Does direct action achieve its aims?

We are back in the globe-like, Hall 2 that saw informal hustings take place. This time we see Aaron Porter and Clare Solomon, ULU President, have “the toughest debate that we have to have” as the incumbent NUS President says himself.

The panel does not yet look to be mere a boxing match, pitting Porter in direct opposition in to Solomon. They are joined by a third commentator: Alex Massey, a freelance journalist, who has worked for Telegraph and writes a blog for The Spectator. Whether this does turn out to be retrospective rework of the now infamous Newsnight debate last November remains to be seen.

Porter begins the addresses by clarifying his view, reflecting on his misjudgements this year – a view that he outlined in his President’s Opening yesterday.

Massey, although generally defending Porter given the circumstances, does label his policies as “inadequate”. The journalist argues that the question concerning direct action is a matter of audience: “Do you want to rally the public opinion or do you want to impress yourselves?”

Massey argues that the only real decision left to be made concerns student activism’s relationship with the press. After all, the mainstream parties are largely in consensus and the general public recognise the need to do something, so the argument goes. Massey writes-off violent direct action and “infantile set of protests that are utterly divorced of economic and political reality and are therefore doomed to failure.”

Solomon’s address begins “in the red corner!” She believes that Porter’s actions on Newsnight were “disgraceful” in the face of Paxman’s “ageism and sexism” let alone the President’s denouncement of those students that he is there to represent.

The ULU President asks how we build a mass movement. “We need every single person in the country to get on board with the protests,” she said. She does not expect the government to give up easily for they do not want to give up their privileges that easily. “Direct action does work and we need to keep on fighting.”

When questioned on the role and actions of NUS, Aaron describes his difficulties in dealing with a hostile reception from the UCL occupation. He claims to have been “treated with absolute contempt” when he genuinely wanted constructive discussion. He was, for example, only given two minutes to provide “on the spot” policy responses.

Sean Rillo Racza, ULU Vice President-elect, counters Porter’s claims. He argues that Porter lied to them. A notion that Porter rejects. Sean, who is a current member of the NEC, argued that he treated the UCL students with contempt based on the claim that Porter suggested that the NUS should not deal with those involved. “You can be an irrelevance and so will NUS if you don’t stand with us,” he said.

Massey warned of direct action being interpreted by the general public as “egotism” and “self-dramatisation.” He argues that those who illegally trespass, as many occupations have, should not complain when the law is enforced. He warns that if such “juvenile behavior” is the path that the student movement decides to take then it could “end up being ridiculed.”

Michael Chessum, UCL President, also fought back at Porter’s claims. “You were not there,” he said. And that was the reason for UCLU passing a motion of no confidence in the NUS leader. Chessum believe that what Millbank showed was that student activists can “actually make a difference.”

On the topic of making a genuine difference, Solomon and Porter, far from being at loggerheads, did come together in agreement on one key point at least: protest needs to be creative in order to engage and excite.

By Ben Parfitt

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