On Wednesday 3rd December, students making up the contingent of Warwick For Free Education (@warwickfreeed) amassed a crowd of 30-40 students outside of the Arts Centre as a means of rallying for the abolition of tuition fees, education cuts and student debt in order to compel more students to attend the regional demo on Saturday 6th December in Birmingham.
After a few speeches and a surprise banner drop reading ‘FREE EDUCATION NOW!’ over the side of the Arts Centre, an excited group of students decided that on this day of action, where legitimate occupations and reclamation of university spaces across the UK had occurred, that we would try to take the ground floor of Senate House. There was a brief attempt at security trying to refuse our entry, in which they illegally manhandled us, but with them being outnumbered we easily made our way through. This needs to be a point of focus. No security guard was assaulted or harmed on entry. A couple of protesters were bruised in the process. We have asked for the CCTV footage to be released.
We made ourselves comfortable, and with chants of ‘Whose University? Our university!’ and ‘When they say “privatise”, we say “Occupy!”’, we established ourselves as a group, quietened down and decided upon an impromptu seminar discussing free education, the limits of the movement and where to go next. We talked on the need to establish a movement that attacks the privatisation of public schools and services that affect poor and disabled pupils. We discussed why fees don’t work, and about the proletarianisation of graduates, how those of us who have graduated have been destroyed financially by the promises we were made.
An hour later we noticed the flashing blue lights from across the campus and prepared for the police to arrive. We did not expect them to enter the building as we had not been in any way informed about the alleged assault of a security guard. Immediately they circled around us as we linked arms. They attempted to arrest somebody close to me immediately. They violently assaulted friends of mine. They pointed tasers at myself and others whilst smiling. They used CS spray on students who posed no threat to them. They were vicious and brutal. Unfortunately, for the time being, due to ongoing legal issues I cannot detail my arrest. I provided a complete ‘no comment’ interview and I do not in any way want to affect those proceedings for myself or the comrades who were also arrested.
I am still in awe at what came next. On my release from Coventry Central Police Station, I was informed that we had gone viral. We were trending on facebook and twitter. 1500 people were registered to attend the Cops Off Campus demo at Warwick the following day, the biggest demo on campus since the 1970s. Solidarity demonstrations were happening up and down the UK (shout out to Freedom for their amazing efforts in London!) We even made the news in Turkey somehow.
My bail conditions make it impossible for me to attend further protests at the university or to see those I was arrested with, which is an act of violence that surpasses my experience with the police. I am currently still trying to process the effects this arrest will have on me, especially given the previous arrest at the National Demo on November 19th. We will see. However, I got out lucky. While this is a step up of force by the police towards us here, we must remember, but, as my close friend Lawrence Green said on Channel 4 News last night, not capitalise on, the extremities of police brutality towards People of Colour the world over.
Today, I, unfortunately, needed to be reminded how lucky we as white protesters were on Tuesday to leave with only temporary injuries and why so many people of colour find it difficult or impossible to enter predominantly white radical spaces for fear of violence towards themselves. We express our deepest sympathies and solidarity to the families of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, as well as the families of the 43 students murdered in Ayotzinapa. We also stand with the black Warwick students who were triggered by the use of the N-word in a reading by a white lecturer of Ginsberg’s Howl at the Cops Off Campus demo. Protest spaces should be safe spaces from the police but also from the inherent racism of white left groups who do not consider their actions before black and minority ethnic students.
Warwick For Free Education is currently in occupation in Rootes Building. They need food and water and blankets and love and solidarity. What this group, which I am proud to be a part of, has created over the course of the two days since the arrests, tirelessly organising for free education and for cops off campus is extraordinary and they deserve the recognition that has befallen them.
I have special thanks to give to those who were arrested with me, Freedom Press for their solidarity, Radical Angry Queers West Midlands for being a family when it was most needed, to students at Birmingham who camped out with Warwick in the Police Station foyer with food and drink to greet us on release and to everybody who organised and attended the demonstrations and protests.
This is what solidarity looks like and it is beautiful.