Freedom and the Students

Who controls the past now controls the future. Who controls the present now controls the past.

2010 – the past – and 2011 – both present and future … And what of the future? Our future?

The back end of 2010 was a harsh reminder to this country that a people under pressure will rise against their masters. Freedom has always been a matter of give and take. There is no getting away from the fact that, in life, one must sacrifice some personal freedoms in order to build a supportive community.

… But what happens when that support is removed and we are expected to remain passive?

London, December 9. When a body famed for its apathy rises against the state in numbers great enough to shake the doors of the powers that be … one can’t help but be inspired.

Students. Famous for apathy. The working class. These days famous for the same apathy. What next? Who next? The TUC has backed the students and the students have united with the TUC for their march in March. January 29 will see another student march on London. Across the nation the schools have churned out activist after activist in what is becoming a wave of politicisation amongst the youth of today.

There is a schedule and these events are scheduled to go on … and on.

Having spent time amongst those occupying and at rallies and demos organised by students – not just in London but in York and Leeds as well as Birmingham and Manchester – I feel I have to stand back now and look at this realistically. And realistically speaking, this movement is expanding, rolling along and sweeping up more and more into its body as it makes its way through the year and down towards London.

When any such body is so dedicated to the overhaul of an oppressive master it is more inclined to take setbacks in its stride than to treat them as such. It is unlikely that this will stop any time soon.

So what does it mean for “speaking for freedom” and its future in England?

Well – for a start – it means that people have been reminded that it’s all very good to speak for freedom – in this case, the freedom to study regardless of personal wealth and background – but sometimes your freedom needs to be enforced. If not enforced, enacted.

Freedom to protest.

The students cannot be defeated – they have already lost the fees vote – and yet they continue to rage against the system that is removing the freedoms of their allies and their children to yet to be. This is perhaps the meaning of a lost cause. The original cause was lost but all that has meant is that a new cause has been gained.

Activism is at a new high and the people oppressed are beginning to recall that they are shackled to a way of things. That “way” is supportive to a degree but until we have recognised that we can throw away these shackles for a time and change the world we will remain shackled to the best interests of our masters.

This is FREEDOM.

FREEDOM is OURS.

And we have to keep speaking for it – in actions and words – or it will fall away from us and eventually out of our grasp. At least, until someone stands up anew and shakes their fist at the chains of oppression.

… There is no time like the present.

To paraphrase, there is a time and a place for these things:

what better place than this; what better time than now?

The Rise and Fall of the Antiterrorist Hotline

The radio squawks into action in my car, madly cycling through stations until it settles on Talksport … And break for commercial.

The man at the end of the street doesn’t talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself.

He pays with cash, because he doesn’t have a bank card.

And he keeps his curtains closed, because he lives on a bus route.

He sounds like my kind of guy. I think I’m starting to like him. If he didn’t keep himself to himself so much we could probably end up in the pub. … The advert continues.

This may mean nothing. But together it could add up to you having suspicions…

Okay. … Suspicions. I see.

… We all have a role to play in combating terrorism.

Wait – sorry – what?

If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential anti terrorism hotline…

… If you suspect it, report it. There’s no such thing as a wasted call.

No, wait, hang on a minute. Surely … If I call because my neighbour doesn’t go out much, keeps his curtains closed and prefers to pay in cash … And if he isn’t a terrorist … Surely … Am I not wasting someone’s time? Someone has to pick up the phone. Someone has to be paid to answer my call. And considering that this “someone” works for the government, am I to assume that we are paying their wages?

The following message is brought to you by Talksport and the Antiterrorist Hotline.

I am sat at the lights. Most probably, I am slightly slack jawed after having tuned in to the latest news on our home front. Elsewhere, the War on Terror rages. Here, on the flipside, I am expected to inspect my neighbour’s shopping and peer in through the gaps between his curtains.

Peaceful green fields span out ahead of me, only slightly overshadowed by the local Waitrose… “Awful lot of fertiliser the farmer’s buying this year, Margaret.”

It would be far too easy to laugh off the advert. It would be far too easy to go home, tell someone about it, have a drink and grumble about the state of things. However, if you’re not feeling a fundamentally loathsome air about this most recent addition to the great collective paranoia, allow further exploration.

The advert has since been banned by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) in wake of eighteen complaints following its radio debut. That it has been banned is undoubtedly a good thing for anyone who objects to the manipulation of those who are genuinely scared, or to being snooped on by their neighbours. However, the fact that it was allowed to exist in the first place is troubling. “Allowed” is an interesting word. Perhaps we should ask: was such unacceptable a creation allowed to exist by the chiefs of police, or was it was allowed to be created because they believed that it was acceptable?

In a society in which we are used to fear mongering and in which we often realise the value of our freedoms only once they are taken away, it is fantastic that people have stood up against that which they deem unacceptable. There is an incomparable value to our definition of what is and is not acceptable. Our power to defy is the root of our power as a democracy. On the other hand, it is less inspiring to think that those to whom we have delegated the roles of our protectors and leaders have created this “hotline” system.

It is a system as simple as dialling a number. By offering the untrained and the scared the opportunity to protect themselves, our protectors are deferring their authority into our hands. We have a police force for a reason. And by giving their responsibilities over to the public they are creating a subconscious fear within our society: the fear that things are bad enough for them to need us to be suspicious. The term do-gooder is outdated. But surely the target audience of these latest adverts were those who wished to do good, and thereby, those who were doubtful enough of our protectors to take matters into their own hands.

As tax payers we are paying for the 0800 number, we are paying for the actor used in the advert, we are paying for the air time and we are paying the wages of those who answer the phone calls. For us all, especially in these times, this is an issue of importance. … But on this new home front there are more pressing matters than money. There is something very ill in the conduct of the chiefs of police, and there is something deeply disturbing about the fact that such adverts were created without check…

… And that they had to be checked by us, the public.

This did not need to happen. Somewhere along the way, we ourselves allowed it to happen. Ultimately, it is a lack of protest on the part of the public, and a general popular ignorance, that defines acceptability.

The rise and fall of the antiterrorist hotline is in our hands, and so is the key to our authority as the public.