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LSE is Occupied! An Interview

2010 LSE Occupation

On December 2nd, students at the London School of Economics and Political Science occupied the Old Building on campus, demanding the Administration take a stand against the looming education cuts coming from Parliament. I chatted with occupying LSE students Isla Woodcock ('11), Emma Kelly ('12), and Alice Stott ('13).

FSP: So first off, what's the overall mood in the building right now? What are folks doing?

LSE: Very positive. The events team are drawing up a schedule for the week, others are drafting our statement.We're all ecstatic about getting official union backing this afternoon after a vote!

FSP: Yes, I read that! How much organizing for the occupation itself was done under the auspices of the student union? Or was it more of an independent grouping of student activists?

LSE: It was a grassroots movement of students at the university, although the students' union helped facilitate the vote.

FSP: The demands the occupation is making are, unlike other recent occupations, very specific to LSE and wouldn't actually cost the school any money or significant change in policy. What was the thinking behind crafting the demands as you did?

LSE: The demands that we have made are addressed to Howard Davies [Director of LSE], and so they need to be specific to the LSE. We think that the LSE is an influential institution and so a statement from Howard Davies would carry a lot of weight and affect national debate. We recognise the wider movement in our statement; also we want to keep our demands achievable.

FSP: Are there any other occupations going on in the country at the moment?

LSE: Yes! There are over 30 across the country.

FSP:Are there similar demands on administration, i.e. taking a public stance against the cuts, or is there a lot of variation?

LSE: Every occupation has both internal and external demands, but we all have a common aim and see the impact these cuts will have. Influencing our institutions will have an impact on the wider debate. LSE is in a unique financial position, which is why our demands have to be quite specific.

FSP: What's the unique financial position?

LSE: We have a 10% budget surplus -- but also we are a social sciences institution, and as such we stand to lose 100% of our teaching grant.

FSP: Tariq Ali and Jon Rose recently spoke at LSE about the connections to the occupations in 1968. Is there a general sense of that historical connection among the occupiers? In one sense, a tactic is just a tactic, so it is possible to draw too tenuous a connection between the two.

LSE: Absolutely, we are incredibly proud of our legacy here at the LSE. I don't think it is a tenuous connection: we are upholding a firm tradition of the LSE being at the forefront of student movements.

FSP: When was the last occupation on LSE's campus?

LSE: 2 years ago there was an occupation in solidarity with the victims of the attacks on Gaza.

FSP: Traditionally one of the unstated goals of an occupation has been to expand the occupation to other buildings, other campuses - at which point students (ideally) start asking some very interesting questions. For example, when London's Hornsey College of Art occupied in 1968, students (and a few allied faculty) realized they could run the college themselves, democratically holding classes, managing resources, etc. Do you get a sense of any such transformative inclinations among your fellow occupiers? Or is there a pretty firm hold this time on just the specific demands being made?

LSE: Our backing from the SU was dependent on clear demands, so we wouldn't be able to expand the occupation without another vote.

FSP: What kind of "on the ground" decisions are being made among the occupying students? Do you use a general assembly model to make those decision? Are there ad hoc committees for certain ongoing tasks?

LSE: Absolutely. Decisions are taken by two-thirds majority voting. We have committees for events, media, welfare, outreach and liaisons, although big decisions made by any of the groups are voted on by the occupation.

FSP: What are the logistics of your occupation? How accessible is the building to those outside? Is there any threat of police intervention? One of the expected consequences of any occupation here in the states is immediate and continuous police pressure against the occupiers.

LSE: We have full access to the building, its a very peaceful protest and security have cooperated with us fully, for example letting us have 24hour access to the room even though that is not university policy. So far we have not heard anything from the management.

FSP: How close to the end of the semester are you folks right now?

LSE: Our term ends on friday 10th December.

FSP: Is there a plan if the occupation lasts past that date?

LSE: We have not discussed when we will leave, but we will talk about it this weekend. A lot depends on what happens in the run up to the parliamentary vote on thursday

 

FSP: Right. Is there much hope for the bill to be defeated? Will the key question be how many LibDems will defect and vote against it?

LSE: Yes - the news coverage suggests that it hangs on 7 votes.

FSP: What is NUS's official position on the occupations occurring right now?

LSE: Hi Patrick, my name's John, I've just been asked to answer the NUS question as I am a member of the national executive for this year. NUS' official stance is that is supports students that wish to campaign on this issue in a peaceful, non-violent manner.

Any students that do this have NUS' backing. However, whilst NUS sees the value of demonstrations and occupations, we emphasise the importance that this comes are part of a wider strategy to fight cuts and fees and we encourage students to engage in a full range of activities to further this aim.

 

FSP: What kind of support are you getting from teachers, staff, and members of the community around LSE?

LSE: We have had messages of support from the local lecturers union branch (Universities and College Union - UCU) as well as support from individual staff and support staff from various departments including the Gender Institute at LSE. We held an Extraordianry General Meeting yesterday to decide whether the students' union would support the occupation. Over 700 students voted on the motion and it passed with a 65% mandate. Therefore the Students Union, as a representative body of the students at LSE are in favour of the occupations.

FSP: U.S. students are facing similar government attacks on education - do you have any particular words of advice or encouragement?

LSE: There would be two strands to this:

1. Have a coherent alternative if possible, make the case and make it well, encourage families, communities, academics and students to contact their representatives and stop the cuts. That's what we've been doing in the UK and the government looks like it could lose the vote - they currently have a wafer thin majority of support and its decreasing all the time.

2. Demonstrate. Demonstrate often. Be vocal. Be on the streets. Make your opposition creative, get the support of the public and make sure your voices are heard.

FSP: Thank you all so very much for your time - your comrades across the pond are rooting for you!

LSE: Thanks very much Patrick. Have a nice evening.