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Students are revolting: The spirit of '68 is reawakening

Campus sit-ins began as a response to the Gaza attacks, but unrest is already spilling over to other issues. Emily Dugan reports

Oxford students demand the university condemns Israel's attack on Gaza


Oxford students demand the university condemns Israel's attack on Gaza

They are the iPod generation of students: politically apathetic, absorbed by selfish consumerism, dedicated to a few years of hedonism before they land a lucrative job in the City. Not any more. A seismic change is taking place in British universities.

Around the UK, thousands of students have occupied lecture theatres, offices and other buildings at more than 20 universities in sit-down protests. It seems that the spirit of 1968 has returned to the campus.

While it was the situation in Gaza that triggered this mass protest, the beginnings of political enthusiasm have already spread to other issues.

John Rose, one of the original London School of Economics (LSE) students to mount the barricades alongside Tariq Ali in 1968, spent last week giving lectures on the situation in Gaza at 12 of the occupations.

"This is something different to anything we've seen for a long time," he said. "There is genuine fury at what Israel did.

"I think it's highly likely that this year will see more student action. What's interesting is the nervousness of vice chancellors and their willingness to concede demands; it indicates this is something that could well turn into [another] '68."

Beginning with a 24-hour occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 13 January, the sit-ins spread across the country. Now occupations have been held at the LSE, Essex, King's College London, Birmingham, Sussex, Warwick, Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge, Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, Nottingham, Queen Mary, Manchester, Strathclyde, Newcastle, Kingston, Goldsmiths and Glasgow.

Among the demands of students are disinvestment in the arms trade; the promise to provide scholarships for Palestinian students; a pledge to send books and unused computers to Palestine; and to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Technology has set these actions apart from those of previous generations, allowing a national momentum to grow with incredible speed. Through the linking up of internet blogs, news of successes spread quickly and protests grew nationwide.

Just three weeks after the first sit-in at SOAS, students gathered yesterday at Birkbeck College to draw up a national strategy. The meeting featured speeches from leaders in the Stop the War movement, such as Tony Benn, George Galloway MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP. There has also been an Early Day Motion tabled in Parliament in support of campus activism.

At the end of the month students from across the country will gather for a national demonstration calling for the abolition of tuition fees, an event that organisers say has rocketed in size following the success of the occupations over Gaza.

Vice chancellors and principals have been brought to the negotiating table and – in the majority of universities – bowed to at least one of the demands. The students' success means that now there is a new round of protests. On Wednesday two new occupations began at Strathclyde and Manchester universities, and on Friday night students at the University of Glasgow also launched a sit-in.

Emily Dreyfus, a 21-year-old political activist in her third year of reading classics at Oxford, was one of around 80 students to occupy the historic Bodleian library building in the city and demand that the university issue a statement condemning the Gaza attacks and disinvest from the arms trade. She said: "I found Oxford politically very dead when I arrived, but it's completely different now. There seem to be more and more people talking about politics, which is so exciting. It's really been aided by the communication tools we've got, things like Facebook."

Wes Streeting, the president of the National Union of Students, said: "What we've seen over the Gaza issue is a resurgence of a particular type of protest: the occupation. It's a long time since we've seen student occupations on such a scale. It's about time we got the student movement going again and had an impact."

Establishments that have not previously been known for their activism have also become involved. Fran Legg was one of several students to set up the first Stop the War Coalition at Queen Mary, a research-focused university in London, a month ago. Now they are inundated with interest.

"Action on this scale among students hasn't been seen since the Sixties and Seventies," she said.

"This is going to go down in history as a new round of student mobilisation and it will set a precedent. Gaza is the main issue at the moment, but we're looking beyond the occupation; we're viewing it as a springboard for other protests and to set up a committee to make sure the university only invests ethically."

As the first generation of students to pay substantial direct fees to universities, their negotiating power has also been strengthened. Their concern over their college's investments have been given new legitimacy because it is partly their money.

