The Student Assembly Against Austerity is a fearlessly optimistic group of students campaigning for change at a government level. We are the Canterbury student branch of a nationwide collective, the People's Assembly Against Austerity, who organised the 200,000 strong protest in London back in June.
There are increasing numbers of student assemblies being organised on campuses across the UK, and each one makes a valuable contribution. Find out if yours has one yet - and if it doesn’t, why not make one? Here’s a little information on why starting a society at your uni is a crucial part of the fight against austerity, and on some of the things that our society has planned for the upcoming year.
What does the SAAA believe in? That’s simple: we stand for student rights, and we believe that 'austerity', the cutting of welfare benefits to pay off debt as fast as possible and the privatisation of public services for private profits, leads to poverty, economic disaster and extreme wealth inequality. The evidence is all around us, but newspapers and the media - owned by those who benefit from austerity measures - generally keep a tight lid on the increasingly critical condition of our country.
What if I don’t have any experience? Our group has been founded by second year students with no official experience in politics, campaigning or organisations, and we only began back in July. That’s because you don't have to know everything about politics to join us; we simply acknowledge that there is a fundamental problem with the current government and that students are amongst the hardest hit by their ruthless policies. We transcend party alignments in order to mobilise students against the common cause. Furthermore, the SAAA is prepared to help you with organising your society at every step of the way. It may seem daunting, but advice and resources are provided for you.
What will starting/joining the society involve? Well...we also like to have fun whilst we do it. Joining or starting your society can involve almost anything, and the Student Assembly is open to any and all contributions! Each and every student who hadn’t heard of austerity until they saw your poster or were handed your flyer is a step forwards, so you should never feel that your actions or the number of people you can reach is too small.
Here’s what we’ve got in mind at the University of Kent this year…
Anything from the traditional actions of an activist, such as:
- going to national demonstrations
- participating in placard and banner making workshops
- attending talks given by experts and high-profile anti-austerity figures
- petitioning/leafleting on campus
- preparing visual stunts to raise awareness
- organising and participating in smaller, more local demonstrations and protests
- staying in to write articles
- going on group walks to the your local park, beach or elsewhere to discuss ideas
- helping to organise a jumble sale, poetry or open mic night to raise money for those hit by austerity (such as a homeless outreach group or a local food bank)
- gallavanting about town on an unrelated yet enjoyable social!
But why are you doing this? We'd like to explain exactly what we're up against. The UKCSAAA is currently working to stop the axing of the student maintenance grants, which effectively prevents poorer students from easily accessing higher education. Furthermore, recent government changes have removed workers' rights from non-EU students in the UK, a ruthless and inconsiderate move that directly affects many students at our university in Canterbury. And there's more: rent controls are lax, tuition fees could rise even higher, and student loan repayment conditions could change at any time. The Student Assembly has already successfully prevented the sell-off of student loans to private companies. We are here to try and do something about the rest of it.
To answer the question: I got involved at my university because nobody else was. I got involved because I realised that starting a society could be fantastically fun and rewarding; not only are you able to stand up for what you believe in, but you can make friends and gain a wealth of knowledge and experience at the same time. I can’t think of anything that sounds more worth my time than that. So if you’re thinking about it, then go for it. You’ll be doing something amazing - I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again - no matter how small.
"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept." - Angela Davis