“The Life of a Student Activist”
The first year of university went very slowly for me. Despite making some great friends and settling in to my course, I was never sure whether I should really be there. Second year, however, was a turning point where my social and political views came together and I started to feel a need to make a difference in the world.
Over the summer, after spending time as part of my local Fairtrade group and discussing political issues with friends, I realised that to be happy I needed to make the most of my university experience. I needed to get involved in a charity or organisation with people who shared my interests. After seeing a People & Planet society stall at the Freshers Fayre, and realising how dedicated the network was to defending human rights, ending world poverty and protecting the planet, I got involved immediately. At the first meeting I felt really enthusiastic about ethical and environmental issues and was so delighted to realise that I was surrounded by others who shared my passion. I also became more involved in the Green Party and met activists who had campaigned for more to be done around climate change, and felt keen to make an impact myself. At the start of the term I went to a talk from a speaker for the Global Poverty Project and it really inspired me to try and help others. The words I heard and the images I saw that evening triggered something in me and life started to change.
My first encounter with my activism having an effect on people directly was at a Barclays Graduate training scheme talk. Along with some friends I interrogated the Barclays ambassadors on their ethical and environmental policies – or lack of – which resulted in a lot of resentment from the workers, and some very interesting discussions with other students.
As news spread of Nick Clegg’s betrayal of his policies, the student movement began and I was eager to join the campaigning against the rise in tuition fees. The student demo in London inspired me to stand up for what I believed. The anger at the MPs who had gone back on their word was prominent that day and there was a worry that Thatcher Tory days were returning. Despite the small amount of violence that day, there was a sense of unity amongst the campaigners and I felt like a student from the 70s – determined to start a movement and give a voice to the unheard. My family were reluctant about my involvement in such controversial issues, and in some respects my Dad has continued to disapprove of my outspoken, direct action ever since, but my Mum was proud that I was standing up for what I believed in. My lecturer was also very supportive and allowed me to miss a lecture to take part, meaning I felt even more empowered to stand up for future students. The beginning of the student movement was quite special. Many students felt passionate about the cause, there was hope that we could win this and prevent tuition fees rising. As the months drew on, the public’s spirit seemed to dwell and societies’ reaction to who I had become as a person was changing.
The initial passion of protest had worn off for the majority of those at the original tuition fees demo as snow appeared on the doorstep of Cardiff students, but there were still some dedicated souls ready to keep me fighting for a cause I believed in. As part of “Action Against the Cuts Cardiff” I took part in the occupation of a lecture theatre and organised demonstrations throughout the city centre which gained lots of Welsh coverage and achieved great things. However, the London protest on the day of the national vote, was different. The violence I saw that day from police and students frightened me, but I was defiant that we were campaigning for a serious and important cause and that my activism would not stop. My involvement in such edgy issues and contact with the police after being traditionally a well behaved, suburban A grade student came as a shock to some friends back home as my fiery nature shone through.
The student protests built momentum for the rest of society to stand up against the cuts and movements like UK Uncut began. Occupying stores like Vodafone and Topshop was becoming a more prominent part of my day to day life as the tax avoiders were targeted. I knew that when I came back after Christmas, I could not go back to my old self and that I had developed a passion for activism, for devoting myself to worthwhile causes.
The beginning of the Arab Revolution last spring gave hope to so many individuals across the world. I can remember my Dad saying “When did protest ever achieve anything?” just before Egypt‘s old president Mubarak stood down. It was a turning point in how my father saw my actions and to students and academics across the globe. Being involved in the larger community in Cardiff by now, I felt keen to stand up against the cuts affecting all individuals, and protested against pension cuts and the NHS. In times of need, it was comforting to see society come together and shout for each other’s livelihoods.
Striving for equality is also a continuing theme in my Sociology degree and has meant that my feminist belief has grown significantly since first year. After reading about “Slutwalk”, I took part in a Cardiff demonstration which was empowering but at the same time controversial for the wrong reasons. It made me feel that as a fiery young woman, life was still very different to how it is for a man. Women are treated differently even in issues of activism where we are campaigning for equality. At the student protests, the police were definitely more lenient to frightened young women than to the frightened men. This has only fuelled my desire to fight for equality even more.
In 2011 my participation with the Green Party increased significantly as I volunteered to undertake a media internship. As I learnt more about how we need to change our reliance on fossil fuels and take more drastic action to prevent runaway climate change, my every day life was altered a little. Already being vegetarian, I strived to do more simple things to look after my planet, such as recycling and cycling instead of driving. However, the way I perceive TV shows, individuals and the actions of companies changed significantly as I realised how little others think about their impact on society and our future planet. Being so concerned changes the way I see others, which made me question whether people have changed the way they see me? But my political involvement has become an active part of my lifestyle and I hope it continues that way for the rest of my life.
This year I hope to become part of the Student Council and fight for our university to become more ethical and environmentally friendly. I will be campaigning against the Tar Sands in Alberta, attending a demo in London to ban public sector clothes being made in sweatshops and perhaps occupying an oil or gas head-quarters to try and stop the UK’s dependency on unsustainable fuels. I will also be supporting Oxfam and the Global Poverty Project on issues such as Fairtrade and food shortages. This of course will be done alongside campaigning against the cuts to our society.
Being an activist means leading a busy lifestyle and campaigning becomes a priority, but not behind trying to have fun with friends, family and my boyfriend. I have learnt not to preach my views but just to let people know that I will live my life focused on trying to make a small difference to the lives of some individuals somewhere in the world. Life seems very merry when you know you are being the best you can be while living life to the full as a university student in one of the best cities for fun and education in the UK.