Extremism, Police, Resistance

The news that a Defend Education Birmingham activist is being treated as a domestic terrorist does not, despite its extremity, come as a surprise. The unnamed student was arrested unlawfully in January 2014, held for 30-40 hours in police custody, and suspended from his course. Not content to leave matters there, the West Midlands Police have now turned to harassing his relatives over concerns of ‘domestic extremism’ and ‘young people supporting terrorists’. The letter sent to the activist’s family reeks of Orwellian paternalism, promising that ‘[y]our son is not in any trouble’ and that the Prevent initiative ‘is about supporting individuals […] not about criminalising them.’ Given that Prevent actively gathers intelligence on the politics, sexual activity, and mental health of innocent people, Cambridge Defend Education may be forgiven for suggesting that education activists are doing just fine without such invasive ‘support’.

This is not an anomaly – we’ve all heard stories like this before. November of last year brought the similarly surprising revelation that Cambridgeshire police had tried to persuade a local activist to inform on political organisations, including ‘student-union type stuff’ and Cambridge Defend Education. Justifying his interest in the names and numbers of students involved in national demonstrations, the officer noted that

it gives the officer or whoever’s looking after it on that side of things, as in at the protest, an idea of how many people are going to attend […] so they can put measures in place to keep them off the road and things. It’s not because we want to target people and round them all up and arrest them.

We are fortunate that the Cambridgeshire police, much like their West Mercian relatives, are so interested in facilitating political engagement and safeguarding our wellbeing. We can only assume that their continuing attempts to recruit informants are the result of deepening pastoral sensibilities. We wonder what they imagine a world without police spying would look like. Fortunately, Cambridgeshire county’s Police Commissioner is on hand to provide the answer, noting in November 2013 that ‘[y]ou and I know that there is always that sort of [spying] activity taking place. One dreads to think that something could happen in Cambridge like it did in Woolwich. […] And you know it has to go on.’ Apparently, the watchful eye of the state is all that keeps student activists from slaughtering soldiers in the streets. This is more than the ‘criminalisation of protest’, more than the abuse of ever-increasing surveillance powers. Under the hazy label of ‘extremism’ – of which even the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit accepts there is “no legal definition” – we are becoming targets of the state, enemy combatants in the ‘war on terror’.

The state does not negotiate with terrorists. Instead it disproportionately punishes minor infractions, targets and detains central figures, and arms itself against perceived threats. It does not negotiate with us, and so our demands go unheeded. It enables Metropolitan police chiefs to note that ‘austerity measures are likely to lead to further protest’ without contesting the legitimacy of austerity itself. Part of contesting this neoliberal orthodoxy demands we secure a space for progressive thought and radical dissent in our universities. The state and university administrations increasingly turn to batons, handcuffs, and spies in response. The jackboot of the police everywhere supports the state’s attempt to corrupt this element of higher education and to turn universities into places of conformity; conformity to a programme of marketisation, of fees, cuts and outsourcing, which is changing the character and function of higher education for the worse. Those who resist are treated as terrorists, radicals against whom the most authoritarian and invasive tactics are deemed legitimate. We are all domestic extremists.

These are dangerous methods of suppressing legitimate student dissent; of attacking a student movement which is fighting for free, fair and democratic education. Let’s be realistic – these demands are only ‘extreme’ to the grey monotony of neoliberal practice. This fresh act of police intimidation is a further threat to the progressive environment which must be fostered at university. As long as our protests are met with arrests and our demands with batons, the police are not welcome in conversation nor on our campuses. They can take their ‘extremism’ with them.

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Cambridge Defend Education presents: Striking 101

All the information you need for // TOMORROW (6 FEB), ALL-DAY STRIKE // in CDE’s Striking 101. Please share widely!

Also, check out this great blog post on Dons Speak Out, ‘Industrial Action: A Student Guide‘, where our lecturers respond to the the top five comments from students crossing picket lines at the last day-long strike.






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American-backed private Universities plan dropped

It is not often that CDE links to the Telegraph:

“A Higher Education Bill, which was to be introduced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, has now been delayed indefinitely and is unlikely to be published before 2015.”

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Selma James speaking at Occupy Cambridge University (27 November)

Legendary feminist and Marxist Selma James speaking at Occupied Lady Mitchell Hall in Cambridge University on 27th November.

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Support the strikes!

On Wednesday 30th November, more than 3 million public sector workers will be striking to defend their pensions. Teachers, for example, will be expected to pay between 50% and 64% more into their pension fund in order to receive less the same amount over a shorter period of time, with the retirement age being raised.

The occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by Cambridge Defend Education has been called in solidarity with striking workers.

This is an emergency

The government’s cuts pose a fundamental threat to our public sector. These changes will disproportionately affect women and the most vulnerable in society. The Unison union, for example, has calculated that a nurse who has worked for 27 years would be forced to pay £597 extra each year into her or his pension scheme, but receive £1,275 a year less when s/he finally retires. All people’s best-laid plans will go awry overnight.

