I don’t remember the last time I walked through this university without being stopped by someone with an agenda. Protests, paintball, whatever the hell is the new thing to care about for some reason – someone has gotten in my way, and made my day just that little bit worse.
So here I am, walking down the main boulevard, when I see the impending signs of inconvenience from a hundred metres away. The Socialist Alternative banners, cleverly strewn beneath the Reid bridge to catch as many walkers as possible. Oh, they are cunning, planting themselves so strategically, so elegantly, beneath that banner-hanging bridge we all take for granted. I soften my pace, pull out my phone and pretend I am yet to see what’s on offer this time, but it’s too late.
Beardface has caught my gaze, albeit for a nanosecond, and now his directive is to get me involved. My heart compresses at the thought of having to play along with his trivialities, pretending he’s interested in what I’m doing, trying to make me feel like he could be a friend. The moment he greets me is the moment I know I’ve lost. I remove my headphones, trying to acknowledge him as a human, only to hear that familiar offer again:
“Protest higher education fees?”
A piece of me wants to join this ostracised renegade on a journey of glorious economic reform and restructuring, but, really, I just wanna kick him in the nuts. I’m just trying to walk from A to B, an activity I’d rather have bionic limbs do for me. In lieu of automated transport, I have to exert effort, and impeding my progress isn’t going to put you in my good books. I don’t want to ignore you, but if I engage in your pointless conversation, no matter how you spin it, I lose.
Do I want to protest higher education fees? I wouldn’t mind if I paid less (or nothing) to learn stuff in a formalised setting, but a Marxist revolution is something I’m just not willing to commit to right now. “Don’t you care about people with lower income struggling to-” Hey man, don’t twist my words here. Just because I don’t want to go to a protest doesn’t mean I think paying for education is bullshit, so don’t make me out to be the bad guy. I don’t want to protest, but I don’t want to be vilified for not protesting either.
It’s a catch 22 so inconvenient that Putin would grin maniacally at its perfection, but it’s just the tip of the guilt iceberg in the ocean of my thought patterns. Once I’ve said no to that thing you so endearingly put forth to me, I have to suffer through rejecting you. I have to watch as your eyes go from shimmering to shattering. I have to deal with that shift of tone in your voice, the one your mum used as a kid so as not to make a scene, but you knew she fucking despised you.
Then there’s the second guessing. “Oh, why didn’t I just say yes?” “Am I really so apathetic and heartless to reject protesting something I believe in so strongly?” “Is this impinging on my liberty?” What the hell, dude? I don’t need this shit while I’m freaking out over why the Hall voltage follows a logarithmic trend with increased magnetic field density but linearly changes with current. Now I have to start questioning my own integrity because you wanted me to join a protest I was ambivalent about?
I get it though, I really do. Uni students tend to be pretty easy going and avoid conflict where they can. If we get stopped, we’re not going to punch that person in the face, we’ll try and gently let them down. We might compromise or give in to avoid breaking this guy’s feelings, but it’s a useful tactic nonetheless. The thing that really gets me is the question of why Socialist Alternative are doing this.
People that stop you charities or paint-ball are trying to get you to cough up some cash, but what’s the Socialist Alternative’s game here? Raise more awareness that capitalism isn’t the best economic system we could have? Well, no shit guys, pretty sure we’ve established that, but why don’t you start trying enact what your name’s all about for a change? Stop protesting corollaries of the system and start targeting the root.
Hell, we haven’t even gotten into the guild elections yet, and I’m already riled up over getting stopped. It just feels like no matter what I do, there’s no way that this practice is ever going away. We’re easy targets, us uni students, so young and bipedal, we’re like walking people. Still, until you offer me something I think justifies stopping me, I’ll keep shooting you down and feeling the guilt of crushing your hopes. At least that way I don’t feel guilty about not staying true to myself. I’m also not late to my lectures, which is important too… I guess.
Words by Nick Ballantyne