Students build an alternative world

“As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go down and take a stance, then there will be hope.” These are the words of Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26 year old Egyptian woman. Asmaa wrote these words encouraging her fellow citizens to occupy Tahrir Square until they had built a new Egypt. Before you dismiss these words and deeds as irrelevant to our first world problems consider the students of Glasgow University.

The students are engaged in a long running occupation of their student union building. University management closed the student union building as part of a wide-ranging austerity drive which included cutting humanities courses, student services, and staff numbers. Needless to say that the austerity drive came from funding cuts caused by the Great Crash. There were the usual protests to the cuts but the occupation has become something else.

The students have commenced building the alternative world they are fighting for. On February 1 this year a group of students occupied the building, initially as a clear direct action against the cuts. However, something more happened. Without any official support the students organising the occupation, with community support, began to provide the missing services from art classes to community lectures (this even extended to free performances from Billy Bragg and poet Liz Lochhead). The occupation continues today thanks to the ingenuity of those involved in the struggle – when the police evicted the students in a heavy handed operation (complete with helicopter and dog squad), the students simply took over the offices of University management until they could negotiate their return.

From Tahrir Square to Glasgow University, the occupation is back. As a direct action strategy it has two distinct advantages. Firstly, it cannot be ignored like a protest – it does not end any time soon. Secondly, it provides an opportunity for activists to step up and build a small example of the world we are struggling to create. After all, it won’t be born in thin air but rather nurtured in the spaces and cracks until it’s ready to emerge.

So what do you think – is the occupation back and how effective do you think it can be?

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