Wednesday, 25 May 2011

My Dazed & Confused interview

Thank you so much to Dazed And Confused Digital for the opportunity to be interviewed about our book Springtime: The New Student Rebellions. They published THIS selection from my answers for which I am grateful. Here are the full answers that could not be published due to me going over the word limit!!

Firstly, tell us a little about the form this book takes
The book contains moments and memories of the recent student protests. We took an eclectic approach, bringing different generational and international points of view together. They reflect the diversity of the movement and the connections between them. New shoots of rebellion have grown from the roots of the past - together they weave their way through articles, letters, essays, analysis, images, video screenshots and other art.

Secondly, were you worried about making what was quite a kinetic phenomena (!) into a book - a completely stationary object?
All books are a snapshot of history in one way or another. I hope Springtime will inspire others to reconsider how they perceive the student protests, or add alternative perspectives to get a deeper understanding. And, more than that, it is always necessary for us to record our own history as a 'taking note', as the Italian revolutionary Gramsci said, 'of actual events, seen as moments of a process of inner liberation and self-expression'. Otherwise we may only get to hear the voices of those in power. It is the self-expression of these new shoots that was most important for this book.

Springtime marks one of the first times I've ever seen Social Media championed in such a way. Usually Social Media discussion often flits back and forth between doom-mongering proclamations of declining individuality and what not, or the potential for marketing and selling you things. In your book Social Media seems to become more social Social Media!

I certainly don't think the Internet is some sort of 'out there' phenomenon; an organism with a mind of it's own. It has hardware, software and functions and features very much produced and used by human hands. We form relationships online not entirely different to how they form 'in the real world', in fact I would say that cyberspace is very much part of 'the real world'. We don't live in parallel spaces. We have always put on different masks for different tasks so taking on a different persona online is akin to this.

However, I don't buy the argument that it is some sort of equaliser, a free space in which we can operate outside of capitalist relations. Capitalism always finds ways of enclosing free space, of turning it into a commercial enterprise and those with wealth and power will do their best to prevent the spread of rebellion. Think of the closing down of Facebook groups or monitoring of twitter, whether here on a small scale or in Arab countries on a larger scale in recent months. 

I can understand why some people may be hesitant or even resistant to 'new media'. In Russia a century ago, some people initially objected to Lenin's proposal to produce an agitational newspaper because many people at the time were illiterate. He would organise massive meetings and literally read the articles to them. It may take a while for some people to understand the language of new forms of communication.

Marx once wrote 
'the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.' 
Or, more recently, Clay Shirky said that 'technology only becomes socially useful once it becomes technologically boring'.

Tell me about the role it played in the student rebellions and how you went about getting the immediacy of Twitter into a book?
Twitter was crucial for co-ordination of the various forms of protest, so using the hashtags #solidarity and #demo2010 we searched for tweets that captured the spirit of the protests - from the  NUS president's slightly understated 'looks like the biggest student demo for a generation' to the Met police's 'we would like to work with you' tweet and, more poignantly, the communique between parents and their kettled children. We wanted to demonstrate how we communicate and co-ordinate in the 21st century.

Tell me about some of the new voices that emerged during those weeks?
We attempted to provide a space for voices so often ignored in society. This was a political priority, as was demonstrating the links between the present and the past and, hopefully, pointing to the future. A new generation of writer/activists has emerged, with the likes of Laurie Penny and Jody McIntyre moving from fairly low-profile blogging into more mainstream spaces but retaining their commitment to fighting for social change.  

It is no coincidence that conservative forces try to avoid and repress uprisings. They know that people gain confidence and a rapid political education when involved in social struggles, which is why I'm a little surprised at how quickly the new coalition government moved in implementing various forms of cuts. If they thought they could do this and no one would rebel, they are out of touch with reality.

A lot has been said about 'apathy'. Culturally / Individually - what (in your opinion) happened?

Students can never get it right: one minute they're apathetic, the next 'they're always protesting about something'. The apathy is an effect of a supposedly democratic society which has stripped away any real possiblility for engagement. A vote every four years is hardly the most enticing thing, especially when people feel that this vote is not listened to. Two million people marched against the Iraq war, many more millions now disagree with these wars: our governments do not listen to us. And then they want us to vote again for an increasingly similar selection of liars. No wonder people can't be arsed.

And, on the other hand, the actions of the students have exposed the hypocrisy of our governments. Condeming the smashing and burning of a few inanimate objects by students whilst at the same time bombing and killing millions in the middle east and north Africa. They have all of a sudden found a few extra billion pounds to carry out this new imperialist intervention in Libya.

What they try to cover over is the causes of the uprisings. People don't just go out and protest for no reason. The suffragettes didn't smash windows because they just felt like it; they wanted their voices to be heard when they demanded the vote, and we don't now condemn them for this historical achievement. 

Students protested so vociferously because, as a fifteen-year-old said on Newsnight, 'you're taking away our education and EMA, we won't be able to get work and if we have to sell drugs to make ends meet you will then blame us'. Enough said. 

(Working in a bookshop and all!) Tell us about the Book Shields?

Ha, shame you weren't able to pick up a momento! It would be against the wishes of the producers of these books to expose their identity but the very striking image of these massive polystyrene philosophy book shields (to protect against getting beaten by police) combined with the FE students having to set their exercise books alight to keep warm when kettled (Sorry I haven't got my homework Miss but...) has become symbolic of the contradictions in the government's education plans.

Although the book has this particularly emancipatory or at least a collective swell of direction or purpose, we still have to deal with the possibility that things are going to get worse before they get better. What's next?
No one can predict the future. But I bet things will get worse before getting better. The worse it gets, the more people will resist. We need to get across the argument that not one cut is necessary. They found money for war, so there's money to save our libraries and so on.

What we need now is a mass movement of resistance to all the cuts. Change is never brought by just a small group of militants. We need everyone: precarious workers and pensioners, unemployed and disabled people, single parents, civil servants and, of course, trade unions and so on. We shouldn't just be aiming for political change at the top but social change from below, for society to be run by us, for people and not for profit. Another world is possible, but only if we all organise for it.

If all we have done so far is weaken the coalition government that is insistent on smashing the whole of society then we will have taken a leap forward. Recent election and AV results were blamed on the LibDems reneging on the tuition fees promise. We did that: we, from the beginning of term, exposed their hypocrisy.  We will not put up with their lies and distortions anymore. We will continue to build resistance.

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