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February 02, 2009

Sit in Success

Writing about web page http://www.warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com

Sit in Success
By Barnaby Pace
On the 12th of January a group of students at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London occupied a gallery suite. They were protesting the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the use of the gallery by the Ministry of Defence to recruit and display what the students saw as a sanitised one sided view of war. The occupation was peaceful, with the space reclaimed for teach-ins, lectures, workshops and exhibits. The SOAS occupation succeeded after two days, with the military no longer being allowed to use the room for free, or without consulting the students union in advance and the student occupation being able to use the space for further talks and exhibits for free. This action spurred students all over the country into action and inspired a movement.

In the wake of SOAS’s actions a wave of further occupations occurred. Nineteen have so far occurred at the time of writing, with occupations in SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Kings, Sussex, Oxford, Cambridge, Essex, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, Queen Mary, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, Kingston, Salford, Bristol, Manchester Met and Bradford. The occupations and sit ins varied in their demands, in their stances on the Gaza conflict and their successes and failings, but student occupations on this scale have not occurred in decades.

I was fortunate to be involved in the Warwick Solidarity Sit In. We had our ups and downs, had moments of doubt, pain and anger but also experienced the joys of learning, reaching out and meeting beautiful new people and hoped that our actions could make a difference and change the world in some small way.

The Warwick Solidarity Sit in began on Wednesday 21st of January 2009, with a group of students walking into a lecture theatre, maybe just like they might on any other day. But these students had a plan, they saw the issues around them, a humanitarian crisis and a university not helping but being complicit in that disaster. Some students had known about the University’s links with the arms trade before; £2 million in researching military projects, promoting arms companies at careers events and refusing to exclude investing University funds in arms companies. It was known that many of the arms companies that the University was helping were selling arms to Israel among their many other clients of tarnished reputation. They saw that because of this their University was in complicit in the death, destruction and suffering they had seen in Israel and Palestine.

The students saw that there was too much variation in their opinions on the conflict to give a definitive position, but they found three defining principles that they could define their action by. Peace, Humanitarianism and the Right to Education, these basic statements informed everything that the sit in group did. The sit in was simple; stay in the room, educate people about the conflict and the issues, express our solidarity with other groups and those suffering in the middle east and try and persuade that University authorities to meet the demands. The group invited speakers, ran workshops and screened films and over time the group grew and evolved. People who had never taken part in a demonstration or a march before took an interest and came along. The Warwick Sit In gathered support, from students simply bringing packets of biscuits and their company, Student Union Sabbatical Officers giving advice, many messages of support being sent by student groups, trade unions, Political parties, academics and individuals from all over the world. The groups enjoyed support from such well known names as Tony Benn, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Avi Shlaim and Peter Tatchell. The group put on talks from among many others, the CEO of Greenpeace International Gerd Leipold, founder of the Corner House NGO Nick Hildyard and local restaurant owner Manal Timraz. Possibly the most striking and best of all the speakers was Manal, a Palestinian refugee, former UN aid worker and somebody who has lost family in the recent Gaza conflict. It was incredibly powerful to hear her speak about the innate value of life and how we must look beyond the small differences between people but see every human being as a person with dreams, ambitions and a life to live. When you think about each individual whose life has been destroyed by war, not just the statistic, you are obligated to act to prevent any further suffering that you can.

The group worked day by day, working against accusations of being disruptive, due to the University moving lectures, against the group’s wishes, to other rooms around the campus. They worked against accusations of being aggressive, made by students who had never visited the space and taken time to visit the space where they would have been welcomed. They worked against accusations of partisanship or anti-Semitism for criticising Israel over other horrors in the world. This was probably the most painful accusation to students many of whom spend much of their time campaigning against the problems in the world, whether through anti-arms groups, anti-racism campaigns, amnesty groups and other campaigning groups. The students tackled these problems the only way that they could, by being as welcoming as possible to all, by laying out ground rules that allowed for free speech and fair discussion and prohibited any aggression, by helping students carry on their studies as free of disruption as possible and by taking all decisions using consensus methods and encouraging everybody to participate.

