Cambridge students will take part in today's national day of action to protest against agressive policing of recent student demonstrations.
The central protest will take place in London, with students gathering at the University of London Union at around 2pm. Smaller gatherings will also take place at campuses around the country. A Cambridge-based demonstration has been organised by Cambridge Defend Education.
The protests are part of the #copsoffcampus movement, an initiative by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. On the official Facebook page the group states: “We stand for an education that is public and democratic, free for all. Campuses should be places for inquiry, critical thinking and dissent.”
They add: “The only power that management ultimately has is police and state violence. They can’t win the argument, but they can – and do – call in the cops, assault and intimidate us.”
The day of action comes amidst concerns about police violence and the intrusiveness of university administrations over the past weeks. In November the Guardian uncovered police attempts to establish student spies to inform on activist groups in Cambridge. Last week five students at Sussex University were suspended for their role in an occupation, and university managements at Birmingham and Sheffield took legal action to ban occupational protests on their respective campuses.
In the same week violent clashes took place between the Metropolitan Police and student protesters at the University of London, which has also taken out an injunction against occupational demonstrations. There were widespread reports of police assaulting demonstrators, who were removed from their occupation of the Senate House by force. 41 arrests were made over two days of demonstrations.
Mollie Hanley, a student activist who studies History and History of Art at the School of Oriental Studies (SOAS), took part in the occupation. She told Varsity how she was evicted from the building by police and university security, after which she joined a crowd of demonstrators outside.
Speaking about the arrests made last week, she said: “Most of the SOAS community have been absolutely furious and upset by the whole thing. It could have been anyone that was arrested on Thursday for practicing their right to free speech. A lot of students don't feel safe here anymore, and this is a major welfare crisis that management needs to deal with.”
Hanley says that today’s protest is part of a much wider series of demonstrations taking place across the University of London: “It’s not just about #copsoffcampus. The reason cops are being called onto campus to begin with is because it's easier to intimidate and silence an angry community than work out how to meet their demands for fair pay, democratisation and a move away from the commodification of education. But these are tactics used in a much wider community than the university – that's why the Mark Duggan stuff came out.”
Cambridge Defend Education expects that 10 to 20 Cambridge students will travel to London today to attend the main protest, and that many more will take part in the demonstration in Cambridge. A member of Cambridge Defend Education will speak at the national press conference, which will take place from noon.