Friday, March 16–Just one week had passed since the last protest swept through the University, and here we are, blocking the streets of Cambridge as we march, holding up signs in juxtaposition to the architecture. Today, for once, my camera felt insignificant in comparison to the massive cameras sported by members of the press who had appeared to film the crowd.
This time, the protest centres on… um, our right to protest. Though on the surface, this might sound almost silly, just an excuse to assemble in the streets, chant, and prevent people from driving to work, this was not the whole story. Last term, at an entirely different protest (what a surprise, right?), an English PhD student got “rusticated” (Cam-speak for “suspended”) for reading out a poem that was one of many disruptions of a speech by David Willetts. While the prosecutor herself was asking for a suspension of just a single term, the university decided he should not return until the beginning of the school-year in 2014.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t condone the disruption of anyone’s right to talk–the events that took place last November were not the focus of today’s demonstration. Rather, we made clear our disapproval of an unnecessarily harsh sentence for someone who had been rude but had not broken any rules, and of the university’s apparent wish to make an example of a student by singling him out of a horde of similarly disruptive protesters to face punishment alone. When the megaphoned chants started shifting in the direction of supporting that original protest in November, murmurs of “that’s not why I’m here” were heard, and a few complaints returned the focus back to the removal of an unfair punishment.
Finally, an hour later, the march had circled back to the centre of town, and, those of us feeling oh-s0-rebellious, jumped over the barrier that normally prevents us from desecrating with our shoes the grass that grows in front of King’s. (I have to be honest, they have a point in keeping us off that grass. It’s so soft!) As we sat on the lawn outside the college walls, the demonstration continued, with appeals through megaphones voiced by students and educators alike, now using the wall–the barrier we had stepped over–as a stage. One man, a poet, pointed to that stone platform on which he stood, megaphone in hand, and told us of his surprise that of all the walls he had seen in his life, this one, only a few feet tall, could keep so many people from crossing it.
Well, we did cross it, didn’t we? We shrugged off the power the university held over us for a few minutes. Perhaps we really can learn to stand up to authority in other ways as well. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, and I hope that one English PhD student will be allowed to return to Cambridge and finish his studies soon.