My advice to the Cambridge student activist is to enjoy the opportunities the Bubble has to offer whilst acknowledging our privilege in being hereLEFTERIS PAPAROUNAS

Cambridge is a bit of a bubble, as we all know well. The dark evenings, impossibly old buildings and rapid passing of time can make you feel like you’re living on a film set. It can be a challenge to stay connected to the ‘real’ world, whether on a personal level, to home friends, or on a wider level, to serious news events. As a student with a deep interest in global social issues and positive change, it feels even harder to pierce the bubble; discussing Indian feminist postcolonial movements while perched on a cosy sofa in my supervisor’s room overlooking the Cam can feel not just disconnected, but downright wrong.  

You may hear the term ‘champagne socialist’ thrown around Cambridge. This scathing epithet refers to the privileged activist who shouts loudly about justice in the streets before returning to their cosy, parentally-paid-for set to share a photo of themselves with a placard on Facebook. The champagne socialist is, according to the stereotype, vocal about social issues by which they will never be affected. Hence they may be viewed as simply using the suffering of others to advance their public image.

Acknowledging how lucky we are here isn’t enough if you look to broader global horizons

There are of course elements of truth in this description of Cambridge activists, but I truly feel that as young people in the world today that we must try to do what we can in our power to address injustices, whatever the judgments of others. A key step to overcoming this disconnect, inherently intertwined with the privilege we are afforded here in this small, wonderfully academic and impossibly wealthy University in the Global North, is the acknowledgment of our positionality. Thinking about social justice must come hand in hand with the recognition that we never have and never will experience the inequality of our global capitalist system, at least not in the same way as those for whom we are fighting.

As a fresher only a year ago, I pretty soon felt lost in these realisations. Whilst choosing to make more sustainable choices as an individual, I eventually could not shake the idea that I simple wasn’t doing enough to address climate change. I had persistently doubted whether there was any point in wishing good on the world, if by simply studying here I was both a symptom of and an active contributor to unequal neoliberal systems.

My answer came through a like-minded friend who asked if I wanted to help out with a climate march through central Cambridge at the end of Michaelmas. Participating in the march gave me a new sense of support in my views. It also offered a channel through which I could put my energy to what finally felt a good, and constructive use. Empowering myself gave me the confidence to show solidarity with the global issues, an opportunity I wonder will be so easily afforded to us once we graduate.

Thinking about social justice must come hand in hand with the recognition that we never have and never will experience the inequality of our global capitalist system

Displaying solidarity is the key reason that divestment is such an essential movement, and this is why I truly believe it is the best solution for students who wish to create positive change.

The climate justice movement has key links to decolonisation and postcolonial politics; ultimately the removal of monetary support to fossil fuel corporations is a start to breaking down oppressive structures, but it is only the start.

Locally, divestment has  been successful on some fronts, such as prompting the decision by Queens’ College this past summer to divest its college funds from fossil fuels.


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However, you may be wondering whether Zero Carbon really does have that much of an impact. Alternative approaches, such as Effective Altruism, may seem more rational; perhaps it is not the best use of our acknowledged privilege to create open letters and banners that may never achieve full University Divestment. Maybe we should concentrate on working towards gaining Firsts in our degrees so we can earn a top salary in the ‘real’ world upon graduating, and donate this to charity.

I encourage you instead to refer back to our existence in the bubble. Acknowledging how lucky we are here isn’t enough if you look to broader global horizons. All social and climate justice issues are intertwined. The divestment movement is unique in explicitly recognising this, as the transition away from fossil fuels will directly benefit those who are disproportionately affected by global inequalities. Oil extraction occurs mostly in countries that will experience the most ecological damage from global warming, which are usually former colonies. Companies such as Shell arrive and extract their fossil fuel resources. This unequal process functions on that of appropriating local land and destroying natural resources of a colony for the material gains of colonisers.  

My advice to the Cambridge student activist therefore is to enjoy the opportunities the Bubble has to offer – involvement in a plethora of societies and movements – whilst acknowledging our privilege in being here. This must be combined with a worldview that looks past the local horizon to global issues of decolonisation and climate justice. Get involved, get creative, and stay true to your morals - it’s not selfish to fulfill these through active engagement, if you do it in the right way.  The future of activism is in the hands of our generation. 

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