Occupy Warwick began on Wednesday 23 November in protest against the University’s current policy on funding for higher education. Organised by Warwick Against the Cuts, at 1pm that afternoon people arrived en masse with tents and rucksacks in preparation for a prolonged stay. They set their tents up on the grass area between Costcutter and Coventry House, in the shadow of the Koan, as well as erecting a sign reading ‘Warwick Against the Cuts’ facing the road.
Within an hour, almost twenty tents had been set up, and many individuals there hoped for further expansion. The reason behind the occupation, according to Jasper Pearce, Head of Campaigns for Amnesty, was “a protest in opposition to our University’s current policy on higher education funding. We believe that despite there being no real financial reason to do so, they are shifting the burden of Higher Education onto students and away from the State.”
The decision to occupy this area of campus due to this cause is in concurrence with a wider wave of student protest. The day before at Cambridge University, Higher Education Minister David Willets experienced it first hand, being driven from the stage whilst giving a talk due to the hall being suddenly occupied by students. There has also been activity at Birmingham University, and those occupying Warwick hope to reach out to them. This precedes the planned nationwide strikes over the issue across the country on Wednesday 30 November.
“We’re showing solidarity with those other occupy movements across the country, across the world,” said Sarah Clarke, who is the Ethics and Social Justice Campaigns Officer. “We’re showing our objections to the current system through peaceful protest.” However, those present seemed reluctant to identify with the anti-Capitalist occupation movements on Wall Street and outside St.Pauls. They preferred to focus the issue solely on Higher Education issues. “This occupy protest, in the short-term, hopes to raise awareness and build a movement towards all students agreeing that we should demand and we have the right to free education,” Pearce continued. “In the long-term, we hope that protests such as these provide a clear indication to the Government that they are not going to win on this issue.”
Security arrived shortly after the camp had been set up, but took no action against the occupiers. This allowed them to proceed with their first general meeting of the day at 1.35pm, in which suggestions and ideas were raised and voted on with a show of hands, with two hands raised and shaking suggesting full support to many of the motions. This is due to the movement’s lack of any individual leader. Both students and some tutors and lecturers were present at the meeting. One of the motions discussed was the attempt to reach consensus over an alternative white paper, which looks to oppose the Government’s own new white paper on education reform. Further plans include poster-making workshops and further working groups to help spread their message.
They also plan to acquire more boards and some individuals within the group expressed ideas to aquire Guy Fawkes masks, popularised by the graphic novel and film ‘V for Vendetta’ and by groups such as the hacking organisation Anonymous, which specialises in civil disobedience.
Warwick security also chose to close the front doors to Coventry House, which has caused some problems with those who use the building. Many have experienced problems getting into the building as the front doors have been locked; therefore people are forced to use the smaller alternative entrances, inconveniencing several staff and postgraduates. This is due to NHS staff being nervous about any protesters attempting to enter the building.
_This article was amended on Thursday 24 November 2011 with the following corrections. James Pearce was changed to Jasper Pearce. ‘One of the problems caused by the occupation is the decreased access to Coventry House’ was changed to ‘Warwick security also chose to close the front doors to Coventry House, which has caused some problems with those who use the building.’ ‘They also plan to acquire more boards and some Guy Fawkes masks’ was changed to ‘They also plan to acquire more boards and some individuals within the group expressed ideas to aquire Guy Fawkes masks.’_