In the course of the last year many at Sussex had a taste of the wave of austerity that’s now washing indifferently across Europe. The threat of lost livelihoods, suffering colleagues, suppressed and transformed disciplines and all the rest bit here early, and roused up its share of fear and anger. At the same time, though, the abrupt and lordly manner with which the management conducted themselves initiated – somehow – an open battle, in which people were increasingly happy to choose sides, and speak directly. (It’s documented in a pamphlet published then, a worthy starting-point for enquiry.)
We will not forget the multiplication and deepening of that opening speech and the kind light it cast on our lives. One relic of that light, of that clearing which opened in the springtime, is left to us: a declaration of love to the occupiers of Arts A2 from an anonymous member of staff. But each who was there could testify if they wanted: in those days we worked endlessly and happily and found intimacy round every corner, not only amongst the usual malcontents. For a few days before Easter it seemed like management could at any point have lost control as a human community emerged.
So it seemed from time to time. In fact, only a small minority – perhaps at most a twelfth – of the 15000 students at the university had any active role at all in the events; and staff were always, astonishingly, split not only along the line active/inactive but also along the line sympathetic to/opposed to the cuts process.
That the movement failed bodes ill, perhaps. But we learnt much in those months about how to convince without haranguing, how to seek allies without coercion, how to refuse isolation and impotence.
Many of us knew we were fighting at the cutting edge of the austerity which would follow the recession. We wanted to give a fine example. From here on it won’t only be at Sussex that rage and sadness are confronted by managers, police and other manipulators, nor only in the universities. It’s true that ‘the true image of the past flashes by’; these documents may offer the raw material for friends and comrades to see in a flash what happened around us here, and draw succour from it as we will from them.
May the trembling of the coming period find recompense and more in such flashes.