Without Us mark the first ever migrants' strike in the UK, with students' unions across the country taking part in walking out of their classes and staff members withdrawing their labour in solidarity. We saw hundreds of thousands of women march through London demanding an end to the apologism of sexism and misogyny. It is clear that there is anger felt amongst minorities, women, workers, and students. To turn back the tide, this anger must be organised, and an alternative realised.
We do, however, have to recognise the need for redefining how we go about activism and campaigning. As a movement, we have been dictated by the same old tactics of A to B protests, of the same faces at the forefront of our marches and imagining a single type of activist that is able to pick up a placard at a moment's notice and parade through the streets. This cannot be the case. Our movement needs to be intersectional; it needs to recognise the delicate visa status of international students, the brutal reality of state violence towards our Black and Brown siblings, the misogyny and sexism that permeates activist spaces and most importantly the need to do something about it.
This is where Students' Unions come in. We still have over 600 pockets of state (or moreso fee debt) subsidised activism in every town and city, many putting the voices of liberation and marginalised groups at the forefront. At their best, Unions can be local hubs which enable networks of students to be the best that they can, volunteer for good causes and campaign in their local communities.
In my Union we saw this in 2015 with the successful campaign to halt the government closing our local Lewisham hospital. We're seeing it again with the 'refugee crisis'. My university now offer scholarships and bursaries for 6 refugees a year and has reclassified asylum seekers here in the UK as home students. Middlesex Students' Union forced their local Conservative run council to resettle 50 refugees in their community. An Oxford University society successfully won a campaign to prevent the council from fining homeless people for sleeping in public spaces. A campaign facilitated by the National Union of Students helped in unlinking rising tuition fees to the Teaching Excellence Framework, and the removal of international students from net migration figures.
Our public impact can be limitless. But to do this we need to go beyond simply ad hoc interventions. We must unite as a movement to pool our resources and offer political education and organising capability so that the communities we are in are empowered by our presence.
Our communities are diverse. Our activism needs to reflect this, and our Unions need to recognise and act on this. We have so much potential as a movement, and in the age of Trump, May and all that it's' sparked, we have a duty to fight back and unite as a fresh and dynamic force that recognises its' own diversity and that of the spaces we organise in.
In the age of Trump and post Brexit Britain, take pride in your Union, listen to and give agency to marginalised voices, organise and mobilise in your communities so that we can truly build a movement that combats racism, fascism and all other forms of oppression.