Today marks exactly 3 years since Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) activists were violently attacked by police during a sit-in for free education in Warwick’s Senate House building. This attack, facilitated and overseen by our own university, sent shockwaves across the sector.
On a local level, Warwick students held a historic 1000-strong “Cops Off Campus” demo the next day, which led to an 8-day long occupation. Beyond Warwick, there was a wave of solidarity protests and occupations across the country, an outpouring of condemnation from the student and academic communities, as well as media coverage at national and even international levels.
The events of December 3rd 2014 mark a critical chapter in the ongoing story of attacks on the freedom to protest on our campuses. But they also mark a painful yet formative moment in the history of WFFE, which served as a catalyst for 3 further years of bold, vibrant and effective grassroots free education activism.
And it is essential that we remember and commemorate this history. From the events of December 3rd 2014, we can extract numerous key lessons – about repression and state violence, about democracy and power within our institutions, about solidarity and community – which drive our activism forward and inform our ongoing fight for an education system which is free, liberated, democratic and accessible to all.
When university managements, backed up by the state, deploy violence and repression against student activists (as has been seen on several campuses in recent years), they hope that it will quell dissent, terrify people into disengaging with struggle, and crush movements into the ground. At Warwick, we have not let that happen. Over the last 3 years, we have seen some incredible campaigns, actions and victories which are a testament to the strength, hard work and determination of grassroots activists here. And going forward, we will continue to fight the insidious marketisation of our education system and the complicity of our own institution in that agenda.
Exactly one year ago yesterday, WFFE activists initiated an occupation of the Slate – Warwick’s brand new £5.3 million corporate conference facility – demanding the withdrawal of the uni from the Teaching Excellence Framework, better rights for hourly paid teachers, the removal of the protest injunction and an apology for the events of December 3rd 2014. This occupation won some key concessions, notably the lifting of the draconian protest injunction put in place after the 2014 occupation, as well as an apology from the university for their handling of the events of December 3rd. This marked a huge victory for so many of us who were directly and deeply affected by these events, as well as for the protection of the right to protest for all students at Warwick both now and in the future.
The pain and trauma of December 3rd 2014 will always stay with those involved, but so will our resolve to fight against the injustice and oppression which exists within our education system. Though university management wish to brush what happened 3 years ago under the carpet, we will not stop remembering our history.
It is the history of WFFE.
It is the history of activism at Warwick.
It is the history of the student movement.
As always, the struggle continues.