At the very start of this new year of 2019, I had made a promise with my friend to live our lives without filter – to live life with no fear of consequence as long as it is all for the right reasons.
This promise only strengthened due to their passing last month, and not too long after came something that I resonated with on Twitter: Goldsmiths’ Anti-Racism Occupation.
Goldsmiths University has been criticized due to the university’s management having taken inadequate action against the racist abuse which was experienced by one of the candidates who ran in their student elections.
It is to no one’s surprise that this candidate falls under the Black, Asian and minority ethnic category since London is well known to be multi-cultural.
The student suffered racist abuse during her election campaign: her election posters vandalized with racial insults in which they mocked her accent, and her banner physically being removed despite her fellow campaigning peers being left untouched.
To clarify as to why Goldsmiths has been declared as having taken “inadequate action” is due to the fact that they didn’t take any action at all.
Senior management at Goldsmiths have not taken any action since, and have denied access to CCTV footage of this incident. The student union has also been completely silent.
Most people within society believe that we live in a moderately equal world, in which people do not have to visibly campaign and strike against such issues like racism – I should say most white people, actually.
However this is not the case. The reason that I very much resonated with the Goldsmiths’ Anti-Racist Occupation is because of the current movements in our very own university regarding #DecoloniseKeele.
Whether people want to admit it or not, the societal system is biased to benefit white westerners as it is set up by white western men (See the work of Edward Said, or Sara Ahmed for two academics who discuss at length to explain this).
So when W.O.K.E co-founder, Sophia, suggested that W.O.K.E, BAME society, #DecoloniseKeele and Keele Friends of Palestine should do a collaborative visit at Goldsmiths – I rushed at the opportunity.
As fate might have it, Goldsmiths was my friend’s old university before they transferred to Keele for their second year. Maybe it was their way of giving me “go-ahead”? Who knows.
The journey down south to London was incredibly long and tiring, moreover we also broke down as we exited the motorway into Greenwich – making our arrival time even later than we already were.
The whole group was anxious to arrive at Goldsmiths, we knew that the students were facing minor violent actions that the university had taken as a “counter-measure” against their peaceful occupation.
Although yes, the students occupied the hall by making that place their “home” for however long they may need to, the fact that they were locked in on purpose just broke my heart.
I knew this since I regularly check their accounts for their daily updates of their occupation.
After a couple of hours of waiting, we finally made haste towards Goldsmiths only to be told of more barriers that we had to face once we arrived.
The Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Occupation group and management had come to an agreement to allow the students the freedom to walk in and out of the premises without consequences from 09:00-19:00 (9 A.M. till 7 P.M.).
The Occupiers also gave the management notice regarding our visit, allowing the university to know that there will be visitors and more people coming into the building.
The original plan of the day, was this:
- We arrive at 13:00 (1 P.M.) and have lunch with the Occupiers
- Discuss with them about their experience so far with their peaceful protest
- Give them some word of encouragement and food that had been bought for them
- Leave around the late afternoon and hopefully arrive back at Keele for 19:00 (7 P.M.)
Instead, the building’s security were allegedly “sent an email” from management stating that they had orders from them not to let anyone in or out of the building for the whole weekend.
However this wasn’t taken too kindly by the Occupiers as the building has had multiple people come in and out of the building all weekend, and worst of all: on the day of, during the morning white people were allowed into the building.
Security had stopped letting people in the moment they knew that our group from Keele were in London.
It had been a while since I have experienced blatant discrimination via access due to my skin colour, let alone denied access for just being kind and providing food for the Occupiers.
Of course, the moment our group had arrived – the security had stopped letting people in, in general.
According to those on the inside, they had apparently put up a sign stating: “only Goldsmiths students allowed to enter and must provide student ID card”.
This timing was too suspicious for the university to suddenly change its mind.
It was becoming quite clear that the university did not want anyone to support the Occupation.
Our group wanted to show our support and solidarity via our visit; to exchange words in regards to their experiences and give them some morale.
Instead we were met with denial and ignorance by security.
Deptford Town Hall is also open to all members of the public as standard.
To add to our luck, the weather decided to play up and it started to rain for a good couple of hours.
We were locked out of the building, the Occupiers desperately trying to sway security from the inside whilst we also tried our hardest from the outside.
So many of us were angry, angry that such a thing that we have only heard of in history books is happening to us now, in the 21st century.
