We have received this report from a participant in the widely publicised Camden School for Girls Occupation. Not only does it offer an interesting insider account of the process of occupying and learning how to organise, but it also begins with a positive analysis of why the movement has dropped off in recent weeks, and the need to overcome this by broadening the struggle, linking it to the working class led fightback against the cuts. The formation of a national school students union on the basis of experiences such as those described below would be the best way to do this.
Camden Occupation and the wider sixth form movement
Fearless, daring, uncontrolled and inexhaustible are all words which have been used in association with the newly radicalised school students, taking to the streets to shout about beliefs they didn’t know that had. Shocking government and surprising the public with thier lack of restraint, it is clear that these young students have huge potential as an important piece of the developing resistance. The school students are ready to be swept up in the conflicts, causing a tidal wave of fresh energy and excitment.
The occupation at ‘Camden school for Girls’ was a huge success and everything the sixth form college achieved was incredible. However since the occupation, a change in these students mentality has taken place. A loss of interest which, in a lot of schools, was not even built up enough to be noticably lost.
The young students are no longer excited about the protests, they do not want to come to meetings and they do not want to miss lessons to back EMA walk outs. This is not because they have suddenly become callous and uncaring, their mentality is the same, but because they have not been helped to understand what they were fighting about in the first place. It is not fair that the youngest students, giving so much of themselves to the streets, were not helped to understand they were not fighting to stop one vote going through. A huge proportion of young students expected the vote to be stopped, or at least re-thought, beacuse of their defiance and insubordination, not realising that the fight was about something bigger, more widely related. Of course when the vote was passed these people were heartbroken. Many were furious, causing havoc on the night of the vote, but a couple of days after, a couple of weeks, once the anger had faded, there did not seem much left to fight for.
The students are worn out, not helped enough to understand the malicious tricks of the usual powers and they fell in to all the traps. The media misquoted them, the police took all their details and their faces are spread all over the news. They have been worn out and do not fully understand that their struggle is the struggle of the workers, the struggle of the people. Now the issues are moving away from student fees, many young people are dropping off the radar, now only finding space for the everyday, social battles that are hard enough to deal with; how to get in to university at all, how to deal with these fees you will now have to pay?
Where does this help come from? Not that it is a duty of the university students, but they are the older brothers and sisters of this younger generation and it may not come from anywhere else. Intimidated or not, the schools are not going to go asking the universities about information they don’t yet think is important, or about tactics they don’t even know exist. They need knowledge, opportunities and alternatives. What is a de-arrest? How do I make a book sheild? What is a free school?
They need some alternatives to the insular structures they are being forced into by their teachers and schools, institutes that only reflect the rigid powers that are being fought against.
Camden school for Girls occupation
The camden occupation was a huge success, considering the unusual obstacles that the school students were faced with, being at a sixth form college and technically still under ‘loco parentus’. No teachers or students could know that an occupation was happening until the night before as it would have been immediately prevented so all publicity was done secretly, almost all on facebook, with build up to a ‘secret event’ and just the date on which it would happen.
Then suddenly the night before, the facebook messages were sent out, texts were circulated; ‘occupation’. Throughout the occupation, no reporters were allowed inside the school gate so all interviews were done outside, whilst students in the sixth form hall were painting signs, letter writing or doing maths homework!
By the afternoon the teachers had locked the 16, 17 and 18 year olds inside their sixth form building, calling parents to come and collect their children and using other guilt-trip methods to try and remove all the students. By the evening it looked as though everyone was going to have to go home, the sixth form was split half and half as to whether they should leave and avoid troubling the school teachers, or stick it out.
Luckily, Camden was given amazing outside support by the universities, parents were persuaded by their children not to come and get them, but to watch the news instead, and by this time ‘camden Occupation’ was in the ‘top ten’ viewed on twitter. When food supplies were running low, students from UCL managed to pass supplies through the fences to the students and later the school students found a way of climbing over the high gates to run sneakily to the shop over the road. Throughout the night, the school made sure that at least two teachers sat in the building to watch by the students, taking shifts from 2am, until 4am, 4am until 6am etc.
It was difficult not to be angry with the teachers who supported the occuapation from a human perspective, but had to remain in their roles as teachers, and take the stance that the occupations was wrong and insensitive, so the students made sure the hall was impecable in the morning, buying chocolates and writing thank you letters to all those involved. It was realised that the school could have been much harsher in its approach and it was really down to the close relationships and immense respect between the students and the teachers that allowed the occupation to happen.