We urge all public sector employees to support strike action. We encourage non-unionised workers to join a union – on the picket line, if needs be! – and for employees of Cambridge University who are not directly involved in the industrial dispute to stand in solidarity with the pickets on Wednesday. Whether you work in the public sector or the private sector, this concerns everyone.

There will be pickets at the Sidgwick, Downing and New Museums sites. We will be providing hot drinks and food to striking academics and university staff all morning on the Sidgwick site, and visiting pickets all round the university to show our solidarity.

CUSU voted to support mass walkouts by students, and we encourage all students not to cross the picket lines, nor to attend lectures, and to come to the CUSU rally outside Great St. Mary’s Church at 11.30, and march to Parkers Piece for noon, where thousands of striking trade unionists will be rallying.

To find out more about actions taking place in your area, click here.

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Another open letter regarding disruption of Willetts’ speech

Dear Simon Goldhill,

I have read your books. I have learned a lot from them, and I admire you.
You are an educated man.

When David Willetts came to Cambridge to speak on a CRASSH platform last
week, he came not to listen, but to give the appearance of listening.
David Willets is a politician, not an academic. He has shown contempt for
the free exchange of ideas by developing and pushing through a higher
educational policy that subordinates free speech to market forces. But you
defend his own right to free speech, and you are an educated man.

The CRASSH series on the idea of the university has recruited from among
the professorial clique a predictable range of voices: men and women fully
franchised, who face in the government’s attack on our universities
nothing more than an insult to their ideals. They face no decades of debt.
They face no diminishing prospects. They face neither threat of redundancy
nor unemployment. Indeed, they embrace the opportunity to sally fully
plated into the lists of ideological opposition: economic security and the
moral highground all at once. But you defend the CRASSH series as a free
and frank exchange of a range of viewpoints, and you are an educated man.

I have heard it said that the CDE action last week denied many
participants in the afternoon’s lecture the chance to make their own
voices heard. This was an unfortunate cost of the action, but it’s worth
asking who would have heard these voices. The professors at CRASSH? Our
university administration? David Willetts? It’s true that challenging
questions might have been asked by thoughtful, concerned members of our
community. These people are my friends and colleagues, my students. I care
about their right to be heard, as if it were my own. Who would have heard
them? None but themselves. Speaking in a sound-proofed closet, to an
audience of sock-puppets, is no kind of free speech. But you defend it,
and you are an educated man.

You have called CDE’s action against Willetts a self-defeating action, a
shagging for chastity. You have said that CDE has mistakenly attacked the
core values of the university. Perhaps you have undermined them, by
inviting a politician to whitewash his ideologically driven rape of the
university sector, in a speech that would rhetorically redescribe it as
consensual sex. I am grateful to CDE for refusing a podium to this
apologist for the market prostitution of academic research. Last week,
your colleague and fellow classicist at Royal Holloway, Edith Hall,
resigned from her chair, citing ‘the intense stresses of a professional
environment in which the senior management do not in [her] view uphold the
values definitive of a university’. Whose side are you really on? But you
claim to defend the university, and you are an educated man.

The CDE protest text was a shambles. Their instruments were blunt. The
group’s members are of many minds. But these are principled, desperate
young people facing a university that will not hear them, a society in
freefall, a market currently captained by pirates, and an environment
steadily succumbing to degradation, spoliation, and greed. I can forgive
these students a lot. But I find I do not need to forgive them. I do not
need to forgive them for their honesty, their integrity, their unabashed
if clumsy righteousness. They are simply Cambridge, defending the
opportunity to pursue free enquiry, defending the opportunity to think and
to learn, defending education. And you are an educated man.


Andrew Zurcher
Queens’ College
Cambridge CB3 9ET
United Kingdom
+44 1223 335 572

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An academic’s letter to Professor Goldhill on the Willetts Protest

Dear Prof. Goldhill,

I recently read your response to the occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by the Cambridge Defend Education group, posted on the CRASSH website. In it, you mention that many people have since emailed you expressing their sense of shame that David Willetts was prevented from speaking; I have taken that as an invitation to email you with a different view.

I feel compelled to do so partly because your response represents an exercise of symbolic capital that – in the context of the campaign against current government policy – seems to me a thousand-fold more irresponsible than the students’ actions last week. Your comments demand that space be made for ‘other voices’, and I trust that you believe you are intervening on their behalf by condemning the protests. Implicit in that rationale must be your awareness that your voice is invested with a certain authority dependent partly, but of course not wholly, on your esteemed position within the University. You will not be insensitive to the irony I’m getting at: your defence of others’ voices demands all views be treated equally, but that very defence is predicated on the knowledge that some voices are more equal than others.

Students and colleagues will read your statement of condemnation not as an expression of fair-minded concern but as a work that defines what is politically acceptable for them within the institution you represent. As a junior researcher, I am more than aware that a degree of career risk attends direct criticism here – in fact it is precisely that sense of ill-defined discomfort which prompts me to write. You will excuse me if – as a consequence of this discomfort – I feel that the term ‘totalitarian’ was misapplied by your statement.

