At 5pm on the 23 December, in a move later seen in approximately 45 universities nationwide and coinciding with the ‘National Day of Action’, Royal Holloway students protested the government’s public spending cuts by going into occupation in Founder’s building’s Victorian corridor. The location was chosen for its ‘symbolic’ significance and the fact it would not impede any places of learning, such as lecture theatres and libraries, as have been chosen at other universities such as Oxford, where protestors were forcibly evicted from the university’s Bodleian Library by police on the evening of the 25th.
This was in addition to a contingent of approximately 60 people who carried out a march, in solidarity with similar actions – including walk outs – all over the country. The march took place between the Windsor Building and the Students’ Union building, consisting of Anti Cuts Alliance members, SU delegates (including Sabb officers) and other sympathisers.
During the occupation an average of approximately 40 students, and occasionally staff, were in residence, though this fluctuated between as low as six during lecture periods and the campus march and as high as 70 in the evenings.
The sit-in was organised by the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance. It lasted exactly 48 hours before the occupiers left on their own terms, having commenced an open dialogue with the university management. This included the issuing of a list of demands on the commencement of the occupation as well as a direct conversation with the Principal Paul Layzell and Vice-Principle Geoff Ward and receiving an official response. The occupation reached its conclusion in a reply which included an invitation to the university’s management to attend a public meeting on the afternoon of Wednesday December 8th, all of which can be read on the Anti-Cuts blog (http://rhacc.wordpress.com/).
The occupation included talks from RH Catholic Chaplain Father Vlad, spokespeople from Save Our Services in Surrey, poetry readings, folk music and constant open discussions. A large portion of the occupation was streamed live on the internet, from a webcam perched on a marble bust’s head, which at points was being viewed by as many as 80 people across the world.
Messages of solidarity were frequently received from locales as far flung as Tel Aviv and Italy, as well as countless other universities, unions, RH alumni and other organisations.
Banners attached to the exterior of the Grade I listed building were removed by campus security, who cited no reason beyond the fact that Founder’s ‘is a Grade I listed building’, to which permanent alterations and developments must undergo strict planning procedures.
Noisy debates broke out as the RHUL Chapel Choir, whose private ‘Song Room’ resides at the end of the corridor, was allegedly ‘broken into’, and their traditional post-St. Cecilia Day concert celebrations were accused of being hampered by the presence of at least 50 protestors. One of the choristers, who were in black tie and carrying complimentary wine, angrily accused a protestor of labelling him as ‘bourgeois’.
Sit-ins have long been an accepted and effective form of peaceful protest since Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful protests against British imperialism.