They Huffed and they Puffed…

Students are beginning to question arms-trade links beyond investments. Photo by Alex Green.

My last Activist Winds post told of the Edinburgh uni Occupation for Gaza. Well since then the hurricane has continued to spread like that hilarious super-storm in the Day After Tomorrow, with further occupations and protests in St. Andrews, York and Aberdeen.  So we can see which way the wind is blowing: a lot of students are p*ssed off and want militancy and corporate power off campus. The interesting question then, considering that we’re about to choose a brand new campaign, is not which way the wind is blowing, but which things are most liable to wind-damage – which [campaign target] is the house made out of bricks, which one is made out of sticks, and which is made of straw.

Let’s start by considering what the occupations were trying to achieve. Many of the demands, like the clothing, hair-styles, and over-use of the words ‘comrade’ and ‘in solidarity’, were replicated across the occupied territories: scholarships for Gazans, scrapping contracts with Eden Springs, organising aid collection, and the cutting of ties to companies connected to Israel via investments, research programmes, and the careers service.

Keen readers will note that many of the occupations’ ‘campaign asks’ overlap with those of Corporate Power proposals – most prominently Reclaim Education, Ethical Investment, Reclaim and Regrow, and Total Ethical Procurement – the proposals which might crudely be groups as “the local campaign options.” Here’s what happened to some of the proposals’ ideas at the Edinburgh occupation:

On scholarships – as with several other Uni’s, scholarships were created and, although it didn’t go as far as the demands asked, they have set up a working group to find further funds and develop the admissions procedures. Perhaps they are open to something which promotes academia and diversity? Could suggest a way in for positive campaigning on research aims in Relclaim Education.

At the Forum 2009, we will choose which little piggy to go after.

At the Forum 2009, we will choose which little piggy to go after.

On procurement – again similarly to other unis, Eden Springs’ contract is to be cut, but this is more to do with the phasing out of bottled water from campus and its replacement with taps. They also welcomed discussion of other contracts. The message here would be do your research and find the argument that works with your uni. Good news for Total Ethical Procurement and Reclaim and Regrow.

On investment – progress on this depended on building on previous success. In Edinburgh an ethical investment policy was in force and students were invited to ‘bring their case’ through its procedure. This might be a long campaign if you’re starting from scratch, but it has obviously made tangible changes locally, and opened the door for many occupations to succeed here. Sign of the pass successes of the Ethical Investment model, and thus future fertile ground?

On research – Edinburgh Uni was categorically uninterested in even discussing this. They don’t want to talk about potentially losing revenue. Interestingly, St. Andrews has taken a different view on this one: “The University has conceded that its position is inconsistent and will now regularly communicate its research proposals to the Students Association and the student body” (from SAUO). This suggests that University research programmes could be a big battle – if P&P wants to take it on, ala Reclaim Education.

On the careers service – again Edinburgh wasn’t interested, citing the age-old “we must offer our students choice.” However, there were signs that flipping this into a more positive approach, getting careers fairs to be more diverse rather than just big companies, might work, as Reclaim Education aims to do.

As previously mentioned, maximum success will benefit from a gradual wearing down (or building up!!) and a willingness to work with advocates in different parts of the uni (never think the University is one organisation with a single head – they wish). All in all, a successful campus Corporate Power campaign is likely to resemble a mixture of a good-cop bad-cop interrogation, and that thing when you’re a kid and your mum says no so you go ask your dad instead (once again we play the bad guys both times….).

There’s lots to think about here in both strategy and targets, with elements that will alter between campuses and over the months and years that the campaign runs. But don’t be daunted thinking this through carefully: last Tuesday Edinburgh had an occupation de-brief attended by 50-odd people, many of whom were new to activism, and all of whom vowed to keep up the pressure and see their campaign through. If you take on corporate power on campus, you will find your supporters.

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