Ms Legg said: "For the first time, you've got students getting principals to the negotiation table, saying they don't want their tuition fees funding war. Everybody wants to know where their money is going."

The activist: 'Students will see they can take action'

Katan Alder, 22, student leader speaking from the occupation at Manchester University

"We've been occupying the university since Wednesday. More than 500 people came to an emergency Students' Union meeting and we took the vice chancellor's administration block that afternoon. Israel's assault on Gaza made people angry, and we heard about the occupations at other universities through blogs. This is the biggest student campaign we've had and it's also the most wide-reaching. We'll stay until the university lets us meet with the vice chancellor. I think students will see they can take action on more issues, such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the education system; the Government's refusal to stop the marketisation of education has provoked a lot of anger."

The '68 veteran: 'It changed our lives'

John Rose, 63, former student organiser at the London School of Economics in 1968; now a lecturer and author on the Middle East

"I arrived at the LSE in '66 as an extremely naive liberal student and I left in '69 as a revolutionary socialist. It changed our lives. I was one of the student organisers with Tariq Ali and attended all the demonstrations and occupations. We did think a revolution was coming; we thought mass action of students might overthrow capitalism and bring genuine equality. It took us some time to realise that wasn't going to happen.

"It wasn't just about rioting and having fun, it was political argument that probed all the assumptions about the world. It was a highly intense period and the memory stays powerfully with anyone involved; it's the memory of those times that has kept me going.

"It was a feeling of fantastic elation: we began to realise that mass action could change things. Once it started, we developed a taste for it and began to consider mass activity as a way of doing politics, which is what's happening now. People are fed up with bankers, politicians and elite institutions. Hundreds of us thought the revolution was coming in '69, but maybe the revolution is coming now."

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1968 and all that.
[info]chiennoir wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 05:43 am (UTC)
Keep it going. The Sixties were great. I'm in my own sixties now, but I'm still for the revolution that failed then, but whose spirit has always remained with me, though I may never live to see it. I've been appalled by the years of consumerism and celebrity-culture and the deadening homogenisation and conformity it has produced in every sphere of life. Capitalism kills the human spirit no less than state-communism. Viva la anarquia!
power to the people
[info]artsariz wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 10:56 am (UTC)
Haven't felt so enthusiastic about the old phrases since the mid eighties.
Students need to get back to politics. The early demonstrations etc have lead to so many changes acros the world (Ask Nelson Mandela) but still so much to do!
[info]paki_tabz wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 02:48 pm (UTC)
i DETEST being called 'the iPod generation'

but it's a great article otherwise, and makes me proud to have been a part of this movement! 2009 will be the year students and young people take charge and fix the world :)
[info]copycat7 wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 04:03 pm (UTC)
I walk the streets of the uk every day wondering if me or a member of my family will be blown up by a Palestinian bomber taking revenge on the uk for our governments support for the oppressive Israeli regime. Its time we ended arms sales to this country and demand the freedom for the 1.5 million gazans trapped behind a barbed wire fence on their own land. We have already seen one Palestinian bomber try to blow up manchester airport. How many British and American civilians have to dye before we liberate our governments from zionist control and the bogus Israeli war on terror foreign policy?. NOTHING HAS CHANGED SINCE OBAMA TOOK OFFICE AND THE PRESS ARE FAILING AT CONVINCING US ANYTHING HAS CHANGED IN AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY!
[info]colonelcadaver wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 12:29 am (UTC)
our economic situation isn't good, so not selling is only going to make it worse
[info]grpd89 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 11:42 am (UTC)
Economic situation isnt everything, political decency is vitally important as well. The USA is now desperately trying to improve its international standing after the Bush years destroyed the worlds opinion of the States, and the same thing will happen to Britain if we put wealth ahead of ethics. I would rather see the arms trade in the UK severely curtailed rather than live in a country that supports illegal oppression of a group of people based on their race, religion and political opinion as is happening in Gaza at the hands of the Israelis.
This is a spirit of young generations
[info]srary wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 07:05 pm (UTC)
This is a sprite of young people marked of purity ,they should open doors for theme and try understand them,this spirit comes by long time of ignorance from institutions and universities.In resent time world becomes like a small village nothing to hide.
Thank God for the Independent
[info]justicefreedom wrote:
Sunday, 8 February 2009 at 08:58 pm (UTC)
I love this newspaper so much. True journalism -telling the truth, not being afraid to talk about the truth and being objective, talking about both sides of the story fairly. I think it's fantastic students are realising and embracing their political voice and not being afraid to air it. The key is, students pay the universities for their education and therefore they are key stakeholders in how the university conducts itself. I understand that when the emergency meeting was held at the student union at manchester university, students were being physically prevented from entering the room so as to prevent them from voting for the uni to publicly condemn Israel's actions in Gaza. No reasonable person can object to their at least being a debate on the issues. Those who prevent the debate surely have something to hide or know that they have a poor argument.
Student action
[info]gonzologist wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 12:10 am (UTC)
This is the best news I've seen for ages. We've screwed up big time and the sooner the next generation realises that radical action is needed and they are the ones to make it happen the better,
Movement spreads to the US
[info]indypeace wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 02:55 am (UTC)
Gaza Solidarity sit-in at the University of Rochester in the US declares victory in less than 9 hours! see
About time
[info]scousekraut wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 11:06 am (UTC)
Better late than never. With all the information tools available today there is no excuse for not being informed. The problem is sorting out the truth from the misinformation.

