After years of quiet discontent, students are starting to evoke the passion and conviction of activists past, and the timing could not be more fitting.
On March 9, Trinity College Dublin students made a dent in the college’s commercial revenue by blocking off Front Gate and the entrance to the Book of Kells exhibition for two hours, in protest of the introduction of a flat fee for supplemental exams of €450 earlier that week. On March 19 1968, students in Howard University, Washington D.C. shut down the administration building for five days in protest against the Vietnam War and the exclusion of African history from their curriculum. The mythologised revival of student activism is beginning to become a reality.
1968 saw millions of students across the globe rising together against continued oppression from the financial bureaucrats that controlled their lives. They weighed the risks and chose to stand up and fight back for their rights and the rights of their classmates, potentially sacrificing their degrees in the process. Beyond our own borders, we are witnessing a familiar situation. Students in the US are protesting against the continuing rage of gun violence, and students in the UK are occupying and resisting in solidarity with their striking lecturers.
We should not be embarrassed from drawing parallels between previous movements and the current revival, ultimately we were all raised in periods of economic decline with considerable uncertainty about what our futures would hold. For us, this extra fee of €450 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If we studied in a university that was governed solely by compassion and an interest in further education, then direct action might not be necessary, but Trinity is not such a place. We study in an institution governed by money and power, largely controlled by a small, undemocratic committee picked at the behest of the Provost Patrick Prendergast. Direct action by the masses is the best way of changing this hierarchical culture, the people representing themselves instead of unaffected individuals deciding what is best for them.
Direct action comes in many forms but the crucial unifying feature is the disruption of routine. When you disrupt a decision maker’s routine they have little option but to listen to you in order to carry on in their position. Heads of universities receive letters and emails on a daily basis – they do not wake up in the morning expecting a blockade outside their office.
There are countless examples from the history of campaigns, such as the wider campaign against university fees, that were tipped over the edge to victory as a result of direct action. Another movement from the 1960s stands out as one of the most successful social movements in history, the Civil Rights Movement in the US. The students who took part in this played a crucial role in the ending of legal discrimination against people of colour and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a victory that many expected would never come.
Without these students, it is difficult to imagine the position we would be in now — if many of us would be in university at all. With the Finance Committee of Trinity tabling an increase in rents for student accommodation, as well as an increase in fees for postgraduate and non-EU students for discussion in the future, we should bear their legacy and success in mind when our fellow students gather and join them in standing up and fighting back.