Student protestors should learn lessons from Martin Luther King
As someone who has already accrued debts from student loans at undergraduate level en route to my PhD studentship, I fully support the decision by students across the country to demonstrate against tuition fee increases.
Thousands of students who paid undergraduate fees at the current level of £3290 leave university with debts of £25,000. So raising them to a top level of £9000 will undoubtedly deter poorer students from attending university, as recent studies have indicated.
Students are furious at being betrayed by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats who already knew when they were busy signing pledges not to raise tuition fees, that they would be ready to cave in if they became part of the coalition government.
Voters across the country are angry at the Liberal Democrats and in particular its leader, Nick Clegg, the Judas, who sold voters down the river in order to become the Deputy Prime Minster. But his chickens are coming home to roost.
According to a poll by Comres, a leading market research agency, the Liberal Democrats have lost the support of almost four in ten of the people who backed the party in May.
As young members of the electorate students can wield a lot of power – part of the reason why the Lib Dems sought to woo their votes in the first place, with what turned out to be empty promises.
The demonstrations across the country: from sit-ins in Manchester to demonstrations in Lincoln, Bristol and London; give some measure of the intent by students to voice their anger and force the coalition to yield to their demands.
The problem is that whilst the vast majority of students have been demonstrating peacefully and rightfully exercising their democrat right to protest; the minority of violent agitators and their actions are the ones getting all the column inches.
Conflict, violence and crime have high news values so it is not surprising to note that a large proportion of the news stories covering today’s protests are about the violence. “More violence erupts,” “Arrests made…” and “Police van attacked” are just some of today’s headlines.
Images on our television screens of students spraying graffiti, burning placards and an injured policeman being dragged to safety by fellow officers will do little to help the cause of the students’ campaign.
When millions of people across the country are threatened with job cuts, when the vulnerable face benefit cuts and everyone in some way is affected by the impact of public spending cuts, images of students running riot will do little to evoke public sympathy.
Violence is not a strategy that will make a jot of difference to the coalition government. The Lib Dems are the monkeys of this operation, whilst the Tories are the organ grinders.
Remember how another Tory leader Margaret Thatcher broke the Miner’s Strike in the eighties?
Violence is actually helpful to coalition’s cause as they can then blame the protests on unruly students hell-bent on creating “violence and disorder.”
Perhaps they should learn the lessons of Dr Martin Luther King who used non-violent protests as a strategy to redress much graver injustices: segregation, lynching and racism in the US.
What made the American public sit up and take notice and empathise with the plight of Black Americans, was the sight of them marching peacefully, the quiet dignity with which they executed the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and other acts of non-compliance despite the violence they were met with at the hands of the police.
In the wake of personal threats and the bombing of his home, Dr King held a mass rally to re-iterate the purpose of the Civil Rights Movement, which he described as “a conflict between justice and injustice.”
Thousands of families across the country feel let down by the coalition government and are facing financial hardship. Thousands of public sector workers face redundancy; jobless people are being threatened with forced labour.
Under the circumstances students face a hard task in winning public sympathy and persuading the wider society that they face a greater hardship that anyone else. Violence will only make that task more difficult.