Also the student movement in the 1960's got infiltrated by Intel, especially in the States, and they led them off into drugs, sex and rock'n roll. They also made fools of themselves by supporting communism. So there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from that.

I can remember at school in Liverpool around 1971 there was still this anarchic feeling and a lot of kids were psuedo Marxists and Trotskyites that hated the US. I could never understand how someone could think that the Soviet Union was better than the US myself.

Now I know that Communism was in fact financed by the capitalist bankers. So beware of who wants to know you.
Re: About time
[info]ajay55_fighter wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 06:51 am (UTC)
Yes, ...I was in the U.K. then and you guys had Vietnam to deal with but I still remember mysterious types in the Student Union or at parties waving Mao's Little Red Book about, and me (under an assumed name, hahahaha!) subscribing to "The Anarchist Weekly." Not so silly, as one of my very gentle intellectual anarchist friends told me - the offices were always being raided for lists of subscribers. (And what, pray, did they do with those lists?)

I read "Das Kapital" at 15 and it seemed to have a lot of commonsense. I was about to join the British Communist Party but naively told my mother, who freaked, saying the British Communist party was "directed" from Russia (I conceded it might have been) - but she was mostly distraught because I was being groomed for an acting career and she was horror struck that, oh dear, the U.S. would never allow me in to play on Broadway! Maybe that was her excuse.

The mid sixties and early seventies were fun, though! I sang Joan Baez songs after High school in a Folk Club with my friend Nick on guitar and went around in bare feet. My daughter can't believe I sometimes actually ironed my hair. Oh, nostalgia for the 60's and early seventies! Weren't we lucky to live through all that? (I think so anyway.) Beatlemania, freedom! And in France with my French cousins in '68, all the "manifs", the riotous, really righteously angry students - who later, unfortunately became bankers and PDGs.

Go, go, go, students of 2009! Don't let go, don't give in! Students changed things at Kent State. Young people roared through the streets and put an end to Vietnam. Oh, the nostalgia of the music when I watch "Forrest Gump." Go, King's College, London, my old college! I'm proud of you all and I honour you with the blue ribbon of Quebec which says, "I make a difference!"
Make a difference!
Is it really '68 all over again?!
[info]markie126 wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 07:44 pm (UTC)
So 20 Universities (out of over 150 Universities and Colleges across the UK) involving how many students?

Let's be generous and say 100 students at each...

So 2,000 higher education students involved out a total University population of nearly 3 million...

