On Sunday 2nd March around 400 student protesters were arrested after strapping themselves to the White House fence in protest against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that, if passed by Barack Obama, would run from Canada to Texas. The marchers chanted ‘’climate justice now’’ and, whilst determined to have their voices heard, were perfectly peaceful and non-antagonistic towards police. In total about 1000 students from across the States attended the protest which began at Georgetown University and lasted for about two hours. Student environmental activism may not be dead and thankfully some students still believe in the value of raising their voices about issues they care about. However, it’s certainly a far cry from the protests of 1968 when student voices were one among many groups angry with capitalist, bureaucratic elites, fought for change and, critically, were willing to stand up and shout about it.
Since 1968 our knowledge and understanding of climate issues and environmental issues more broadly has developed exponentially. Why then have the face to face protests diminished? We are faced with a status quo that has remained in place for years, perhaps since 1968, led by the same small, self-centred, capitalist elite. Where is the constant shouting in Students’ Unions and outside Senate Houses throughout the world? My time at Bristol University has been inspiring in some regards environmentally and certainly the work I do with the University Conservation Group fulfils my activist demand to get out there and make some practical positive difference, if in a small way on particular reserves in the west of England. However, the more I read and understand the issues more deeply, the more I realise that this is not just a fight whereby we can make change on the ground itself, it is as much (if not more so) a battle for hearts and minds. The lack of student protest at Bristol and disengagement of students, not just in environmental politics or student politics for that matter but in making the collective student voice heard in wider society, has come to seriously concern and shock me. Have students become so downtrodden and forced into holes of debt, through an unfair and socially destructive student loans system, that they feel it necessary to keep under the covers unless their ‘radical personal history’ may affect their chances of getting a ‘decent job’?
Students should at least try to not let the establishment, a generation that has caused the environmental and social problems we face in the first place, to get away with maintaining a status quo that acts only in the interests of the very few. This is one of the key roles of the younger generation – to rebel against the previous generation. There’s something wrong with them if they don’t. Students have a strong collective voice and, as the numbers of students increase every year, this is only getting stronger. They should use this collective voice to make their voices heard. If we remember nothing else on the day Tony Benn passed away then we should remember that the powers that be are not in charge of us, we are in charge of them and students are one of the bodies in society that should be shouting this message the loudest.