Sunday, 15 December 2013

Why we trashed the SWP stall (and why we'll do it again)

Staff and students at the University of Sussex have been protesting against the outsourcing of services since the plans were first announced. This led to forming the Sussex Against Privatisation campaign group and an occupation of the Bramber House conference centre (Occupy Sussex). In addition to this, staff at Sussex University have also been involved in industrial action for ‘fair’ pay in higher education. Due to the increasing anti-management sentiment, lunchtime protests have been a common occurrence on campus for the last two years.

How to deal with subversive staff and students

Management at Sussex University have dealt with pesky protesters by taking out a court injunction banning all forms of unauthorized protest on campus from 27th March 2013 to 27th September 2013 and, more recently, by suspending five students, who were later reinstated after a national outcry and further demonstrations. During the suspension of the Sussex 5, there were three lunchtime demos on campus.

The demos

The first demo (5/12/13) saw hundreds of staff and students march across campus to Sussex House to voice their anger at the suspension of the Sussex 5. The mood was vibrant and hopeful, with the good flags – usually reserved for special occasions – brought out.

***Trigger warning: Sexual assault in some of the following links***

The second demo (6/12/13) brought about a change in mood for some protesters. The reason for that was the sudden increase in visibility of the SWP. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the events surrounding the SWP and their cover-up of rape, here is a summary that was published soon after the ‘comrade delta’ case was made public.) One of the Sussex 5 is a member of the SWP and it was thought that they had come to support him. However, students involved in Occupy Sussex – including the SWP member – knew that many people were uncomfortable with an SWP presence on campus to say the least, yet they thought having dozens of SWP placards waved in our faces wouldn’t be a problem. It fucking was. In fact, I left the demo within five minutes of seeing the offensive placards. I wasn’t happy about leaving the demo but I couldn’t bear to be part of an event that was dominated by an organization that was unrepentant about its rape-enabling role. It later emerged that others feel they cannot take part in events where the SWP are not told to fuck off. Seeing rape-enablers trying to raise their profile (e.g., sell their rag, hand out placards) and go unchallenged can be triggering, and it reinforces the notion that rape culture is OK.  

The third demo (10/12/13) was the day after the Sussex 5 were reinstated, and this was when things got interesting! We arrived at Fulton Court (more commonly known as Library Square) as usual. One of the first things we noticed was the SWP had a stall selling their rag and there were dozens of placards nearby, ready to hand out to unsuspecting students when the march started. I considered leaving the demo again but then I thought it shouldn’t be me who’s excluded from these events, it should be the rape-enabling SWP.

I spotted a comrade who – thanks to Twitter – I knew was critical of the SWP. I approached him and told him I was uncomfortable about the SWP presence and asked if he’d like to help me get rid of them. He didn’t need much persuading! We walked around and talked to a few other comrades about our plan. As soon as there were a few of us, we marched over to the SWP stall. I poured water over their filthy papers to make them unsellable, then my comrade tipped over their table. We then grabbed the placards and destroyed them.

Several trots came over to have a go but in all honesty, I wasn’t listening. I caught a few choice words; ‘unity… sectarianism… Nazis… Tory-led agenda’. Blah, blah, blah. None of us were bothered by what the trots had to say, we were buzzing! After the boring speeches given mostly by more swappies (seriously, they’ve infested all Sussex demos), we went on a march around campus that was more vibrant and energetic than the ones I’d been on recently. 

Why turn over the SWP stall now? Why not at the second demo?

So what made us feel able to confront the SWP on the third demo, but not the second? Well, one reason could be the perceived support on the third demo. The third demo was smaller than the previous two, so it was easy to find comrades and talk to them. Once we got talking, it was clear that we all felt that rape-enablers should be booted out of events if their presence makes women uncomfortable. This wasn't just about the SWP; this was about there being no place in our movement for rapists and their accomplices. Once we realised how each of us felt, trashing the SWP stall was a doddle. The power of collective action, innit.

The time and the place for confrontation

There has been a lot of talk about whether demos are the time and place to confront misogynists in our midst. The short answer to that would be yes, they definitely are. The time and place to confront rape-enablers is whenever and wherever we see them try to raise their profile. Besides, trashing their stall and destroying their placards felt fucking good!

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