Six radical and awesome things that happened in 2017
It has been a strange and surprising year. When we look back it’s easy to find ourselves stuck in a negative headspace. From Trump’s inauguration, to the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, to the rise of the populist right in European elections, it’s all pretty scary and can easily bring us down. But while it’s important not to lose sight of everything, we must also look back at the successes that activists had. We can’t give up fighting. We must remember that things can change and we can win.
So, here is a list of six radical and awesome things that activists did in 2017 to keep your fighting spirits up.
1. Resisted Donald Trump
Trump’s success in the U.S. election shocked us all; it felt like a horrendous nightmare. And on 20 January it really sank in. Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. In response to this we came out in our hundreds and thousands to protest every last aspect of the new president: the man himself, what he represents and stands for, and the presidential actions that he took.
Although Theresa May was quick to jump on a plane to visit the new president, hold his hand and offer him a state visit, we were loud and clear that Trump is not welcome here. Over and over we took to the streets to make ourselves heard and we succeeded in scaring him off. In June he told Theresa May that he would not come for the state visit if there were large scale protests against him.
But the fresh start that the New Year offers us also offers Trump new chances to visit the UK and it is expected that he will fly over for a non-state visit to open the new US embassy in the first half of the year. So, we must all be ready to take to the streets and make sure that he hears the overwhelming message: Trump is not welcome here.
2. Stopped a chartered flight
Chartered flights are being increasingly used by the government to deport people in the dead of night. This allows them to rip people from their community with the cover of darkness. A Freedom of information request revealed that in 2016 1,536 people were removed on chartered flights to Albania, Jamaica, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana. Usually each flight contains between 50 and 100 people and costs over £5,000 per person.
As they fly late at night such deportations receive no publicity and are difficult to protest against. But activists from different collectives began to monitor the small bits of information they could get their hands on and raise awareness.
And in March, for the first time ever, a chartered flight in its entirety was stopped from taking off. Activists came together in the early hours of the morning and locked themselves to the wheels of the plane that was due to take off and fly to Ghana and Nigeria.
3. Won a £1.5m pledge after rent striking
In 2016, two hundred students at UCL withheld their rent (ranging from £154-£276 per week) for over five months. One year later, after endless talks with management they agreed on a deal worth £1.5 million. This included the promise to freeze the lowest rents and the creation of bursaries to help less well-off students with their rent payments.
Rent strikes have been gathering strength over the last couple of years. They have got bolder, have won time and time again and are spreading across the country. 2018 promises to bring a fresh wave as students in Brighton recently announced that they would be striking after being ripped off by the university. The announcement was made days after it came out that their vice chancellor was given a hefty £230k as part of his resignation package while students were forced to pay extortionate prices for dangerous, squalid and rat infested housing.
4. Put a spanner in the general election
We were told over and over that ‘young people don’t vote’. We were told that because we didn’t vote it was our fault that we have zero hour contracts, crippling university debts, food banks and austerity measures.
But we proved people wrong. We mobilised and took to the streets to campaign, door knock and talk to every person that we could. We stood up against the anti-migration and pro-austerity narrative of Theresa May’s government. We showed that we want a better future and that we know this isn’t how it has to be.
5. Beat a multinational corporation and a university
For over ten years cleaners at SOAS had been fighting to have their outsourced contracts ended and for them to be directly employed by the university. As outsourced employees they didn’t get the benefits that SOAS guarantees for their workers. This meant: no sick pay, hardly any holiday pay and barely making minimum wage.
In 2008 they gained some concessions. However, in 2009 just weeks after their company recognised their union, a meeting was called on the premise of discussing shift patterns. Instead, the cleaners were faced with immigration officials in riot gear which ended with nine of them being bundled onto planes. But this simply spurred workers and students to carry on fighting and to escalate their actions
Finally, this year, after eleven years of struggling against a multinational and the university, they won and their contracts were brought in-house. And they have inspired others to do the same with cleaners at other universities following in their footsteps and striking for their rights.
6. Cut racist media’s funding
The internet age has given rise to weird and wonderful things; unfortunately it has also created a space in which entities such as the alt-right can flourish. Yet with media outlets now heavily reliant on advertisers as there is little to no money in print media, there is a unique opportunity where demanding advertisers boycott racist publications can really have an effect.
As part of their Undoing Borders campaign activists at People & Planet have been campaigning for universities to stop advertising on Breitbart. Breitbart News is the self-proclaimed voice of the alt-right, which became famous for its support of Trump during his rise to power and whose executive chairman was appointed chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Although the campaign only launched this year, eleven universities have already cut their advertising in Breitbart and in 2018 there will be a push for this to happen at all universities across the country. This is all part of a larger campaign against hatred in our media which recently saw Paperchase apologise for running a promotion with The Daily Mail.