I guess too few students have too much time on their hands
Wes Streeting opposes the protests
[info]zaytoun99 wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 08:41 pm (UTC)
This article makes it seem as though Wes Streeting is championing the student movement. But just last week he was quoted by CNN as saying this:

"The protesters need to find new ways to campaign vocally without causing disruption to students on campus" Wes Streeting, N.U.S. president, told CNN.

NUS president Wes Streeting is certainly not part of the student protest movement in any way shape or form. A future Labour MP? most definitely; a student activist with passion and principles? Never.
Protests going global!
[info]mo_gas wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 11:12 pm (UTC)
Groups in more than 20 countries on 5 continents stood together during the "International day of action against the Commercialisation of Education" on Nov.5th 2008. You can access a presentation summarizing all the actions on that day here: (.pdf/~3MB)

Furthermore groups around the world protested for free (and emancipating) public education and against the commercialisation of education in the year 2008. I attempted to list most of them here:

As a result of the co-ordination efforts ahead of the international day of action a loose network was created, which now calls itself the "International Students Movement" (because most groups involved are dominated by students, but of course it is open to all social groups struggling against the commercialisation of education and for free and emancipating public education; i.e. teachers, parents, pupils, workers,...).
Regular international chat conferences help to co-ordinate things together.
Coming up next: "Reclaim your Education - Global Week of Action 2009" in April (20/04 - 29/04).

For more details regarding the Global Week of Action visit this website:

What activists are working on now is to unite groups and movements around the world and promote the global perspective of the struggle. In the end they aim to increase the political pressure on a global scale and get governments to implement free public education systems, that are based on an emancipating approach and are accessible to all.

Platforms such as their own website with many forums ( help as well.

So far groups in Bangladesh, the Philippines, France, Spain, Indonesia, Germany, Canada, the UK, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Luxembourg, Egypt, Ghana, the U.S. of A., Burundi, Togo and Liberia confirmed their interest in the week of action.

The current list of supporters can be accessed here:

[info]isla09 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 10:02 am (UTC)
I'm proud to have NOT been involved in this.

So, they are opposing occupation by... Occupying? That's stupid. At least call it something else, like a 'sit-in' or something.

I don't know what they're trying to achieve, either? Awareness for Palestine? Not required. Israel to suddenly disappear? Not going to happen. I just don't see the point. They just want the self-satisfaction of feeling like they've helped the poor 'Palestinians' and not sat there and done nothing, which is probably just as effective to them.
[info]sk_1985 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 10:52 am (UTC)
What the students are doing is amazing! They're putting their on lifes on hold for justice, and I respect every single one of them. I hope people give them a more positive response though, show their
support in whatever ways possible, because a lt of the universities arent respnsing and simply ignoring them, waiting for them to give up and go home, how sad it is to see a world that has chosen to ignore
such a serious situation, a country that gets away not just with murder but with absolutely everything
under the sun, a country that has broken all human rights laws....and everyone is still supporting them, making the crisis over there look equal, all i can say is weigh up the numbers and find some channels and newspapares who arent run by america and israel, talking more about our 2inch sno situation than this massacre thats taking place. THANKS AGAIN TO ALL THESE STUDENTS WHO ARE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT AND ALL THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPORTING THEM!
Proud not to be involved? And...?
[info]zaytoun99 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 10:58 am (UTC)
If you're proud *not* to be involved in this, then it's obviously no great loss to the student movement. Why on earth would the student activists want someone who doesn't give a toss about peace and justice for an oppressed people?
Shame on the lazy university students in Manchester
[info]ukstudent wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 01:41 pm (UTC)
Anti-democratic students occupy the University of Manchester to protest against... occupation!

They deny other students the necessary peace of mind we need to study in the name of political awareness. It sounds great but the trouble is that they hardly display any kind of political awareness themselves.

Quite the opposite, they scream and behave as if they were watching a soap opera or "Big Brother". No analysis, no distance, bias, hatred, hypocrisy and fallacy is what I heard at the meeting at UMIST last week.

We are still a few to rely on critical thinking rather than group thinking but we are vastly outnumbered.

