‘This concerns everyone’

Perhaps every generation sees itself on the precipice of something unimaginable and unprecedented, but for our generation this seems warranted.

We have seen our economic system collapse in on itself and are told that the only way to buck it up is to make it even more entrenched in the fabric of our society: by marketising education and healthcare, by forcing the sick and disabled into work, penalising those who cannot work, enforcing harsher discipline for those who do work – the list goes on, as most of you will be very much aware. In short, the only way to save capitalism is to restrict the benefits of modern civilisation to a smaller and smaller elite and to further immiserate those who are excluded, and governments from London to Athens have already shown their willingness to use violence to enforce this.

The coalition’s austerity programme is savage and makes frequent forays into the absurd: a coma patient is declared fit for work, police rush to defend businesses from protesters chanting “pay your taxes.” Our generation has been ordered into a forced march away from all that was worthwhile about our society and into a growing darkness.

Of course I cannot speak for all of the 40 Warwick students who got up early Saturday morning to catch the coach to join thousands on the TUC march, but I suspect the above goes some way to explaining why this diverse group of students, many of them on their way to their first protest, set their alarms for 0630 hours. The first time protesters I spoke to stressed how it was their everyday experience in mid-crisis, mid-austerity Britain that spurred them on; one of them, Edward McNally, put it well: “Taking a step to protest for the first time is a very big thing… reconciling the political and the everyday is one of the greatest things about protest… it concerns everyone.”

You may not have woken up on Sunday feeling that your life had been fundamentally changed by the hundreds of thousands of people who marched through Belfast, Glasgow and London the day before. I certainly didn’t and I was one of them. But if so many thousands hadn’t been willing to unite against austerity on Saturday, let alone repeatedly over the last two years, I would feel significantly less hopeful about the future of my life, the lives of those close to me and society at large.

It is easy to feel yourself detached from the everyday reality of post-recession Britain inside the walls of the Warwick bubble, and it is still the knee-jerk reaction of many to dismiss student activism as being self-indulgent, plain silly and/or little more than a historical re-enactment of the 1960s. In response to this I would like to point out that social mobility in Britain is lower now than in the 1970s and still falling, and that one in five graduates in Britain are unemployed. I would like to propose that it may those of us who hang around inflatable investment banking recruitment stalls and model themselves as the “intellectual capital” of a basically meritocratic and efficient system who are living in the past.

I don’t want to condemn all my fellow students who are concerned about their post-graduation livelihoods; the spectre of living debt-laden life in my mother’s house haunts me at night too. But the definition of a university that our generation was raised on – a stepping stone to a safe and comfortable ledge in the social strata that anyone who works hard enough can use regardless of race, gender or class – is being brutally and, quite frankly, blatantly demolished by the economic crisis and the government’s solutions to it.

That many of us will find ourselves unemployed, unsupported or worse after graduation is only made possible by the fact that many of us are unwilling to fight to make it impossible. I would like to suggest to my fellow students that acting (or not acting) as if nothing is changing is short-sighted and self-destructive. We’re told that we have never and will never again have as much freedom as we do at university, but if we don’t use this freedom to imagine and fight for new ways of organising ourselves and living in the world then we may well lose this freedom and many others besides for our younger siblings, our unborn children and ourselves.This does concern everyone. Pick up your books and rally in the streets.


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