The Soapbox: What’s Next for the Student Movement? A review of Demo 2012

It’s easy for Leeds students to feel disheartened in light of the recent protest, Demo 2012. Many have complained about the route, which dodged publicity friendly central London, and the weather on the day left much to be desired. But, we shouldn’t lose hope. While the demo didn’t deliver instant gratification, didn’t receive as much press coverage as desired, and perhaps didn’t set out clear aims from the outset, we shouldn’t feel defeated. It was only the first step in showing the government how we feel about the rapid and sweeping changes to our education. Now’s the time to build on the foundations lain out in November.

I spoke to students across Leeds University to find out what they thought of the Demo, what impact it had on them, and where they see the student movement and the fight for a fairer education system going from here.

The demo makes up only one part of a broader strategy on fees and cuts. At no point has our movement been able to attain instant change on demand.


Demo 2012 successfully highlighted that many people from all walks of life are extremely disappointed with the cuts and recent changes to education. They were there to set the foundations for future lobbying of politicians and decisions makers. Matt Wilkinson, President of the LUU IntEra Society,  believes that demonstrations “have a real impact on democracy” which he is right in saying; demonstrations are a key part of the democratic process. Though they are not always as instantly effective as we would like, they form part of a larger mov

To my disappointment, a lot of the students I spoke to had heard very little about Demo 2012. It was particularly disheartening to speak to students who felt passionately about the issues, but hadn’t heard about the demonstration until it was too late.ement. Matt went on to say that “even if nothing actually changes I feel it’s vital that people still go out and get their voices heard”.m Walsh, President of the LUU Film Making Society, rightly stated that “it is understandable to suggest demos on their own do not lead to change” and went on to say that he supports student demonstrations “simply because it is an important event in a wider movement.” So if we take the demo in isolation it is easy to see it as ineffectual. However, when we take a step back, it’s clear that this was just one piece of a huge puzzle.

A key barrier which prevents students from taking part in demonstrations is the damaging internal divisions on our campuses and within the wider movement. While it’s important that there’s room for many different ideas and voices, continually arguing amongst ourselves does nothing for the cause. Josh Edwards, another Leeds student, addressed this issue when I spoke to him: “I think some of the issues as to why people don’t get involved despite holding similar views are the unnecessary rhetoric involved at times. Placards and signs specifically attacking the supposed privileged upbringing of Tory politicians are less than useful.” We need to focus on what we’re really angry about and what we really want to see change; our focus needs to be on policy if we want to be taken seriously.

Something needs to be done to widen participation, especially when we know so many Leeds students care about the issues we’re fighting for. A lot was done by Leeds University Union to advertise the demo and make it as affordable and accessible as possible. Chris Turner, President of Photo Soc, like many others said he “heard about the demo through the union website” and cited “the cheap travel” as one of his motivations for going. However I think we can do more. In order to build momentum we must continually remind students that they not only have the right to feel angry with the changes affecting their lives, but also the right to speak up about them and have their voice heard.

Students protest in central London on 21 November 2012.But are demonstrations effective? There is certainly a diverse range of views from students across campus. Paris Thompson stated that “protest is an effective way of students raising issues and expressing their dissatisfaction” and Rory Ryan, President of Mech Eng Society, argued that “action like this…shows that students care”. While other students pointed out the downsides of student demonstrations. Catherine Poole, President of the History Society, said she wasn’t sure Demo 2012 was “going to do anything in terms of the government changing their direction”, a valid concern. Tom, the Captain of one of the men’s Hockey teams said he believed “demonstrations are a thing of the past and if a student voice wants to be heard other channels should be explored”. While I agree with Tom that we should explore as many channels as getting our voice heard, we shouldn’t abandon physical demonstrations just yet.

Bradley Escorcio, POLIS School rep, believed that while demonstrations don’t always have immediate effects on legislation, they can have effects of “increasing awareness, applying pressure on future decisions, and encouraging participation from a demographic with relatively low voter turnout.” While it’s a shame demonstrations like Demo 2012 are not more effective, they still play an important part in our democracy and can have significant positive effects.

Demo 2012 was by no means perfect. But the rise in tuition fees, mass youth unemployment, the scrapping of EMA and withering graduate career prospects are problems which we cannot simply ignore. The demonstration only formed one step in a wider movement to campaign for a better future for students. The criticism it has received can be used positively, but we need to have an on-going discussion with students about what changes they want to see and how we can achieve them collectively. We need to work together to achieve an education system that is fair for all; one where students feel that they are valued as partners in their education rather than seen simply as consumers, and where the future of our generation is valued just as much as any other.

I’d like to say a special thank you to all the Leeds Uni students who gave me their feedback on what they thought of Demo 2012 and the future of the student movement.

Alice Smart

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