As head of the University of London Student Union Clare Solomon rose above the dank leadership of higher ranking student leaders to articulate the passion and the resentment felt by young people through the period of student rebellion. Now, months later, and as editor of Springtime - a collection of essays and writings on the rebellions from, among others, Laurie Penny - she agreed to talk us through the thinking and theory behind what we’ve witnessed since the occupation of the Millbank during November of 2010.
Dazed Digital: Firstly, tell us a little about the form this book takes?
Clare Solomon: 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.
DD: Were you worried about making what was quite a kinetic period of time into a book, something that is by its very nature a stationary object?
Clare Solomon: 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.
DD: Tell us about the role social media played. How you went about getting the immediacy of Twitter into a book?
Clare Solomon: 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.
DD: A lot has been said about 'apathy'. Culturally/individually-what happened?
Clare Solomon: 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 possibility 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.
Condemning 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.
DD: As a bookshop employee I was proud to see the covers of some of our classics being used as protection against police truncations. Tell us a bit more about the Book Shields?
Clare Solomon: Ha, shame you weren't able to pick up a memento! 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.
DD: Although Springtime has this particularly emancipatory 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?
Clare Solomon: 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. We will not put up with their lies and distortions anymore. We will continue to build resistance.
Springtime: The New Student Rebellions is published by Verso