Jump to the bottom for a gallery.
Almost the whole of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library is currently closed due to the occupation of the flagship Radcliffe Camera building. The protest has now been running for almost twenty-four hours.
What started as a small protest against cuts at Carfax Tower became a – seemingly spontaneous – occupation when the group passed the library in early afternoon. When I arrived at 2pm yesterday the gates were locked and university security staff were standing watch but not stopping anyone from jumping the fence and running inside.
Within the building around 200 people were sitting on the stairs and within the lower section of the library. English students who had been working downstairs were forced to move to the upper section. This was in order to allow those fighting for education to speak.
Everything was discussed with the collective bargaining discussion ‘jazz hands’ method. Starting off with a ‘why are we here and why are we occupying’ (might be better to work that out earlier on?) it went through to discussing the health and safety implications of barricading the doors. Like every socialist state they needed a strong leader. A few middle-aged librarians sat around with bemused smiles.
Someone turned up with some very tasty Tesco Bakery Gouda Croissants and a large bag on mini tomatoes. The ubiquitous SWP started selling their newspapers. And after a while the children from Cherwell school went back home.
Despite the security presence on the door there was (reasonably) free movement of people in and out of the building. The police were quite happy to stand guard outside and concentrate on preventing more people joining the protest, searching every person on the way out. Faced with spending an afternoon listening to endless debates I left.
On the way out I was searched by police under section one of PACE Act. Despite declining to give my name/address they – quite neatly – used a dubious claim that ‘credit cards have been reported stolen’ to go through my wallet and read my ID.
A day later a rump of protesters are still inside with a soundsystem, demanding the University issue a declaration promising never to go private and that they oppose all cuts. Whatever the rights and wrongs (and I’d suggest a good read of this IFS analysis of the Browne Report) the view amongst the average Oxford student is probably: sympathy for the cause, initial shock at what they’ve done and the sudden infuriating realisation that we cannot access any of the centrally-held books that we require. There are also moments of humour as it comes to an end.
An intriguing mix: ‘Aid to Africa’ and Free Education. The £7billion the UK spend on overseas aid has been ring-fenced while education funding has not.
But right now they are occupying the English section of the library a few days before English Lit finalists have their coursework due in. And what are they doing with that space? Having a party. They need to work on the PR aspects of this:
In the words of my good friend Richard James Foster (a no-nonsense son of Accrington): “We’re breeding a generation of Geoff Hoons.”
Update: An invite to a Free University is doing the rounds. Apparently the protestors oppose “all public sector cuts”. Every single one of them without consideration? Bonkers. Judging by the comments on the event wall they have angered an awful lot of students who are trying to work.