Occupation as a protest tactic originated in the workers movements of Europe and America at the turn of the 20th century. A wave of factory occupations spread across Paris’ metal industry in 1936 followed just a few months later by the occupation of GM’s factories in Flint, Michigan. Used in the radical student movements of ’68 and the worldwide workers’ strike and actions of ’75-77, right up to the present day in the momentous scenes of Tahrir, Puerta del Sol and Wall Street, occupations have played a central role in social justice movements across history, and most recently have been uas people fight against a neo-liberal tirade that sees no abaiting. Occupations transform sites and sources of oppression and empowerment for ruling classes, capitalists, and managerial figures into spaces of resistance, enclaves of friendship and solidarity, and sources of power for the oppressed. The Bramber House occupation in it’s 8th week now, continues this spirit and tradition of protest.
What then does this tactic achieve?
The most direct effect that the occupation of the Bramber House conference centre has is the financial toll it takes on the university management. It is a disruption of the one of the most lucrative non-academic services that the university provides, costing them thousands of pounds every day (this is exacerbated by management’s heavy-handed use of private security). By shutting off this source of profit, we are communicating with management in the only language that they understand. Transforming this space into an arena for organization and resistance, for music, knowledge and art – is to make a political statement: this campus is a site for education not profit.
The conference centre is partially maintained by student tuition fees, and yet the vast majority of Sussex students will never get to set foot in it. The occupation has allowed us to reappropriate its seminar rooms, lecture halls and kitchens for the benefit of students and staff on campus. In the seven weeks of occupation, the conference centre has hosted talks on privatization, neoliberalism and the Ngender series of seminars, as well as film screenings and music nights. In this way the occupation has created a sense of community and social space within the conference centre.
The occupation holds daily open organizational meetings, using the method of direct democracy to make decisions regarding the anti-privatisation campaign. This is in stark contrast to the undemocratic structures of the university itself.
It has proven to be an excellent place to plan the anti-privatisation campaign from. Occupiers have been able to dedicate weeks to building the campaign, which has grown exponentially due to a permanent organizational base. This is mainly due to the prominence of the conference centre on campus; hanging banners and chanting on the balcony has proved to be an incredibly effective way of getting the word out about the privatization and getting resistance on campus to the plans.
The occupation is NOT an end in itself. It does not supersede the interests of the anti-privatisation campaign and the 235. However it represents a vital part of this campaign, the growth of which was immeasurably aided by the space that Bramber provides for ideas in the movement to concretise and spread. This conference centre serves as gaping hole in management’s pocket, a home for hundreds of students on campus, a site of solidarity where staff feel they belong and have an equal say, a banging kitchen, an overflowing lecture hall, a space for art and creativity and general assemblies with an infinitely larger mandate than any managerial board can begin to lay claim to. If this space has run its course, it will be because management once again have shown the essence of what they stand for; profit and what they stand against; the free flow of knowledge, decisions and opinion. If bailiffs and riot police are to displace the occupiers, it is not because the occupation is weak, it is because it has come to represent a large and strong movement. A movement VCEG know isn’t about to wither away. The campaign is not going anywhere. The unions aren’t going anywhere. Students and workers’ anger at these plans isn’t going anywhere. And so long as this space acts as a beacon for democracy and solidarity on this campus, the yellow flag that stands atop Bramber is not going anywhere. Term starts Wednesday, look out for us – we’re everywhere.