Tekst og illustrasjon: Natasza Bogacz
Back in the days, we had a voice. When government was doing something wrong, we were the first out there, in the streets. We are young, hopeful, uncompromised, naive, utopian, free, fearless. Or are we? What happened to student protest against injustice?
This article will connect seemingly unconnected events. Their magnitude and range will differ, so in order to have realised the main point of this juxtaposition, please turn off all electronic devices. Or just pay attention. We start rough.
Remember blood at KSU
Kent in Ohio, May 4th 1970. It is true that the public in United States has become more or less used to school shootings. This one however, done not by a deranged individual but by 28 Ohio National Guardsmen, has shaken the nation and stays in its collective memory. Try to imagine guns being pointed by soldiers at students protesting, say, war in Afghanistan at Frederikkeplassen. The protesters at Kent State University campus were unarmed, appalled by the planned new chapter of the Vietnam War: the Cambodian Campaign. And yet four of them were shot dead, without a warning. The story repeated itself 10 days later in Jackson, Mississippi where two young people were killed by the police. Suddenly the right to peaceful assembly was both threatened and then immediately taken into use by further 4 million students as a nation-wide strike caused a turmoil in the Nixon administration. It might have looked very much like the Forrest and Jenny reunion scene.
Self-immolation or Netflix
Now, it was the 70s, it was the counterculture. One (meaning: author) can’t help but wonder, though. What issue could spark such protest today? Hundreds of students in the streets for what? And in Norway, to make things worse, where the weather itself makes sure there will be no visible social unrest. What if it wasn’t sunny – how many would come, would leave their couches and Netflixes behind for anything even slightly political? Even if the weather is nice, the competition of St Hanshaugen’s beer in the sun will be nothing a student protest could sustain. If Ryszard Siwiec, a 59 year old accountant from Warsaw, had a high-profile job somewhere at Vika, would he today protest against the invasion of Iraq or Libya by self-immolation, like he did when Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviets during the Prague Spring? Would Jan Palach, a student of University of Prague, have done the same thing, which was to set himself on fire at the age of 20 (for similar reasons as Siwiec, without even knowing about the former’s existence), if the time was now and a new season of Game of Thrones was about to come out? I am not claiming anyone should die in flames over any trivia. All I am saying is that we should care enough. This is exactly why the Norwegian “gidder ikke” generation should be a source of worry.
If Ryszard Siwiec, a 59 year old accountant from Warsaw, had a high-profile job somewhere at Vika, would he today protest against the invasion of Iraq or Libya by self-immolation, like he did when Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Soviets during the Prague Spring?
A rebel with a cause
For aren’t there things to organize for, rebel against, reasons for dissent? Don’t we still have wars, isn’t there still injustice? The gloomy answer is: as a matter of fact more than ever. However it is a mixture of powerlessness and magnesium depletion that seems to be prevailing. Yet students should protest, should speak up and should provoke progress. We are the future, or as Michael Jackson would have put it, we are the world, and we should care.
True, there are different forms of protests. We do have organizations, but they are so many that one might conceive another conspiracy theory out of it: “instead of banning public gathering, let’s make the the public over-organize itself into a shapeless chaos”, thought an evil mastermind in the social engineering department. There are over 250 student societies at Blindern (3 of which are dedicated to beer brewing, huh). This means that if each student was to choose one society, each of them would get over 100 members (300 student-brewers would surely make enough beer the whole Fadderuken).
Duty to speak up
Yes, students are still protesting. In Hong Kong against government’s pre-selection of city’s Chief Executive candidates. In Mexico, against killings and mass kidnapping at Iguala. Those kidnapped students, by the way, were on a bus heading to the capital to commemorate another mass killing of protesting students on October 2, 1968, a tragedy known as the Tlatelolco massacre. Look it up. But otherwise, mostly, students go for the streets against education policy changes, usually those which affect their wallets. We might not be appreciating a tuition-free higher education in Norway enough. The fact that the school is free, Lånekassen exists and so does hundreds of student organizations should boost student activism. If this doesn’t, what will? Our privilege makes it our duty.
Norwegian students work politically mostly for climate change solutions. There are causes though, which can be as important, if not as sexy or popular to begin with. Like the lack of pluralism in economics which is beginning to bother more and more people. Especially students. We are not yet corrupted by our non-existing careers. We do not bite any feeding hands with our criticism, which could partly be the reason why economists try to avoid it. Ignoring evidence and alienating its method from other disciplines is why economics is failing the society. In November 2011, over four years ago, a small group of Harvard students walked out of economics introductory class in protest of it imposing a biased worldview. The professor having the lecture was Greg Mankiw, a rather influential keynesian advisor to The republicans. He later wrote an article about it for the New York Times, where he mentions that: “Today’s college students tend to be more focused on polishing their résumés than on campaigning for social reform.” After recognizing this, he then gets saddened by how “poorly informed the Harvard students are” and basically calls the whole Occupy movement which inspired the student walk-out a bunch of sloppy anti-establishment idealists without a policy proposal. Whether you agree with Mankiw or not, you must admit that Occupy puts across a powerful message.
“Today’s college students tend to be more focused on polishing their résumés than on campaigning for social reform.”
Mikah White was an editor at Adbusters and one of the people who, inspired by the Arab Spring and Spanish anti-austerity movement, started Occupy Wall Street. He has just recently published a book called “The End of Protest” where he concludes with that the people in power don’t have to listen to the people in the streets. He identifies this and other limits of contemporary activism. Unless your protest is in line with a pre-existing tendency within the government, it will not be acknowledged by the representatives. If true, this would put the main concern on the TTIP being negotiated in an atmosphere of almost total political unity. Some 250 000 people marched against it in Berlin last fall. The trade deal negotiation process is however as operational as ever.
Unless your protest is in line with a pre-existing tendency within the government, it will not be acknowledged by the representatives.
The Occupy movement, a social phenomenon that has spread to over 80 countries and involved millions of protesters, is a failure. A constructive one, but still a failure. Streets are not the place to be, elections are. First the parliamentary success of Podemos in Spain and now the campaign of Bernie Sanders shows this. We can only hope it works. Sike! We don’t! We can actually make it.
Dye it so it doesn’t dye
The student activist present at KSU on the fateful 4th of May 1970 come together each year to commemorate the victims. So do the then students who experienced the Tlatelolco massacre. They have all gone gray. But I bet they wouldn’t want the same happening to the memory of their friends Allison Krause (19), William Schroeder (19), Jeffrey Miller (20) and Sandra Scheuer (20), or the many (we still don’t know the exact number) who were ambushed and killed by the army on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. Neither would they want it to happen to student activism as a whole. If it needs to reform, so be it. If you can’t fight someone, join them and then fight them as equals.
So maybe it would be worth to check out Radikalt Økonomisk Forum or any other student organization to show at least that you don’t look away from injustice and straight into your flat tv screen with big red logo on it.