The sit in succeeded after nine days, after much publicity, negotiations with the university and using all the skills and resources available. The university had agreed to publish a public statement and sit down and negotiate seriously many of the demands. The group called an emergency general meeting of the Students’ Union. With only two days notice, more students attended than at any Students’ Union meeting in over a decade. Nearly four hundred students arrived, debated and celebrated the renaissance of student democracy. The sit in won the support of over 83% of students, which provided the sit in with a huge student mandate. The group is now continuing campaigning for the University to help in sending spare textbooks and computer equipment to schools and universities destroyed, to have the University support a series of high profile debates on the Israel-Palestine conflict and for the University to end its relations with arms companies that profit from the death and destruction in the world.

Despite these successes the struggle and campaign is not over, the university must still acquiesce to the demands, many students still do not know enough and there is still pain and suffering in the world and these must be worked against. Even though these aims are not yet fulfilled, the sit in campaign has succeeded in forging a movement, making new friends and in some small way helping deal with the problems in our world.


January 26, 2009

The return of red warwick?

Originally published 22/1/09 on the Campaign Against The Arms Trade blog caatblog.wordpress.com

Barnaby Pace updates us on the current wave of anti-arms activism to sweep the nations universities: -

Since 12.30 yesterday a number of Warwick students have occupied our SO.21 lecture theatre. We are demanding firstly that the university help the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict by sending textbooks and computer equipment, restoring the ability of students in the region to use their right to education. The university should inform students about the issues by funding a series of talks on the conflict. Importantly we feel that the university should end its complicity in the conflict by severing its ties to the arms trade. Our university promotes arms companies in an unquestioning positive light at careers events, does research for arms companies in our academic departments and has university finances invested in funds which do not preclude arms trade investments, and this is an unacceptable status quo.

We have been expressing our solidarity with both the students trapped in the Gaza conflict who can no longer continue their education and all the victims of the war. The feeing of solidarity with the other universities where occupations have taken place is also very important. SOAS, LSE, Essex, Birmingham, Sussex, Kings College, Oxford and Newcastle have all had occupations or have ongoing occupations. Messages of support have been hugely empowering we have had a constant stream of messages from other students, Campaign against the arms trade activists, trade unions, political groups, private individuals like Tony Benn and academics like Avi Shlaim.

Right now this feels really big, with this wave of occupations sweeping the country, re-invigorating the anti-war movements in universities that many thought had ended decades ago. It harks back to the days when Warwick University was known as Red Warwick for its campaigning and activist culture. We hope that through these occupations and new generation of student activist will be inspired to resist and campaign against the injustices of our world and fight against the arms trade.

We have been putting on some fantastic talks with representatives of the International Solidarity Movement, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Socialist Party, Stop the War Coalition and others speaking tonight. We were all deeply moved by our speaker last night. Manal Timraz who owns a restaurant in Coventry, the outskirts of which Warwick University is built. Manal spoke about the experiences of her own family in Palestine and experiences as a UN aid worker. She emphasised the uniting nature of humanity and how although we can be personally touched by the people we know who suffer and lose their lives in conflicts, but every life is unique and special and should be mourned, no matter what side of a border they are on, what god they pray to or what their ideas are. We must always remember that every number in the death count is a person with dreams, ambitions and a life to lead. We can hope that maybe if the person who pushed the button to drop the bomb that killed a human being thought about what that bomb would destroy they might reconsider. We hope that those in a factory in England making a small part, that goes into a military aircraft that drops bombs on fellow human beings, will think about what their own work leads to, and might think again about the validity and morality of their work.

We have had our motives questioned by our Jewish-Israeli society, but we have succeeded in convincing them of our genuine belief that every life is precious, and that we can recognise that we are united by our desire for peace in the region. Although we are all deeply political about the issue of Israel-Palestine we understand that we all share this one ideal, and that in our reclaimed space on campus we can discuss the politics and learn about everybody’s positions.
In Coventry the city of Peace and Reconciliation, which has suffered so much from the horrors of war 60 years ago, we should be mindful of the consequences of war were there are only victims. It seems fitting that as part of this national and international effort to help the victims of this conflict we can hope that in some small way our protest might contribute to the ending of the cycle of violence in the region.

