February 1355, the Feast of Saint Scholastica: an Oxford undergrad drinking at the Swindlestock pub complains to the landlord about the quality of his port (an event now inconceivable). The landlord, who was also the then Mayor of Oxford, replies with ‘saucy language,’ vexing the undergrad so much that he launches the shoddy port at his head. A large melee ensues and the familiar cries of ‘havoc!’ ‘Smyte fast!’ and ‘Give god knocks!’ abound. Soon, the City and University churches’ bells are swung, summoning people to arms throughout the city and county. In the ensuing riot, a cleric is scalped.

Looking back at tales like these, it’s easy to applaud ourselves over how far we’ve come since 1355; for instance, I doubt I’d assault any mayor, even if he served me the worst damned port in Albion. But, as we slowly return to normal life, and outside gatherings are allowed again, it might be worth asking ourselves what we can learn from that passionate undergrad in the pub seven hundred years ago. Indeed, the relative inertia of today’s student body as a whole - and I accept that I am a part of the problem - offers a sad contrast with those indignant 14th Century scholars. Needless to say, we should absolutely reject violence, but it does nettle a bit that those Medieval students would bring anarchy to Oxford over some port, yet we can’t, en masse, devote more of our time to peaceful picketing.

“Our values simply are not theirs – and yet we broadly just accept what they’re doing to us without telling them how strongly we feel.”

At the moment, we have a government that often seems as though it’s of a different species to most students, and yet collectively we’re quite resigned about that. Admittedly, I socialise in left-wing circles, but I’ve yet to meet a student who, after considering all that’s wrong with the country right now, would snap their fingers like the PM and exclaim: ‘I know what to do, I’ll expand our nuclear arsenal!’ Neither have I met a student who supports the Policing and Crime Bill. Nor do I know a student who, like the Home Secretary, opposes gay marriage, supports the death penalty, and seems to think punishing asylum seekers is more important than the impending climate apocalypse. On such profound issues, our values simply are not theirs – not by a long way – and yet we broadly just accept what they’re doing to us without telling them how strongly we feel.

Yes, over the past year, we’ve certainly seen glimmers of dissent at government apathy peeking through the blanket of lockdown. In the summer, there were the BLM protests; last month, we saw the ‘Reclaim the Streets’ gatherings; currently in Bristol, there’s also the ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations. However, I worry that these movements are starting to look like flashes in the pan.


Mountain View

The Government is attacking our civil liberties

They’re like small fringe movements, through which the many of us who want change merely express our upset vicariously. Thus, when these pop-up protests fade away, the government can publish a report claiming that racism, say, was all a bad dream or that climate change will go away soon – they absolutely promise! - and so we should all pat ourselves on the back.

As long as we remain content with letting a small band of others do the complaining for us, the widespread sense of injustice felt by our generation will slip under the radar. In fact, on a less abstract note, I would bet good money that if we were just a bit louder, the Government wouldn’t have waited till the eleventh hour at every juncture to make decisions concerning students – and that we’d be getting some of our tuition fees back. As it is, we’ve been so quiet that, right now, anyone in England can legally go and get a tattoo or have their palm read by a mystic, but we can’t go see our lecturers face-to-face, despite having paid vast sums of money for the privilege. We are being ignored and cheated out of thousands of pounds and yet there are tumbleweeds bouncing through the town squares where we should be peacefully protesting.

So let’s put our feet down. As lockdown is lifted, we should learn from all this injustice and refuse to be quiet anymore. If we want our tuition fees back, we should demand them back. If we think that racism still exists, that women are more valuable than statues, or that climate change is a pressing issue, we should be crying it in the streets. We really need to tap into the passion felt by that undergrad at the pub, seven hundred years ago, and give at least some of our time to going on peaceful marches and demonstrations through our towns and in Westminster. We should make our presence known and our voices impossible to ignore. We have been served some god awful port as students in the 2020s and we’re damned if we’re drinking it.