‘The university was worried’: Demilitarise Lancaster on the Charles Carter occupation

The group believe they have gained more awareness for their cause through the action

From the 13th to 17th February (Week 15 of term), Demilitarise Lancaster occupied the Charles Carter building on campus. They stated that their demands were threefold: “university management actively support the UCU demands, cuts ties with all arms companies, and agrees to not take disciplinary action against any of the occupiers.”

The university responded by intermittently cutting out electricity to the building, which lead to the group sharing a picture on social media of a pitch black stairwell and telling us, “we essentially can’t navigate between floors.”

We spoke to Demilitarise Lancaster two weeks on from the occupation to hear their thoughts on the action and what their plans are moving forwards.

‘The university were worried about what we were doing’

The group member we spoke to, who was inside the occupation, was optimistic about how it had gone, saying, “I think it was pretty successful. We’ve raised a lot of awareness and got a lot more support for the campaign. We’re pretty sure the university did face some concerns and were worried about what we’ve been doing, which was our aim. We wanted them to listen to us. So yeah, overall, pretty successful.”

We asked how much planning went into a week long occupation, to which they said: “It wasn’t a snap decision. We had planned it. We didn’t just go in on a whim. We had definitely planned. Yeah. [I mean, did you take food in, take supplies?] Yeah, we had food with us. And, obviously, sleeping equipment, and things like that. We had provisions with us.”

‘There’s been no attempt to talk’

The university still hasn’t engaged with them. When we asked, they said, “No, we’re still waiting. We have invited them to meet with us to talk to us. You know, we don’t take the actions that we’re doing lightly, we’d rather not be doing them either. But unfortunately, the university has been kind of ignoring us and not taking any steps to have a discussion. They didn’t even have a discussion with us when we were in the occupation, there was no vague communication, even if it wasn’t about our demands.

“You know, they continuously turned electricity off – and we thought the water off too, but apparently not, but with water there was bad water pressure and some taps and toilets weren’t working. But they were continuously reducing, or turning off utilities in the building without warning. There wasn’t attention, any attempt to talk to us and to warn us about that and make sure that we were okay.”

‘There is growing anger at the treatment of students and staff’

Lancaster is just one of many student occupations across the country to have has this taken place, with possibly the most notable being the ongoing rent strikes and occupations at the University of Manchester. To this, the Demilitarise Lancaster member said, “We’ve seen widespread student action that has been escalating over the years, it’s definitely not an immediate thing that’s just happened.

“But I think the fact that we’re seeing more and more students across the country taking part in actions against their university is showing the growing anger that students have both at their the treatment of students and staff, which we can see through the use of the strikes and rent strikes happening, but also with the university’s lack of moral and ethics.”

With the upcoming LUSU elections, we asked what the group would like to see in candidates’ manifestos, to which they responded any candidate that would actively support the demand for uni cutting ties with arms companies, making sure they aren’t at careers fairs or promoted within the careers service, getting research funding or being working with by the university, would certainly be a tick in their favour.

The student also said that “I’d like candidates to be vocal about supporting political action campaigning within student bodies, whatever the campaign is, as a start. I think that we often see in unions across the country, kind of very much bureaucratically focused unions that don’t really supporting grassroots student groups. So that’s something that I’d be interested in.”

Something that became apparent was that for the week of the occupation, it was all that anyone could talk about on campus. In terms of future plans, the group member said explained that they are growing in size, and are planning an open letter for staff and societies to sign, along with an student petition to the SU.

They’re very open to people joining them, and told us: “Contact us on all social media, on Twitter and Instagram, we’re @noarmslancs. Just get involved and help out in however you want”.

Featured image via Demilitarise Lancaster

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