We hope that you can support what we are doing and hope that you will follow our protest on our blog at www.warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com


The Cluster Bomb Treaty: Can the Cluster Bomb Treaty Work

The Cluster Bomb Treaty: Can the Cluster Bomb Treaty Work

by Barnaby Pace
Originally Published in Dissident Warwick No.5 26/1/09

Arms get everywhere. There is, at present, one firearm for every 12 people on the planet, and it is the aim of the arms industry to make as much profit possible by arming any other 11 who can pay. The question then posed is that with weapons spreading everywhere, how can the flow of arms be controlled to curb the worst excesses of the trade? Numerous methods have been posited; from international treaties, arms embargoes and national regulation down to activists smashing fighter jets with hammers, all these methods should be examined carefully so that we may find the most effective in stemming the flows of arms and preventing violence.

In December 2008 more than 100 countries signed up to the cluster bomb treaty, including the UK. The treaty is intended to end the manufacture, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions among the signatory states. Cluster munitions work through dispersing hundreds of small explosive devices across large areas; many of the bomblets land unexploded and will remain as de facto landmines, preventing the use of the land and causing a constant hazard, devastating communities for many years after the end of a conflict. The effects of these weapons are felt most heavily by civilians who make up 98% of 13,306 recorded cluster munitions casualties that are registered with Handicap International, while 27% are children.[i] Once 30 countries have ratified their treaty domestically it will become international law.

There are however significant limitations to the potential effectiveness of the cluster bomb treaty. The treaty allows cluster weapons with up to 10 submunitions (the smaller explosive devices that are released), and allows nations to co-operate with militaries that do still use these weapons (notably among NATO states). Both of these measures watering down the treaty were pushed for by the UK. The UK government was torn between the armed forces who opposed the treaty, and wished to continue using Israeli made cluster munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and DFID (The Department For International Development) who along with the foreign office, saw the moral hazards and the pragmatic issues with winning “hearts and minds” while using these weapons.[ii]

The most serious difficulty in making the cluster bomb treaty work is the notable absence of the USA, Russia and China who, between them, have an estimated 1 billion submunitions stockpiled, Israel, who along with the US and UK have been the heaviest users of cluster bombs[iii], India and Pakistan.

The USA, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and Russia did not subscribe to the Ottawa convention in 1997 either. The Ottawa Convention banned the use of land mines and was signed after years of widespread international campaigning. Despite not signing the Ottawa convention due to the international pressure and the growing taboo around the use of landmines, the US has not used, exported, or produced any antipersonnel landmines since the treaty was negotiated 11 years ago. Attempts have been made to circumvent the treaty; since its signing numerous arms dealers have been caught attempting to sell hand grenades with tripwires, attempting claiming that it was a legal grey area[iv]. It is in the interests of arms companies not to comply with any moral or legal code when profit can be made by ignoring them; their motivation as a corporation is one defined by the pursuit of profit. Forcing armed forces (or corporate mercenaries) not controlled by a government or judiciary to forgo the use of a weapon as cheap and deadly as a landmine is nearly impossible, they have no motivation to obey a law that cannot be applied to them. The only method of stopping the use of landmines in this case is to stigmatise them in every culture so that any soldier will see them as morally wrong and refuse to use them.

The question then that should be asked is whether any arms treaties really can work on a global scale? This becomes even more pertinent with the mooted arms trade treaty that groups such as Amnesty International, Oxfam and War on Want have vigorously campaigned for. Although it may prove to be a step in the right direction controlling the rampant flow of arms on the black and grey markets, some fear that the treaty will be watered down, legitimise the legal arms trade, and serve as nothing more than a PR stunt for politicians. The fear of governments weakening an arms trade treaty are not unfounded, considering many governments’ unconditional support for arms companies and the many cases where illegal arms dealers have been paid by governments to secretly smuggle around the world to assist revolutionaries.[v]

