Despite mass protest all across the country, last Thursday the Parliament has approved the rise in tuition fees and the cuts on university funding. Despite the mobilization of thousands of students, workers and citizens, 28 Lib-Dems MPs have contributed to approving a bill they had no mandate to vote for. In Westminster Square, the police kettled and charged thousands of protesters for hours, some even till 11 pm. A young protester, Alfie Meadows, was severely injured and risked his life.
A sense of anger, if not disheartenment, arises naturally under these circumstances. Nevertheless, the movement was not defeated – actually, it won on several different points. First, the vote was much closer than it should have been. The parliamentary majority shrunk from 84 to 21 MPs – a very thin edge. This would have never happened without mass protest in the previous month. The most important, education has become a central issue in the public agenda. The ideas that cuts in education and a rise in tuition fees are inevitable and have to be accepted passively have been effectively challenged. Of course, one can still argue in favor of a rise in tuition fees. Differently from when the Browne report was issued a couple of months ago, however, one can no longer stifle the discussion by saying that this is necessarily how things must go. There has been too much opposition to these measures, and too many good points against them have been raised, to maintain the credibility of such a biased, surreptitious, ideological view.
As has been noted, the parliamentary battle is still not over. We can still ask those MPs who are more sensitive to our cause to present amendments in the next months. This, however, is not the main way out of this situation. We have to be aware that the fee rise has been possible because it is consistent with a greedy, individualistic, merciless view of society, for which education is considered a commodity rather than a right. This neoliberal “narrative” has brutalized Western societies in the last 30 years, bringing about increasing social inequality and undermining the fabric of society itself. We will not go anywhere if we do not challenge this narrative.
To do this, we have to keep asserting our presence, and our dissent, in the public space. We have to keep demonstrating and saying that this is happening “not in our name”. The march called in London on 20 December Is a good starting point.
The most important, we have to undermine the neoliberal narrative as such. To do this, we need to carry on our battle in the cultural field. We have to turn our anger and dissatisfaction in cultural forms – songs, videos, tales, writings, whatever can be disseminated among the general public – that give vent to and symbolize our dissent. Most of us are young, creative and are very familiar with the new media – we have to use these youthful skills in a revolutionary way. We have to be at the same time radical and trendy – this would help massively to gather consensus among other groups of society, and win our struggle.
In the cultural field, we have a huge advantage on our opponents. We have the skills to produce catchy cultural items and to spread them as widely as possible. We have the Internet, something that the previous generations of protesters did not have. As we have seen, Internet can help organize protest. It can also help massively to get our message through. Potentially, whatever we publish in the Internet is accessible to anyone, anywhere - without any need for formal politics or organizations. The web can help to build an alternative narrative in a spontaneous way, from the grassroots. We have to be original, catchy, subversive, and use this unvaluable resource in the most appealing way as possible to overcome the neoliberal discourse.
We need an alternative narrative. We can build it, both individually and collectively, and win our struggle – our struggle for cultural hegemony!
"One must speak for a struggle for a new culture, that is, for a new moral life that cannot but be intimately connected to a new intuition of life, until it becomes a new way of feeling and seeing reality"
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from cultural writings (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1985), p. 98