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The Big Interview: Student protester Hugo Redwood
The occupation at the University of Sussex has hit the headlines over the past fortnight. The students have amassed huge support as well as the backing of a number of well known faces such as Noam Chomsky, director Ken Loach and comedian Frankie Boyle. As they enter their 16th day inside the university’s Bramber Building, student protester Hugo Redwood spoke to reporter Ben James about where to go from here
The Argus (TA): Why is this issue so important to you? Why should other people be bothered?
Hugo Redwood (HR): The issues we are facing here, we are also facing across wider society: Privatisation, the lack of transparency and loss of community.
These are big topics but it is impossible to tackle them head on.
With previous unsuccessful occupy movements, we have seen a lot of anti-capitalist rhetoric and talk of huge change across society.
With this we have a grassroots problem which we feel we can change.
This is our university and we need to make sure it remains that way. Hopefully this will send a message to wider society.
This is still in our hands and that is why we will continue.
TA: How can you realistically see this protest ending?
HR: This will end with a move from the university. They will either meet our demands or take legal action and evict us.
Obviously I would like to think that they will meet all our demands. I think that is perfectly realistic and reasonable.
Now that we pay even more in fees the university should have more control over these issues.
Personally I will only be content if all our demands are met.
But I can’t say how it will end. We have seen other occupy movements fail but also others succeed.
What I do know is that we have an immense amount of support from both on and off campus.
The ball is now in the university’s court.
It is unlikely that this will end by our campaign fizzling out.
The next move will be the university’s.
TA: How have you managed to attract so many well known supporters and what do they add to the campaign?
HR: It’s really down to the hard work of a few of our computer experts. They know the email addresses to send messages to and the support has not stopped coming in.
I think their support is extremely important.
It shows that this isn’t just about some jumped up students with warped perceptions of how things work.
We have received support from well known faces as well as academics who are regarded as experts in their field.
They are all well respected in wider society and have a different reach to us.
TA: How far are you willing to take this? Are you concerned about the impact on your studies and post university life?
HR: Obviously there is a risk and some people are worried about being pictured or filmed. But we all feel very strongly about this.
The university could launch legal action but we are prepared to face that.
I have a 2,000 word essay due next week and I really should be dedicating my time to that. But this is important to me so I’m fitting it in around the occupation.
What’s really nice about this action is the wide range of support.
We have seen all kinds of people involved, many who have never really been involved in this sort of thing before. I think that shows the strength of feeling.
TA: The most visible banner at one of your rallies belonged to a communist group. Are the more radical groups hijacking and damaging this campaign?
HR: In terms of that banner, I know the people who made it and they are close friends of mine.
The image of those guys is of super punks and radical Stalinists. But they aren’t demanding a Soviet state university, they just want to see a democratic decision making process.
Hopefully it will dispell some pre-conceptions people have against them. They are perfectly sensible people going about making themselves heard in a sensible manner.
You can’t tell people to not bring banners, it’s freedom of expression.
On the back is a phrase in Latin which translates as all things communal or something like that.
If we stick together we are far stronger.
TA: There has been a lot of talk about this ‘Sussex Spirit’. Is there anything in that and where does it come from?
HR: It’s hard to say, but I think there are a number of reasons.
In the sixties the university had a bit of a hippy image and was known as Cambridge by the sea. If you were alternative the university was where you would go. As a result there was a strong culture of activism.
I also think that the fact we are largely based on one campus has an effect. We live together and have a close relationships with staff and lecturers. There is that feeling of being one.
I think the layout also lends itself to togetherness. The library square has for a long time acted as a meeting place for marches and demonstrations. Everyone passes through it and if there is something you want to make happen, you can.
Finally, I think the structure of the courses has an effect. Many are vocational and there is the opportunity to try different subjects and visit different departments.
For example, I study anthropology but can do a module in art, economics or history.
TA: There are plenty of more important issues that need addressing in society. Why are you bothering with this? The university have said that no jobs are at risk, would your time and effort not be better spent elsewhere?
HR: First of all I don’t think all the jobs will be safe. They may well all be transferred but new contracts will be drawn up, some of them short term. This will give the new contractors greater flexibility to fire them. They will certainly lose their job security.
Secondly, I could spend all my time fighting against the wrongs of the world and get nowhere. Or I could find a grassroots issue such as this which also affects people in wider society.
There are so many important issues encapsulated in this. There’s everything from privatisation of education, to the lack of transparency in organisations and the reduction in community values.
I don’t think I can change society but I can make a difference here. That’s why I’m committed to this and that’s why I’ll continue.
TA: The University has played down the support you claim to have. If the 235 are behind your action, why aren’t they up in the conference room with you?
HR: They care very much about what is happening, but they are realistic. They have families and mortgages and are worried about the future. They can’t spend all their time protesting because they need to work to pay the bills and feed their families So to a degree they are restrained in that way.
I think to an extent they also feel intimidated by the university. But Thursday’s protest was a clear sign that they are fully behind this. We had a good number of them out with us on the rally.
They have said that they thought this was a done deal and that all avenues had been explored.
They have seen that this isn’t the case and that’s why we will continue to fight for them.
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