An obituary to student democracy at Durham
It would be appropriate to begin with a brief obituary. “After a long and debilitating illness we say farewell to our much loved friend Durham Democracy.
Mr D. Democracy was much loved in name but known personally by few. Nevertheless, he will be sorely missed by those who knew him in his younger, vibrant years when he strode proudly through the streets of Durham. A small family ceremony will take place. Mr Democracy is survived by twin daughters, Protest and Participation.”
And here is where the problem arises. Whimsical obituaries may be the literary play-thing of idealess comment writers, but accuracy is important. Did he snuff it after the pitiful protest against tuition fee rises? Did he kick the bucket during the DSU Presidential election backlash? Or maybe there was no final hurrah, not even a “kiss me Hardy,” only a cough, a splutter and a final ignominious twitch. Whatever your dramatic inclinations may be, there is much evidence to say that this academic year finally saw the death of democracy across the student body. But wipe your eyes and let the hearse driver read his newspaper a little longer because all is not what it seems.
Firstly, the cause of death. The coroner’s report makes it clear that apathy was the cause of death. Not exactly a far fetched analysis. The symptoms were prevalent around the anti-tuition fee rise demonstration, a muted affair with barely a hundred Durham University students present. To cap things off the atmospheric music blasting out was not “The Internationale” or even the more neutral “Flight of the Valkyries,” but a selection of lounge music for the students to wave their banners in time to. Apathy is an affliction that we all suffer from, but it was a welcome paradox that the drunken creature who struggled to get out of bed in the morning would willingly brave the cold to rant about the evils of Thatcher or the Vietnam War. Not anymore.
Secondly, the time of death. A plausible estimation would be last February’s controversial DSU elections. Not only did they suffer from low turnout, (only a quarter of students voted in the DSU presidential election), but allegations were made that the President elect mobilised more electoral funds along with several underhand tactics. A typically restrained motion of censure was passed by the DSU in March but the damage was already done.
But now it’s time, not for Holmes and Watson to enter, but Perspective and Realism to take centre stage. As unsavoury as many may find the DSU they are simply victims of the same scam. Democracy is alive. It’s elementary my dear Realism, the solution to this death has been staring us in the face the whole time: democracy never died.
Sure there have been instances that would make anyone wonder if political activism has gone out of fashion but, simply put, democracy has a new identity. The classic fake nose and glasses have been swapped for Facebook and Google. Students no longer have to get their hands dirty with placards and banners when you can mobilise ten times as many dissenting voices with a click and clatter of keys. Just like the twitter-ites continued the fight against undemocratic super-injunctions, the student activists of the future will hone their skills on social networking sites.
Look at the online campaign against 38 week lets. The Facebook lobby group is not held back by the political sensitivity required of DSU figureheads. Instead, the group can vent the wrath of the student body without restriction.
Even if there is no street demonstration, the mobilisation and organisation of so many voices is equally impressive. It would be an exaggeration to claim that the University’s tactical retreat over 38 week lets was completely down to the online campaign, but it is a sign of things to come.
I started this article with a rather gloomy obituary reporting the death of a valuable friend to us all. I would like to end it with another feature of older newspapers. “Today was born a healthy baby girl to the parents Participation and Future, residents of Durham. They named her in honour of the mother’s beloved but recently deceased father, Democracy.”