As Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) are nearing their fourth month of occupation, it seems apt to look back on a previous milestone. Wednesday 19thJune marked a momentous occasion for the GARA as its 100thday of occupation in Deptford Town Hall. On 12thMarch they had first entered the building in order to protest the racist actions of the university – read their demands here. Goldsmiths is their focus but the movement points to a larger problem, that of institutional racism across the UK’s university system.
A hundred days have gone by with banners draped from the town hall windows. A hundred days have been filled by GARA with political workshops, religious celebrations, study sessions, and Pride film showings. These and many more events representative of the political views and collective joy of its occupying force. Turning a colonialist building, fitted with statues of slave traders, into an occupied safe space for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students.
Since the occupation began, the Senior Management Team (SMT) and the security’s treatment of GARA by refusal to meet to discuss demands as well as at times extreme physical action against the students involved, has only served to further demonstrate the racist nature of Goldsmiths. Wednesday was a day for GARA to celebrate their enduring resistance and refusal to step down over the past a hundred days. Whilst being the first BAME university occupation (perhaps in the world, most likely in UK history) and the longest standing occupation of a Goldsmiths building in recent years. What better way to mark this day than by taking to the streets?
The march moved firstly to Goldsmiths’ Richard Hoggart building where sentiments of pride where shared by GARA at the feat of endurance they have accomplished. Alongside which came speeches of gratitude. From lecturer Akanksha Mehta, professing her thanks and pride in the actions of GARA, she claims the group has inspired and ‘changed her life’, urging them to continue their fight against the racist institution that is Goldsmiths. Declaring her support, which Akanksha said was echoed by ‘some’other members of teaching staff. There was notable absence of staff attendants, particularly those from the politics department, who love to clamour against imperialism, colonialism and racism in their lectures but clearly do not wish to demonstrate any visible support against the racist campus they work for.
GARA are proud of their continued resilience, and the anger still resides. Every day of occupation marks another day in which SMT ignore their demands. Whilst GARA have finally managed to schedule and hold meetings with SMT from their own report have proved fruitless. From GARA’s own reporting of these meetings SMT appear unprepared and repeating vague language. SMT’s failure to deal with the situation with the urgency is deserves further highlights the racist nature of the campus. Whether this be explicit in its poor handling of complaints of discrimination. Or implicit in the willingness of Goldsmiths to take the money of international and BME students but not undertake the university’s duty of care.
It is not only the lecturers that are performative allies, the university is itself performative. Goldsmiths’ branding that is littered throughout New Cross shouts ‘BE AN INSTIGATOR’, cashing in on its activist status whilst dismissing the activists on its grounds. Demonstrated not only by the refusal to meet GARA’s demands but also the recent open letter from Goldsmiths’ Cleaners demonstrating that being brought in-house has not stopped the marginalisation of these workers.
GARA’s demands are many, and some have critiqued too vast. But this is not the case, as the decolonisation of an institution must insure anti-racist action happens at all levels, ensuring proper treatment of all BME staff, students, changes in syllabus, changes in management strategies. It also requires a change in the physical make-up of the campus, specifically Deptford Town Hall, as the buildings listed status is symbolic of the colonialism the institution wishes to preserve and its unwillingness to take steps to decolonise academia.
The protest was filled with justifiable rage, pride and solidarity, ending in a truly loving fashion, demonstrative of the caring nature of its activists, with a potluck! The energy of the protest exemplified that GARA are committed to continuing their occupation for as long as SMT fail to meet their demands. If you wish to support GARA and thank them for their continued act of resistance please help their cause by donating.
Words and Images, Billie Walker – @queen.feta