The pretence that there exists a public sphere in which heterodox voices can commingle productively also underpins the criticism of CDE itself. I find it bizarre that so many rational people believe that Willetts’ visit represented a chance for rational debate. His relations with the HE sector are in tatters, and his visit to Cambridge represents part of an attempt to conceal that fact. It was an advertisement – not an evaluative process. CRASSH seems to consider his talk on par with a speech made by a visiting academic holding controversial views. But Willetts was not there to announce that he had found previously undiscovered Homeric material in Shakespeare, or to discuss the pitfalls of game theory. He was there to make a vicious policy respectable. I would have been far more disturbed by the protests had the interrupted speaker been a Holocaust denier: because the Holocaust denier’s illegitimacy is already manifest by social consensus. Willetts is in power, not on the fringes. He holds out hope that his systematic destruction of the public university can be made to seem democratic and virtuous.

I want to suggest to you therefore that allowing him to speak would – in itself – have been a political act. We might have engaged him in rational debate for hour upon hour, but in this case doing so would have meant participating in a social event designed to stymie those very principles we would be so reasonably advocating.

After a decade in which politicians have invested so much capital in seeming to listen, engage in dialogue, consult and engage, it seems totally irresponsible not to recognize that giving them the opportunity to do so is to confront them on their terms. Any such engagement would be a priori ineffective. Do we want our protests to be effective? Or do we want to fill in petitions provided by government websites, write mild emails to managers, and generally shuffle around in the way our opponents assumed we would? Let us not go on tip-toes.

Nobody could accuse the CDE protesters of doing that – which in itself should give some of us pause for thought. I agree that the protest was disappointing in some ways; there were certainly things that might have been done differently. But let us not be condescending about those with the vigour to dramatize their opposition in a way which we – collectively as academics in Cambridge – have singularly failed to do. All these phrases of which moderate critics of CDE are so fond- ‘free speech’, ‘rational debate’, et cetera – can only be made to mean what we want them to mean when we understand them not as pure categories, but as contested, compromised, imperfect, and messy.

The protesting students’ actions were not the product of flawed and naive idealism. On the contrary, the protest seemed a wholly realistic and rational response to the nature of the event. Its critics, on the other hand, who are so glad to talk about practical considerations and realism about long-term prospects, are the real idealists. Their idealism manifests itself as a valorisation of free speech that is entirely abstract but at the same time totally unprincipled.

Yours sincerely,

Dr George Oppitz-Trotman

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All day: Banner Making for strike on the 30th

9am – 1pm: Economics Lectures – all welcome!

9.00am: MORNING MEETING – Building momentum for the strike – planning for the day ahead

10.30am: Workshop on talking to sixth-formers about the White Paper

LUNCH: Fajitas for all!

1pm: Raymond Geuss on Freedom of Speech and the University.

4pm: Henry Tam on citizen action and democratic participation – check out his blog ‘Question the Powerful’ here: http://henry-tam.blogspot.com/

6pm: CUSU council EGM – voting to support the occupation

7pm: Marxist Discussion Group – ‘A Question of Leadership’ (Ken Loach) film screening

9pm: Life Drawing

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Events for Today – Sunday 27 November

Another full day of events at the Lady Mitchell Hall occupation.

We formed three working groups for organising against the Higher Education White Paper: an outreach working group (for making contacts with other occupations and student unions, as well as local schools and trade unions); a creative/media working group (for developing ideas like a documentary and short film on the White Paper, as well as stunts and posters for use in Cambridge); and a targeted information working group (for creating sets of information about the White Paper specifically directed to schools, undergrads, grads, and lecturers).

The working groups are meeting at 11am. It is essential that we start organising now if we want to have any chance of resisting the attacks of the government. Please come down and get involved. We need people, we need energy, we need to actively fight the White Paper to save Higher Education. If we don’t organise we will see the fall of Higher Education as we know it. This is a real threat and we need to react!

9:30 a.m. Breakfast
10 a.m. Fuel Poverty Workshop
11 a.m. White Paper Working groups meeting
1 p.m. Lunch! Open for all!
2 p.m. Academics on the crisis: Dr Brendan Burchell, Dr Larry King, and Dr Jeff Miley.
3.30-6.30 p.m.: Workshops! Alternative Futures; Feminism; Direct action; etc.
6.30pm-12am: An evening of music, talks and poetry. Featuring “Songs in the Dark” open mic, a talk from Selma James, a reading by Cambridge poet J.H. Prynne, and performances by musicians visiting from other occupations (see Facebook)

Find us at the Sidgwick Site: see map

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Response to Council Statement

Response to Council Statement

Cambridge Defend Education notes the statement by University Council criticising the disruption of David Willetts’ speech Tuesday evening. Though some of us may disagree with Council on the nature of free speech, we do not wish to belabour the point. We invite all those who wish to oppose the White Paper and support the 30 November strikes to join us in organising towards these ends, regardless of opinion on the Willetts interruption. We welcome all views and debate.

Tomorrow at 11am, there will be a discussion on the White Paper and how to fight it, as part of a series of events this weekend. We encourage academics, students, and others interested in the White Paper to put aside differences of approach and join in the discussion.

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