The frustration that we felt was indescribable.
The betrayal a lot of us felt was so painful that no one could really vocalize our disappointment fully.
White people, non-Goldsmiths students, had been allowed in before us that day, with food.
Every excuse we were given as we stood in the rain was a lie.
The security team hid behind their black colleagues, making them stand visibly in our way.
We felt even more betrayed.
How could they? How could they stand there, blocking our way into the building? How could they stand there, knowing that this is something that they can fully relate to?
We all knew why they were there, choosing to follow orders.
It was obvious to us that the security guards were likely intimidated into following orders, worried they would face disciplinary consequences or worse.
As frustrating as this was, we all stood strong outside and communicated with the student occupiers via the balcony that you saw in the picture at the beginning of this post.
Something that really shocked me was the imprisonment.
The management ordered the security to lock ALL doors except the main front door, and only had security set in place just in case a fire broke out.
Somehow, the student occupiers had become creative over the past few weeks and had made a bag on a rope that they could drop down from the balcony.
This allowed us to send up some food their way.
It was baffling to me that management were saying we couldn’t even give them food and had to use this method.
We tried reasoning with the security guards stating that, it was fine with us to protest and wait in the rain – but at least give them the food.
They firmly stood their ground citing fake emails directing them to do so.
We were all in such disbelief.
University management and the on site security had decided that the occupiers would only be allowed out if there was a fire.
What is this? Are they [students] criminals?
The whole point of this occupation was for it to be a peaceful, but meaningful way to get their message across.
Four years previously, a mostly white students collective had occupied the same space. Getting drunk, having parties and coming and going from the building with no security in place, no consequences to their actions.
This occupation was designated alcohol free, and has been marked by multiple teach-outs, film screenings and study ins.
The space has a designated quiet zone for students who get overwhelmed by too much noise.
It is a highly inclusive peaceful occupation space.
The senior management at Goldsmiths university made it seem like they were violent and therefore had to be imprisoned.
A student had to climb out of a first floor window to be able to leave.
Not only was that unnecessary, but that was also dangerous.
The university clearly does not care for their students’ well-beings.
Goldsmiths university was ready to “punish” the students via starvation.
Goldsmiths university was ready to “punish” the students via imprisonment.
Goldsmiths university was ready to “punish” the students, full stop.
This change in policy for handling students dissenting is nothing to do with the occupation.
Building occupation is something Goldsmiths has a strong history of.
It has everything to do with the races and ethnicities of the occupiers.
They are people of colour and so treated as dangerous.
I’m not sure as to whether the university were prepared for our tenacity, but we really did stand our ground.
The Occupiers sent down some signs for us to show around the passers-by and those who drove past.
Many showed support: those who were walking, they stopped and read our signs and/or talked with us then took a leaflet with them; those who were driving honked their horns in support; some of those who were driving even purposely slowed down traffic just so they could read our signs!
Alas it wasn’t all good people who passed by.
There were some who shouted abuse at us, telling us to get a job or whatever other insult they had in their minds.
So many people in society really do believe that these matters do not concern them – and yes, this includes POCs and black people.
Even empathy is hard to come across nowadays, apparently.
Then They Took Our Names
For hours we stood outside; despite the rain we stood our ground and kept protesting with the occupiers; we wanted their voices to be heard, and so we used ours.
We shouted alongside other Goldsmiths students who came in support of the occupiers.
For hours we kept trying to reason with the security guards to let us in.
At 18:00 (6 P.M.), security finally came outside, made us all show ID and took our names down on a piece of paper.
They said they were ready to let us in. Or so we thought.
They made us wait for a further hour.
They really took their time.
We demanded to be let in.
When they finally began to let us in, hours after our arrival they once again demanded to see ID.
It was a tactic of intimidation.
Finally, one by one, we were allowed into a normally publicly available building that allows non-students in without demanding to see ID.
A wave of relief rode over all of us.
I stood for a couple of minutes by the main front lobby.
We were so stubborn, standing there for hours shouting that I hadn’t realized that my fingers lost feeling a while ago.
The heat from the inside hit me and slowly started to regaining the feeling of my fingers. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and I just thought to myself: “We did it. We really did it, we made it in.”
The hall was so beautifully designed that I couldn’t help but admire the staircase as I walked up them.
Seeing their main banner on top of the staircase, filled me with a sense of pride.