It is my belief that the true turning factor in making such treaties work is not just the signed piece of paper but the social and political movement that has forced governments into accepting the treaty in the first place. Groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Campaign Against the Arms Trade have worked constantly on this issue for many years but what is needed is more than the few dedicated campaigners acting on this largely foreign and hidden issue. At one time Princess Diana became the public face of a widespread campaign to ban landmines, but now we can only appeal to her memory as activist did at DSEI (the bi-annual London Arms Fair) by dying the Princess Diana memorial fountain blood red[vi]. We need a new respected public face that can carry the anti-arms trade message around the world. A building of momentum within our communities is essential to work against this vile trade, to oppose the manufacture and sale of these weapons in our areas. SmashEDO have opposed the EDO bomb factory in Brighton, DisarmDSEI have campaigned against the London arms fair and student Campaign Against the Arms Trade groups have protested against arms companies recruiting and researching on their campuses. The work of dedicated experts, journalists and researchers is crucial to expose the facts about the arms trade and work against the secrecy and PR propaganda that arms companies can propagate. The trade in products designed to kill people is one that must be stigmatised just like the slave trade was, the taboo strong enough that the general public and governments cannot legitimise supporting the arms trade. The campaign to control and end the arms trade must not only make weapons illegal but make it unthinkable for any human to participate in the trade, this must be achieved by making people working in the arms trade see the atrocities big and small that are the ultimate end products of their work.

--------------------

[ii] Guardian, 28/5/2008, “Cluster bomb treaty follows UK decision to scrap stockpiles”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/may/28/military.defence2

[iii] Guardian, 3/12/2008, “100 countries join clamour for global ban on cluster bombs”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/03/cluster-bomb-international-convention-signing

[iv] Guardian, 10/5/2002, “UK firm accused of selling landmines”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/10/armstrade

[v] See work by Global Witness on the case of Victor Bout for example, http://www.globalwitness.org/index.php

[vi] IndymediaUK, 13/9/2007, “Princess of Wales fountain died red for victims of cluster bombs” https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/london/2007/09/381006.html


November 04, 2008

Letter to the Warwick Boar

Published in the Warwick Boar 4/11/08

Dear Editor,

“Our role is to facilitate not dictate debates, the reason being that many of our students have differing opinions. I will make no apologies for my Warwick focus…Gone are the days when we should be prioritising ideological campaigns trying to achieve world peace or trying to bring down capitalism. This year what we want is a focus on ourselves…”

I’m sure we speak for a large number of students here at Warwick in expressing our annoyance at comments made by our Students’ Union President in last weeks edition of the Boar.

Tommo’s article painted a truly dismal picture of the potential for student campaigns both on campus here at Warwick and on an international scale. To admit defeat is to be entirely ignorant of the multitude of successful student campaigns that have been led in the past and are still very much active today in pushing for social change worldwide. Take for example the student boycott of Barclays in 1986 for financially supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Barclays was forced to pull out of the country after the boycott which helped lead to the destabilisation of the Apartheid regime and their eventual downfall. Other examples include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square and high-profile student protests in France in 2002, 2005 and last year. The issues that students are campaigning on today are no less important than they were in ’68 but we must tackle the climate of student apathy in order to make today’s campaigns as successful and wide-reaching as they were then.

Although it is undoubtedly true that a large proportion of the student population will spend their years at Warwick caring about little more than the price of a pint, is this really something that their union should be encouraging? We are encouraged to ‘get involved’ with union decision-making and we are often reminded that the Union is ‘more than just a nightclub’, yet how do Tommo’s comments promote this in any way, beyond limited internal policies on Freshers and Accommodation.
It is also true that there is a range of diverse opinions on campus, and lively debate involving all sides is hugely important, but do we want to be dictated to by the apathetic? The president of the Student’s Union has a responsibility to draw students’ attention to issues of national and international importance; they are not only there to facilitate debate but to lead it, especially where the Union democratic bodies have decided to take a stance on issues.

Students are concerned about issues outside the Warwick bubble and the Student’s Union is a body which can facilitate and act on behalf of these concerns. With 26 registered campaigning societies in the Union, support at all levels is vital, otherwise we may find that policies banning unethical companies such as ExxonMobil, Nestle and Arms Companies are gradually rolled-back to leave our Students’ Union with the bare bones of a stance on anything at all. The body of Union policy on campaigns is testament to the history of active Warwick campaigners who recognise that the Union can make a difference on issues outside the bubble.

A final point that is crucial to make here is that not all student-led campaigns will achieve their aims within a year. This may be hard for someone who is elected into a year-long term at the Union to accept but it is important to look at the big picture, the long-term. Big campaigns will take a long time but their effects will be worth the effort in the long run.

Sincerely,
Hannah Smith and Barnaby Pace


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