Vanbrugh protests give hope to all

College commotion draws a tear to the eye of Heidi Blake

If you passed along the Vanbrugh Walkway on Friday afternoon, you will have noticed something of a commotion. Chanting and carousing in the drizzling rain was a motley crowd of discontented residents, in various states of undress, making colourful protest against the imminent conversion of their laundry facility into yet more office space.

There was a genuine air of camaraderie among the protesters. People danced under the gun-metal sky as crackling loudspeakers blared such crowd-rousing anthems as ‘Children of the Revolution’, amidst shouts of “we want a laundry, not another office!” and “help us, we want to be clean!” A large banner read “Business First, Conference Park Second, Students Third”. Protesters wore white boiler suits, emblazoned with slogans; one, who turned up in skimpy underpants, touted a sign that read ‘I will not change my boxers until Vanbrugh reopens our laundry”. A small brown pantomime horse even bobbed in the fray.

JCRC Chair Mickey Masefield’s impassioned address on the subjugation of student needs to corporate greed met with wild cheers and applause. In the fever of excitement that followed, one diffident, bespectacled chap, presumably on his way to Computer Science, looked horrified when a semi-naked war-paint wearing youth clasped his arm, got down on one knee and begged “please sir – you have to help us save our laundry!”

Standing in the midst of the throng, one felt validated as a political being. The infectious thrill of activism abounded – if I’d closed my eyes I might have been at Greenham Common in the seventies, or marching on London against the war. But within an hour, the crowds had dispersed; the music had stopped, the banners were gone and nothing but a few trampled fliers gave evidence to the afternoon’s events.

The Provost of Vanbrugh, presumably in a state of panic at the uncouth behaviour of his vulgarian subjects, had intervened, overruled the Facilities Manager, and assured residents that their laundry would be kept open until the end of February, when another review would take place. Naturally, he insisted that this volte-face had nothing remotely to do with the afternoon’s protest.

But take heed – malcontents unite! In the consumer-driven corporate frenzy that is the twenty-first century, where even institutions of learning bow to mammon and place the demands of enterprise above those of education, it is possible to make your voice heard. So much for student apathy. Turn up in boxers, holler and scream, revel and carouse – in short, do whatever is necessary to hold your institution to account. If nothing else, what Friday’s events irrefutably prove is that it is worth kicking up a fuss to ensure that justice is done.

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