Most campus protests are pointless endeavours

Harry Clay

A few weeks ago, York Vision was asked to attend an upcoming protest on campus against the Turkish invasion into Northern Syria.

I can’t say I read the message after our other Editor asked me to. I also can’t say that I attended. In fact, if I remember, that fine afternoon I was happily tucked in bed reading, and based on the recent coverage on Nouse‘s twitter, you were doing something similar.

I counted 22 people and a flag in the most generous of photos. 22 comrades in arms ready to fight the powers that be in protest and rebellion. Those powers, of course, are the full might of the Turkish Army and those protests, naturally, are ignored. And this is I feel, typical, of the ‘movements’ I’ve seen on campus. You get a man with a megaphone shouting in your ear, and a pile of poorly designed posters scattered around the campus bars, and the world continues without an ounce of change.

It doesn’t take much effort to see how these protests work. It doesn’t really take much effort to make them, for one. If you’re running this sort of thing, you’ve been to a couple of demos before, and you can reliably assume some of the same people will join you.

Looking through the photos of this protest, the Cut the Rent protest last summer, and even the Hes Hall occupation last year, there are a few people you’ll see more than once. And that’s not to say that people repeatedly protesting for what they believe in is bad, only that if your march and sit-in didn’t achieve anything tangible last time, I doubt it will again.

If you dig through into the Cut the Rent protest photos, you can actually see me standing at the back struggling to contain myself, after the leader of the march threatened to see the Vice-Chancellor ‘if he’s in’. Points for courtesy, my friend, but not for much else.

As you could expect from any Uni protest, Thursday featured a few short talks from various figures. Talk about preaching to the choir, this lot seem to be giving sermons to the archbishops. I get that you all want to share information about the serious situation in Syria right? But this is meant to be a march for freedom! A call for uprising! You’re not going to be changing minds or spreading knowledge to students on campus because you’re engaged in a circle jerk of flags and posters. But don’t let that worry you, you’ve got a bidding audience, so please do share your deeply held convictions about Rojava to all these people who agree with you.

I don’t know if this protest went anywhere after Greg’s Place, and frankly, I don’t care. Because there’s no action, no motion, not even an ounce of tangible support. Just solidarity and agreement, like the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ has gone out of fashion. Sure it’s nice to show that you support a good cause, but standing for a photo around a flag isn’t doing anything about it. It’s not that I disagree with this lot in particular, I’m probably as peeved as they are about the reckless and militaristic Turkish state, but I’m not going to demand your attention as I give a sermon on why using white phosphorus is bad. We all already know it’s bad.

But here we get into real tricky territory. Knowing things. It’s a real dangerous thing, a fact, because you’ll never fully know one, and when you express opinions based on them, you sometimes look like a bit of a tit. Flying a Kurdish flag for Rojava, for instance, is a bit of a problem in my eye. I suppose it is the Friends of Kurdistan society who helped put together this event, but let us not forget that it’s not the Kurdistan of Iraq, but the Rojava of Syria that’s suffering from an illegal invasion at the moment. And it’s important to remember that Kurdistan could have given far more support to the YPG than it did. More support from their booming oil industry could have helped stabilise the northern Syrian enclave before the US decision to pull out, but perhaps the Kurdistan Region is too busy arresting Assyrian protesters.  

But am I just winging for nothing? It’s easy to think I’m caught up in a terrible loop here, complaining about pointless posturing and empty protesting, whilst simultaneously fighting my good fight by, errr, writing some words for student media. And that’s probably right, I’m well aware that my argument will just end up in a void of pointlessness trapped on the internet and read only, as all good Vision and Nouse articles are, by the student media types who write them. So let me address this to you, probable Nouse contributor. The next time you’re asked to come to cover a protest, have a lie in and stay in bed. Not covering a dozen students with flags on campus shouldn’t make you lose sleep.