On Thursday night, some of the occupiers left the siege only to be confronted with aggressive security tactics: occupiers were being filmed, sarcastic comments were shouted, and in an attempt to obstruct our way, being kicked and pushed. One of the occupiers fell down the stairs as a result.
This is not the first instance of aggression from security and university management who have on a number of occasions forced us into a defensive position such as the one we are currently in, directly undermining the agenda of a peaceful occupation.
Ironically, the university as well as security staff expressed their concerns regarding duty of care in relation to an increased fire risk caused by the occupiers of the Senate Chamber, blocking off important fire exists and barricading the stair case that leads to the toilets in the B block of the building. Leslie Wright, Assistant Director of Human Resources (Workplace Well-being) stated: “We are currently taking all reasonable steps to reduce these risks but remain concerned about your safety and would encourage you to reinstate the fire exit at the soonest opportunity.” Funnily enough, the occupation, having been under siege since Wednesday night, has had the doors locked from the outside by security staff at night, making it impossible for the occupiers to quickly open the doors when needed.
Friday’s protest supported the notion of an open and accessible occupation, which was once again met with the typical security tactics of closure. For example, security staff attempted to lock-out and contain the demonstration, and lock-in occupiers who wanted to peacefully leave. Such tactics, however, were shown to only agitate the students more and more, leading to the breaking of the occupation siege and the winning of open access for the first time since it was established.
Crucially, we want a space free from aggression where anyone can join the discussion. In accordance with our support of a public and democratic university, anyone should be able to join or visit the occupation who are willing engage us in open dialogue; we want this to be inclusive, non-threatening and get students and the public interested. Similarly, those occupying should be able to leave at will without fear of arrest or disciplinary action. In-keeping with the terms of a peaceful protest, punishment should be proportionate. This is also important with regards to guaranteeing basic human rights such as food, water and toilet facilities, ensuring that the health and safety of all occupiers are taken care of.
As things currently stand, the occupation’s lock-down status acts as a continuing example of the university’s attempts to silence democracy and hush the students with whom they should be negotiating.