‘We Are The University’ – A Firsthand Perspective on the Auckland University occupation

This article is written by a Workers Party sympathiser at Auckland University

Once again the mainstream media establishment have neglected to tell
all sides of a story – in this case regarding the autonomous student
action that resulted in an occupation at the University of Auckland on
the 26th of September. I feel that my own experience goes in direct
opposition with a lot of what has been said – from not only having
been at the event, but also taking a small role in its organisation.
The occupation was about far more than the Voluntary Student
Membership (VSM) bill, it was about the increasing corporatisation of
tertiary education in this country, of which VSM is but one part of a
sustained attack on tertiary education as a whole.

Other demands were against the cutting of academic work conditions,
negatively affecting quality of research, and against the continual
rise in student fees. With this in mind, the choice to occupy the Owen
G. Glenn Building was an inspired one, as to many it is a symbol of
Auckland University’s not-so-gradual transition from an educational
institute to a business.

What is also important to point out is that the occupation consisted
of far more than simply the usual ‘rabble-rousing’ left-wing activist
intelligentsia with no connection to ‘regular’ students, as some right-
wing commentators have been trying to argue in an attempt to
delegitimise. While some of the ‘usual suspects’ were present, they
had a minimal involvement in the organisation of this occupation,
which made this event especially exciting for me personally.

I have known a substantial number of the organisers and leaders of
this movement for a long time, most of whom have had no prior interest
in tangible political action. They were inspired not only by the left-
wing academic literature they were reading as part of their education,
but also by the grassroots social movements that are currently
happening all over the world in response to finance capitalism in
which students play an important role. From this nucleus of socially
conscious but largely politically inexperienced students, we managed
to coat the university in not only posters advertising the rally yet
also just general agitprop.

Once we were in the building, I met about a dozen classmates I’ve had
over the years who I had no idea were into this sort of thing. As a
member of the student union executive commented to us, what is
impressive about this action is the predominant organic character of
it, in which student unions and existing radical organisations played
a largely backseat role.

What is also interesting is how the media have fixated on the brief
skirmish with the police after the occupation, rather than either the
occupation or the demands I have just outlined. None of the news
coverage I have seen covered any of the pre-occupation speeches from
radical lecturers, journalists and sympathetic politicians; nor did
they pay any attention to the press release we sent out before the
rally. They were instead interested in constructing a narrative where
the ‘violence’ that the students allegedly partook in undermined its
message, as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

As someone who was at the frontlines when this incident happened, I
did not see any student commit violence against the police. When an
activist was arrested due to previously being trespassed off campus
for merely attending an anti-Israel protest in support, not doing
anything that could be even tenuously construed as violent or
antisocial, we peacefully blockaded the car demanding they let our
comrade go since he had done nothing wrong. The police were the only
people who committed any violence, storming in to break up the
blockade. One would think that in a perfect world the police would be
trained in methods of breaking these blockades with minimal physical
harm, however this was not the case – some women at the frontline were
hit quite hard in the breasts, while others report being choked.

This action is only the beginning, and no matter how much politicians,
bureaucrats and the media attempt to write us off and delegitimise us,
we will be back, stronger and in greater numbers than before. Despite
of what university management may think, We Are the University.


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