Saturday, April 12, 2003

Soul Searching in the Library: Welcome to the Occupation

The strains of one of the songs off the Prodigy's 'Music for the Jilted Generation' resonates up through the stairs and echoes past the computer banks, woos can be heard accompanying the beats. It's now 6am, and maybe the music started too late, as we somehow sussed out a stereo and some cds most people had begun to fade. the conflicting impulses of sips from shared cans a few more intrepid heads had brought in and the quite sobriety of black coffee combining to leave us jittery wrecks, dazed and confused. Two dance with an enthusiasm that refuses to recognise the desire for sleep or the nights end. To join those crashed and littering the aisles of the library, to find smaller groups nestling in discussion or to sleep....

The nights reached that stage where all that is left is what has to be cleaned up in the morning before we shuffle off dazed towards lectures and in most cases bed.

Usually confined to surfing around the online library catalogue, someone with more computer related knowledge than me stumbled upon a function key which by passes the need for address bars, and allows the more googgled eyes of us to escape onto the superhighway and spend the last few hours scavenging across the internet for entertainment and distraction.

Apparently, this is the first overnight occupation of a UCD building since 1984, when students occupied part of the library building because of administrations refusal to finish construction on areas of the building. Whether or not this is true could probably be verified by someone on the newswire. That is the nature of the student movement, the constant cycle and turn over of students mitigates against a collective memory which remembers these things. The hyper activism which characterises student activism means there is little emphasis on sitting back and contextualising or analysing the events the movement sees unfurling.

Tonight saw over 300 people engage in a two hour reclamation of library time that was cut back upon by the college authorities as a a response to cutbacks initiated by the government as part of its ideological attack on the value of public services. Its hard to gauge the exact figures of those who chose to stay overnight and occupy the building until it opened the following morning. Essentially after the study in people naturally broke away into smaller groups of friends to wile away the time. Meanwhile, a desperate few prolonged later into the night to finish essays and cram for the duration for exams in the morning and later in the week. But there doesn't seem to be a significant decrease in the level of space taken over by people, perhaps as many 75% of people stayed.

Previous to this years round of cutbacks; the library was open on friday evenings, all day saturday and on sundry. The cutbacks see these periods taken away. Originally the library sit in was conceived at discussions on cutbacks in the college and the strategies need to fight them at an open plenary discussion on education at the SU Class Rep Training Event earlier in the year.

Before the first sit in, some of us waiting anxiously to begin outside in the library tunnel joked that this was UCD's March 1st, that is an openly planned and collective direct action. The class rep who proposed the idea walked past, jokingly branded an anarchist while we waited for her proposal to take shape she responded with confusion to remind us she voted Fianna Fail.

Perhaps, that is reflective of the nature of direct action that it is a form of political struggle which cuts across doctrine as when it applied to those often most basic issues directly affecting people, they see it as a logical strategy because fundamentally it is one that can win.

The student movement is characterised by protest occupations, whose goal rather than occupying space and using it as a political bargaining tool or as part of an attempt to spread and build a wider movement is to only occupy a few inches in the mornings tabloids, preferably with a photo loaded with radical posturing; just for the cameras of course.

This is different. While essentially tonight is a protest occupation; making it evident to the authorities how serious we see this situation a nd our willingness to engage in confrontations over it. The whole process has been one whereby extra hours in which to study have been reclaimed by students in a simple refusal to leave when the college decides its time to go.

Rather than being made up of the usual, recognisable enthuasists and idealists; these actions have been composed of a broader swathe of the UCD student body. These are the Science/engineering/vet/med type students who need extra library hours, those students who never before have taken a role in active dissent because usually the hours allocated for meetings and events by a movement dominated by arts students are hours in which they lock themselves in labs and compulsory lectures they have no chance of bunking for half the year.

The library staff have supported the occupation all the way, sitting back and watching it happen, leaving us to our own devices, letting us outside to the smoking area below the library and sneaking our friends in through the back door after Radiohead at the point. There is sometimes a tendency to simply seeing two aspects to the college community; academics and students. there is a third forgotten strata; cleaners, librarians, technicians and so on those that keep the college ticking over functionally; those for whom the college represents a workplace rather than a place of research or study. It is probably not surprising to see that it is from this strata that most support for the sit ins emerges. While some have vocally supported the sit ins in their lectures after lecture addresses from union activists; the academics are strongly fucking noticeable by their absence in these events. Good to see the academic Marxists, radical social theorists and all those others leave it at the lecture and office door. If academia ever represented a containment and isolation of dissent within texts then here you go.

Today saw a 3/4 full bus leave UCD for a USI National Demo in town. In one way this can be interpreted as a negative sign. I'd propose a different reading of events. Tonight saw a a mass of people engage in an effective form of action which has galvanised support across the college and left the college authorities scratching their heads in embarrassment. Some will say that there is a higher turn out because people are here for the experience, the buzz and to piss about in the library with their mates. So what if many are? They have still cut across the colleges authority in refusing to obey its dictates on opening and closing hours; and are willing to face disciplinary measures as a result of this. That this confidence has arisen because of the collective nature of the occupation, the collective confidence of those taking part should be of no surprise.

Maybe it doesn't suggest a disappointing downturn in student consciousness that so few turned out for USI today. Maybe students are just discerning about what forms of protest are most effective when two clear options are presented to them. The two options presented to UCD students today were simple. To march around town in what unfortunately has become an annual sham, where USI Leaders cheer lead from a platform and feign radical rhetoric as we whoop from behind the police pen, before they ask us all to piss off home our job is done now that the Star have a wonderful back ground for the mornings photographs. Where student leaders handcuff themselves to the railings of the Dáil and helpfully uncuff themselves after a few moments of choice poses for photographs.

That students are treated like consumers in vain attempts to sell them a product packaged to resemble something like dissent, with no role in its organisation, merely to consume it at the behest of some bloke noone recognises (apparently he's USI, well thats what the t-shirt says, innit? Fuck it i didnt vote for him...) is one aspect that probably has undermined participation in these events.

The other option was to partake in a protest where everybody played a part, in which everyone had the option of playing a role in its organisation and rather than being the witnesses to its futility, could see its fruits unfurl as they engaged in it. That is direct action and I for one are glad to see the choice they made. Meetings that have taken place with the president and incoming president has seen them vocally agree with us. Now the issue is to force their hands into finding the funding needed and rather than tailing the governments ideological agenda (as they did with fees) openly oppose it and side with the fight for an open public and free education system for all. As a temporary measure we should continue and normalise these sit-ins till midnight as a means of directly creating more studying hours while escalating protests elsewhere.

Hopefully we can see more of this shit around Irish campuses. Its called direct action, and it works.

Originally published at

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