It is a trait every student should have. Parents tell us it is all they did when they were our age. Grandparents say their style was a lot more violent; that was the only way they could be heard. They took to the streets, chanting, shouting, and shaking their fists; authorities everywhere bowed and gave in to their every demand. Nowadays, what happens? Are we just as violent, worse, or are we compliant, do we do exactly as we are told?
The latter is hardly true. Take a swift glance at the household charge protesters, the mass boycotters, the thousands who refuse to pay the hundred euro charge to a government who in their eyes still owe them so much. They did more than just talk, they took action, and as of yet have met no repercussions, apart from a polite letter from the government last week, reminding them to pay the hundred euro, along with an extra fourteen euro for each month they neglect to pay.
That’s the adults, however. How are the young ladies and gentleman of the nation treated? Is it with the same level of respect, the same polite exterior that they tell students to move along, to stop disrupting the peace? Now that would be too good to be true.
In November 2010, students gathered for a sit-in, a peaceful protest against a rise in registration fees. Two female protesters were pulled out “by their ankles” from the door of the Department of Finance, another student was trampled by a horse belonging to the Gardaí, and at least one male protester had his face covered with blood due to facial injuries. This is all happening while mobs of Gardaí in riot gear bash the crowds of students with batons. This was meant to be a peaceful protest; onlookers had a chance to witness how quickly it could go awry.
The organisers of 2011’s protest made sure past mistakes would not be repeated. Last November, up to 20,000 students from across the country gathered on O’ Connell Street, to protest against a possible raise in student fees. Ablaze in bright red t-shirts with “Stop Fees” branded across the front, students marched through the capital with the hopes of being heard, and without incident. No riots, no scuff ups with the Gardaí.
And no change. The government raised the fees by five hundred euro, and it’s doubtful that the student protest had any bearings on this figure on way or another. One student, wearing the red t-shirt remarked to his friend, who was sporting a colourful placard: “It’s just a way of making us feel we’re contributing, like we’re doing something, when really it doesn’t matter.” Ouch, the truth really does hurt.
Earlier this year I had a chance to speak to a 28-year-old protester who was considering giving up the good fight. He has been part of Shell to Sea, a campaign aiming to force the oil company Shell to process Corrib gas at sea, instead of inland in County Mayo. He is now on painkillers for the injuries he has sustained through the years through dealing with the Gardaí, and recently faced the possibility of a prison sentence and he says he can’t take anymore. “It doesn’t mean I think what they’re doing is right, I just can’t do this anymore. The idea of me in jail is an eye opener. My parents are worried about me.”
As pessimistic as it sounds, marching up and down a street, chanting, or sitting cross-legged in a green as a student does not produce the same results as if you are a tax paying adult. Especially when it comes to monetary matters, there’s no way of swaying our governments minds.
So start a blog, graffiti a wall, write a song, because protesting as a student is life-threatening, not life-changing.