Occupying against an Occupation

It’s difficult to dismiss the demands of the Cambridge Occupation as unrealistic. They’re largely focused on the way the University of Cambridge can provide humanitarian support to the people of Gaza (and stop material support to the arms industry which supplies all sides in this conflict). The occupation of the Law Faculty does not try to, or expect to end the occupation of the West Bank and the stranglehold on Gaza, but it clearly implies in that we all must do out part (this post’s title is misleading). Some might ask “well, what about the Israelis?”. But the choice to phrase demands in this way, approach the issue not from ‘whose side are we on’, but ‘what can we do to alleviate suffering and struggle for peace’ is illuminating. Unlike the odd and angry fringe that turns up to certain anti-war protests and grimly cheers on the ‘armed resistance’ of the day, unlike the frankly upsetting rally the Sunday before last, organised by the Board of Deputies, whose speakers glibly cheered on the IDF, neither of whose creeds had any effect but to alienate people with connections to one, both, or neither side, the Cambridge Occupiers are learning, sharing, and developing the consciousness not only of what is wrong in the world, but how to fix it.

It’s also impossible to call the occupation irresponsible. The university authorities were at once trying to find a way of seal off fire exits, cutting communications, and switching off lights (which, if you look at the rooms, could be a significant fire hazard, and something not usually done at night anyway), while at the same time, they suddenly became aware of the importance of not connecting to the mains equipment whose appliance-testing status is unknown. Their conversations made it plain their interest was not in regulations or users’ interests – or even ‘building security’; they could see how well-run the occupation was, and they were frequently informed that the occupation would not hamper ordinary students’ use of the space. The people ‘in charge’ clearly had no idea of the practicalities (in fact, one of the law fellows also had staggeringly little understanding of the legalities), and the people quietly and calmly doing overtime were hardly in a position to point out what could and could not be done. At times the meeting was terse with the proctor, but everyone made an effort to be friendly to the security staff. The approach taken by the university authorities seem to be as much an attempt to demoralise as anything else. That is their best hope of avoiding actually considering change. For the protesters must face up not simply to the authority of a proctor in full academic dress, but to the inertia of an 800-year old institution.

The Cambridge Occupation is one of 17 of its kind (link mentions the 16 others) – and it’s continuing with a programme of activities as I write. If you’re in the area, do pop by.

Update: Two things, one on the point at hand, which is to say the occupation has clarified its position on the question of the Israeli victims – and it’s really good to see how much importance was placed on engaging with Israeli and Jewish students (the student societies in question, however, were mostly hostile to dialogue). The second is that the occupation is finally over.

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2 comments so far

  1. Vicky on

    It’s good to see you have started this blog up again- keep it going :)

    I wouldn’t be surprised by any tactics employed by management and university officials against the occupiers- our occupation at Manchester was spontaneous, we had no food or drink, and management instructed security to prevent anything getting in. We were hungry all afternoon and all night (one occupier was also injured and in pain) before UCU staff members managed to get a breakfast to us in the morning.

    http://infantile-and-disorderly.blogspot.com/2009/01/vice-chancellors-response.html

    Good luck Cambridge!

  2. Daniel on

    Thanks; things have been busy for me – industrial dispute looming and all. Well done to you lot up in Manchester.


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