I was so proud of the occupation group.
They really inspired me to do this, to come and show my support for them.
Outside their door was a quote, which they also had another sign which stated that whoever enters through the main lecture hall – they must read the quote first.
As a reminder as to why this occupation is occurring in the first place.
Black and third world people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity.
Women are expected to educate men.
Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world.
The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their actions.
There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.
- Audre Lorde
This quote is spot on.
I can see why these students are still standing strong.
This quote has managed to refine into a small excerpt, the experiences of the marginalised.
Upon reading this, I felt very emotional. My respect for these students rose even higher than it already was.
Surprisingly, they were all ready with food and accommodating. It was someone’s birthday.
There was home cooked food, birthday cake, hugs between the occupiers and Keele Students. We shared relief, exhaustion, understanding, celebration.
We sang Happy Birthday to the student, the woman who’s experience of racism during an election had been the tipping point for many students to come together and demand change.
Although brief, I had an opportunity to speak amongst the occupation’s students.
The everyday experiences of racism that they shared with us was heartbreaking but familiar.
It’s the start of Easter break, and instead of going home – many of these students have chosen to stay and occupy the building.
Albeit forcibly so, since they’re locked in.
Once again, it struck me as awful that previous occupations led by mostly white students had been allowed to come and go from the building, to have the equivalent of a giant party but that when people of colour stood in occupation, they were subjected to frequent lock-ins.
We exchanged worries since security had been ordered to lock all of the exits except for the main front door, and this was heavily guarded by at least two security guards.
The students who were peacefully in occupation, a protest tactic used by many before them were being denied basic needs such as food.
Management had also given orders to have the bathroom screwed shut – but luckily the students managed to prevent this from happening.
These occupiers were being treated like animals, rather than humans.
Whether Goldsmiths university wants to admit it or not, they are resorting to violent acts in order to get the students to stop their occupation.
The change is because of who was in occupation.
Taking The Stories Home
A few of us didn’t stay for long, we had to be back in Keele by the end of the night at least – I was one of those people.
My mental health deteriorated by the end of the night.
I was getting so upset and triggered by the whole situation. I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, and this basically means that I’m emotionally unstable and extremely empathetic, so much so that I feed people’s energies.
Usually I’d be okay, being able to socialise more and listen to their stories.
However it was too much for me that day.
All I wanted to do was cry.
I was so upset, since I could feel how they all felt.
Although they were all so strong for standing their ground with occupying the building, I could also feel their stress and their pain.
That and being exhausted physically, it just made me so vulnerable.
I knew that if I stayed, I would’ve just been irritable because of my incapability to control my emotions.
I also had other reasons for leaving, but mainly it was because I really couldn’t handle the pain anymore.
You could feel the energy from everyone in that room: the frustration, the pain, the stress.
I was so proud of them for being staying so mentally strong.
It’s beyond upsetting, seeing how they are being treated.
During the journey home on the train, I had so many questions.
How can such a thing happen in this modern era? In 2019? Decades ago, there were rallies for equality.
Something that many of us POC born after these occurrences, never expected to have to carry out ourselves.
Why is it that oppressors would rather sit comfortably in their privilege rather than allowing others to also be comfortable with them?
Why does anyone have to be above another?
Why does a hierarchy have to exist?
Something as basic as equality and having a university acknowledge that a racist incident happened – and then addressed with – was that really such a hard thing to be done?
As of today, the Goldsmiths Anti-Racism Occupation has been on-going for a month.
They recently had a Skype session with students from John Hopkins University who are campaigning against private police on their campus.
These very students are also suffering from racial profiling amongst their BAME community.
There is also a hunger-strike happening at Birmingham university that started a few days ago.
Knowing that more and more universities are standing together in solidarity and supporting each other brings me hope.
Hope that there are people like us out there, who care enough for things to change.
Not just for us, but for the next BAME generation who is yet to come.
The Press is listening, but sadly management still ignores the problem.
The Manifesto From Goldsmiths Anti-Racism Action Group: http://tinyurl.com/GARAmanifesto
We hope we can add our own SU’s official statement of solidarity soon, until then we send solidarity from WOKE, BAME Society, Keele Friends of Palestine and Decolonise Keele.
More Photos to Follow
Written by: Fides Dagongdong Twitter: @fidesadee_ Wordpress blog: @fidesadee Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fidesadee/