The Righteous Anger of Protest

What do you think of when you think of protest? The theme of political discontent seems to be everywhere. Whether it’s Trump’s America, Brexit Britain or continental Europe, people are full of righteous anger. Recently, young people across the world have taken to the streets to voice opposition to Government and corporate inaction on Climate Change. From the 20th to the 27th of September, school and university students alongside numerous others marched on strike, calling for the Government to focus on climate policy and take seriously the threats of global warming and carbon emission. The Irish Times reported that over 10,000 people attended the protest. Many UCD students were among the protestors.

In the late 60’s, UCD experienced what became known as the ‘Gentle Revolution’. These were a series of protest events that quickly led to changes in the University’s policies. One of the main concerns was that the influence religion had within the University. The students protested the Catholic ideology influencing and, in many cases structuring nearly all aspects of college life. One of the most memorable examples of these protests was when nearly all the female students wore trousers around college, in defiance to the dress code, which was afterwards overturned. Another example was in reaction to the lack of facilities, particularly concerning the Library, in which the students occupied Earlsfort Terrace in protest to the governing body’s inaction. The demands were met, and further escalation didn’t occur.

This small-scale protest by students against University authority is not unknown today. Last year the ‘Take Back Trinity’ campaign halted plans to increase exam resit fees within the University. This sit-in was effective too. Both colleges were also at the forefront of the ‘Repeal’ campaign which overhauled the Eighth Amendment.

Despite the global and, to a lesser extent, local trends of anger at the current systems, wider social and political change has been slow in Ireland. The ‘Repeal’ campaign was a long time coming. Calls for abortion legalisation go back to the early 1980s and were proposed in the Seanad even earlier in 1974 by Noël Browne. UCD students were unsuccessful with abortion long before #Repeal became prevalent. In 1988 the Student Union were giving out information on access to abortion Officers were brought to High Court by the Society of the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC). There were mass demonstration outside the Court on the day of the hearing from students. Despite this the case went on for four years until in 1992, the High Court granted an injunction in favour of the SPUC. Throughout the 1990s student protest in Ireland cooled and a more passive attitude seemed to be the norm. This changed in the wake of the global financial crisis, or ‘the recession’ as it became known in Ireland.

In recent years protest and demonstration have returned to the streets of Dublin with students leading the charge. Whether for Marriage Equality, Repeal of the Eighth Amendment, or the recent movement for action on Climate Change, students seem to be more politically engaged now than they have been for a long time. The discontent of the present political climate might light the spark of protest within colleges themselves, as the politics of the 1960s did before. UCD students were able to bring about change before, so why not again?

Around campus today, complaints and criticism often revolve around one thing: accommodation. The problem is not just for students. Dublin was named the most expensive city in the Eurozone to live in, earlier this year. Costs have risen exponentially since the crash and are continuing to rise. The main reason for the inflation is the housing crisis, which is quickly becoming a threat to social stability and will be a deciding factor in the next election.

UCD, along with other universities, are at the forefront of this, and should be. Students and immigrants are the two groups most affected by this crisis. Accommodation is difficult to find and costs a fortune. Two semesters in accommodation currently ranges from €7,514 to €11,591. On top of the academic fees and general cost of living in Dublin, these prices are putting students into debt and forcing them to work longer hours. Students are not coming near coping with the cost, despite working more and for longer.

Using this case of accommodation, it is worth asking how students should go about changing this. It may seem like students have very little power to alter the situation, especially given its wider social aspects, but this is not true. In the 1960’s, organised, decisive and fundamentally stubborn protest did affect change. There is no reason that this could not happen again. The pressure should be put on university administration by the SU but also by the student body itself. Alongside this, societies need to mobilise and band together under a common objective: bring about change to the cost of university life. Only then can aggressive protest such as sit-ins, occupations, and refusals to comply, achieve anything. Without the structure and organisation behind them, acts of civil disobedience are empty gestures and do not achieve anything. In order to really bring about change and draw attention to serious problems, protest must be aggressive, but it must also be intelligent. Student protest should be the angry and informed voice of youth. Without it young people have no voice and no place to address their issues and those of the nation.