by Esther Rzewski
Since Friday the 2nd of December, the £5.3m Warwick Conference building has been occupied by students dissatisfied with the University, and demanding that the University complies with 3 key requests*.
The location of the occupation reflects the students’ desire to retake the University of Warwick, as this building was designed mostly for corporate use as a conference space, and not for educational or academic purposes. The occupation opens up the building for the student community to come in and discuss the direction they want their University to take.
But do people feel confident about going in a building that is guarded by security guards? Whilst the Slate’s doors are closed shut, give it a few knocks, and you will get to see a whole different side of the “Warwick experience”. I met one curious visitor student and asked what their take was on the occupation now that they had been inside. Have a read:
Q1) How have you found The Slate once inside?
It was messy, messier than I had seen it before at a launch event. I saw the scaffolding and wondered whether that was safe. And whether they had access to the roof. I kind of felt sorry for them, it can’t be a comfortable place to live. And I wondered if it must cost a lot to live there, but if you’ve got a kitchen then going to Tesco and cooking there should be cheap enough and I didn’t expect a lot of the windows to be covered.
Note: the occupiers don’t have access to the roof and the windows are covered for privacy and security reasons. After all people are living in there!
Q2) How easy did you find it to get inside?
I walked up, and the security guard said: “Can I help you?” and I said that I heard that some people were occupying. He bristled a bit as if thinking whether I was one of them. Me and a friend said we were just interested in talking. The security person said “go round the back and knock three times, that’s their special code”. It was quite easy to get in. There were occupiers at the back entrance, and they let us in with basically no questions.
Note: There is no code, just knock as loud as you can on the doors!
Q3) What did you expect before going in The Slate and why did you decide to?
I decided to visit out of curiosity. I am a philosophy student and I consider it important to know what you’re debating about. If there is direct action on campus of any kind that I can get behind, then I need to know my stuff so I can promote it and/or get involved when I ought to.
Q4) What do you think of the occupiers using the Slate?
They’re friendly. I have had some dealings with Warwick For Free Education before, where they definitely haven’t been. But they are a minority and the people I know who are involved are really nice. The people there seemed tired (and smelled a little, but who can blame them!), but they were open. I was worried about asking them questions that were too sensitive in case they thought I was spying. I would be thinking that in their place.
As for their cause, I think I agree very much. They made good points and only confirmed what I already thought: there are better ways to spend money and Warwick could do more to ensure workers’ rights.
Q5) What do you think of their motives for occupation?
Their motives seemed good. They were genuinely motivated by a cause and appeared ideologically consistent. I have heard of protests where people get voluntarily arrested in controlled circumstances. There probably is space for that happening here but I think in general it is better to be a bit unpredictable and a bit more defiant.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would really recommend to anyone interested to check it out. I felt safe, the people are friendly, and it’s the most interesting thing I have done all month.
Oh, and I super admired their dedication in doing essays. Being able to work while in there makes me more willing to participate in future direct action.
This frank account highlights some important truths about occupying a space:
Occupying isn’t glamorous. It is hard, especially for those who haven’t done it before and in a space that isn’t adapted for people living in it 24/7.
It’s especially hard when you know that there is ‘security’ a few steps outside your door. It adds anxiety and uneasiness when one goes in and out of the Slate and feels or maybe is, monitored.
The occupiers aren’t staying in the space for fun. They are making a political protest, as well as opening a space for the community to go in. That’s why so many events are organised over the period of the occupation.**
On top of that, they are also students working towards their degrees, attending seminars, lectures, handing in essays… and they’re tired.
From this, one can say that the people involved are motivated, and genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing. It’s not easy, but it is their way to bring an argument forwards. What do you think about the protests, and has this inspired you to go and visit The Slate? Comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Inside The Slate”.
*Opting out of the TEF: improve hourly-paid worker’s rights; scrap the protest injunction, as well as apologise for their handling of the student protest 2 years ago. Read more on: https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/statement-of-occupation/
**Check out what is going on on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WarwickFreeEducation/?fref=ts
Photo Credits: http://www.conferencecoventryandwarwickshire.co.uk/
Leave a Reply