Doth the Student Protest Too Much?

Students and protesting have always gone together like fish and chips, but recent heavy handedness is slowly damaging this age old tradition.

Students and protesting have always gone together like fish and chips, but recent heavy handedness is slowly damaging this age old tradition. What was once a communal and peaceful way for students to speak out about the issues affecting them is slowly turning into a criminal offence, and the ever growing dearth between students and their institutions is making protesting seem like a valueless practice.

The government has made no secret of its desire to quash student protests, and the sheer number of police officers ordered to man the march against rising fees in November was clearly intended to show who's boss. But rather than suppressing the imaginary violence they apparently believe will ensue, this constant finding of loopholes in the law to punish protesters is inevitably pushing them more towards the extreme. If people want to march peacefully about an issue close to their hearts, surely the authorities must realise that preventing them from doing so will only make them fight harder for it.

But whilst this is admirable in many ways, sometimes creating tension between students and institutions is simply not worth it in the long run. The students get punished and the universities get labelled oppressive - so who really wins? In life, there needs to be a fine balance between standing up for what you believe in and toeing the line, and completely subscribing to one notion is never going to achieve the desired results.

For protest virgins like myself, however, marches that once seemed defiant and inspiring now seem grey and incriminating. Yes, I want to stand up for what I believe in, but does that mean I have to get into trouble to do so? Take students at the University of Birmingham, where I study. After occupying an unused building on campus at the end of last year, a 12 month injunction was taken out against all participants, denying them the right to protest on campus for the duration of the order. As one might guess, the kind of people who feel strongly enough to protest against something in the first place are unlikely to take something so seemingly despotic lying down, and the constant fracas between them and the University has illustrated, to me at least, that participating in a protest no longer means a day out in London marching about something you care about with likeminded people. No, in the case of my University, and several others, a few hours spent trying to fight against extortionate student fees means months of trouble.

As a child, I always found the notion of protesting rather exotic, in truth; a kind of meaningful and yet enjoyable proverbial two finger salute at whatever oppression people were attempting to defy. But since becoming a student, a part of me has become rather resigned to the fact that they seem to change so little and negatively affect so much that entering into them appears a pointless endeavour. When I was asked if I wanted to march about student fees, I thought to myself - is my walking down a street with a few signs really going to change the vast amount of work the government has (wrongly) put into deciding to raise them in the first place? Of course it isn't. I don't want to sound like a defeatist, and without people protesting for what they believe in authorities would steamroller everyone without a second thought. But why put so much time and energy into something you know will come to nothing and that you'll most likely get some kind of discipline for? Perhaps I'm being a goody two shoes, but I struggle to see the value in protesting for a few hours and then facing expulsion, as a student at my University is. I want to be able to fight for what I believe in, but if no-one's going to listen, I may as well not bother.


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