Shame on them, intellectually lazy students.

"The spirit of '68 is reawakening": clearly NOT.

Re: Proud not to be involved? And...?
[info]youdownornot wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 05:36 pm (UTC)
"They deny other students the necessary peace of mind we need to study in the name of political awareness. It sounds great but the trouble is that they hardly display any kind of political awareness themselves."

I'm a university student in the states involved with a number of groups working in my local community to offer alternative dialogue and possible solutions on situations here, such as the building of more unneccessary jails (an expensive way to turn a mass public health problem of drug abuse into a criminal issue for the monetary benefit of a few unimaginative thugs), as well as working to thwart the issue we have of a new NAFTA superhighway that NOBODY wants, that does not make sense on any public level and can only be facilitated through the illegal use of eminent domain of family farms that have spanned generations.

What I'm getting at is, college students are unaware of even the issues within their own communities. We also have one of the biggest business schools in the U.S here on campus. With all the prescribed social ignorance we have in our univerities in the western world, (and with all the countless hours that college students are jousing around with partying on the weekends or generally fucking around) I can't feel too much pity when widespread social issues that INVOLVE US ALL are brought to the social surface and that might, if only for a little bit, "deny other students the necessary peace of mind (they) need to study" - when a lot of that study is out of touch with reality and corporate training in the first place.


I've noticed this phenomenon since as young as I can remember- when and where is it ever the "right place" to attempt a stand, if even abstract or even symbolic. Here in the U.S. we know there is and will be a breakdown of civil order, some of us are just trying to get the dialogue in motion and lessen the fall.
[info]davstone wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 05:53 pm (UTC)
Well done independant for being here!!, it's almost soul destroying looking at the lack of coverage on the revolt of the UK against israel's racist policies.
Truely israel with all it's friends in "the spin" industry have made the biggest own goal with the Gaza massacre, they are in total shock at the reaction of the globe.

People rise and be counted, a change is a coming!
Activism does make a difference
[info]dajson wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 09:24 pm (UTC)
I hear over and over a pessimistic attitude toward the activism of the 60's. Lit's of people go on and on how it was just a waste of time, and they were all just hypocrits and dreamers. The truth however, is that the activism of the 60's did work, and the world to this day has never gotten over it, and I hope it never does.
[info]eiraha wrote:
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 at 11:50 pm (UTC)
A total boycot of all Israelian goods is much more effective than sit-ins or protests. Israhel has never acted upon protests or international condemnation.
Don't pay attention
[info]mackname wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 05:41 am (UTC)
Don't make a hero of zero. just ignore them and don't let another 68s useless generation lookalike take on the power.
they are all from the same school - self-indulging spoiled generation, hungry for fame and power.

they say they know what is good for us'
they want to make a better future for 'all of (out of) us,
... whateve.

remember that the old geezers in power today. they are from the same 68 generation.
and look wher the h**l we are now!
Soul of Capitalism
[info]datavirtue wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 06:39 am (UTC)
I recommend the book: The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider, in it he basically says that people will have to use the power of where they put their money to control the political outcomes of the future. We know that politics is run by the money now lets use that power.

the sixties was a failure.... the people who came out of the sixties went on to feed the beast by indescriminate consumerism and investment in the war machine. Learn where your money is going, every dime you spend.

We don't need radical action so much as we need conscious action.

No tuition fees?
[info]gondorplace wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 07:14 am (UTC)
Who is going to teach the students then - volunteers?

I support their protests for the disaster in Gaza, but how did the 'going cheaper' become involved in 'let's save them' story?
Students erwache!
[info]dinerouk wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 07:28 am (UTC)
It's about time the budding leaders and intelligentsia started to get involved in what is really happening in this world, instead of being told take it or leave it. The last two Governments have been shocking in their sleaze and the last one, also for their weakness and deception.
Bring in the New Energy!
[info]tishafairy wrote:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 11:40 am (UTC)
The rise of the indigo children is here! The children ARE our future! Teach them well and let them lead the way.