Over the last week since Defend Education Birmingham’s national demonstration at the University, the fallout following the day’s events will have been quite noticeable to anyone on campus.
As students at the University of Birmingham we have since been subject to a stream of indignation from some over the somewhat less-peaceful action taken by certain protesters on the day.
More bleakly, we have also seen Guild Officers opt for blind self-preservation, and issue blanket condemnations of the demonstration in public, whilst doing nothing to support their members being attacked, victimised, imprisoned and sanctioned unjustly for protesting for a just education system.
To the suspended and unfairly victimised students, we offer our Solidarity – to the Guild Sabbatical Officer team, we suggest getting acquainted with the concept.
Amidst the fallout the accounts and perspectives nurtured within the University/body seem to be skewed against the demonstration, but certainly they have prioritised certain narratives while distracting from the reasons and causes behind the protest, which we feel need to be addressed.
BEMA were present last Wednesday in a peaceful capacity, and while we question the conviction of those whose support for Defend Education’s campaign seems to wither so readily when confronted with the menace of petty graffiti, we do extend the following questions to all regardless of their personal feeling on the protest:
We ask why students of Birmingham University have avoided holding to account the police and campus security for their heavy-handed violence against protesters, and have insisted on demonising fellow students acting for a mutually beneficial cause;
we ask why the Guild of Students has both refused to challenge the University’s divisive narrative against the protest, or to channel grassroots dissent against the University management’s self-serving agenda prior to or following the protest, leaving it to a third-party group to defend student interests;
we ask why certain Guild Officers have submitted to the University management’s aims while failing abjectly to support their members unfairly victimised during police kettling, questioning and imprisonment;
we ask why it has been left to the isolated few voices of some Guild representatives to speak out against the Guild’s official line, and why those 70+ Union Officers across the country condemning the Guild’s approach seem to be blessed with a sense of principle that eludes most of our own.
We ask why so much precedence has been placed upon the apparent tragedy of injured doors and wounded sentiment, while the genuine injustices of unlawful police activity, security violence and student suspensions – and a higher education system under attack – have occupied a niche corner of the debate this past week.
And, we ask how the Sabbatical Officers/Guild possibly imagine that they can claim to, or resume in, representing and protecting its members after capitulating to management pressure so effortlessly in this episode.
While the main issue at hand now should be justice for those students being punished, BEMA cannot address the subject without discussing the wider implications of these events on our relations with the Guild and its Officers.
This is something that should be predicated on some mutual respect, or faith that Officers will stand to defend our members and their welfare, especially when subject to the oppressions of society, internal and external to campus.
Now that the Officers have shown how willing they are to forsake their members to the police and state to save the University management any discomfort, we could not in sound conscience tell our members that the Guild has their best interests in mind, or that they can be relied upon to defend those interests or Liberation values.
This stands out clearest given report of transphobia faced by one student protester from police officers which the Guild has made no comment on, and threatens us particularly given the lineage of struggle and suppression that antiracist movements have been born of.
In short, as a result of their actions this last week, BEMA hold no confidence in the Guild President and any other Officers who were complicit in the betrayal of their members last week.
Finally, we request that all the energy and anger generated from this episode is directed a little more equitably against those more worthy of its receipt:
BEMA reiterate its support for the aims of a more just and democratic university not hostage to management, and we’ll see you tomorrow at the Clocktower to defend our fellow students.