International peace and justice, standing up to racism, demanding liberation and fighting austerity. Now that’s a sentence that grabs my attention. These were the topics of the Progressive Students Forum, and this is why we went.
Organiser Fiona Edwards invited me to this event (on October 10th) before I had even started university as I met her at the Student Bloc of the London protest which brought 250,000 supporters earlier this year. I was lucky enough to find someone who was not only willing to go with me, but was just as enthusiastic as I was. I could hardly believe I found a fellow Green Party member in Courteney, and I was so lucky she was free to come help hold my hand as we (eventually) found our way around central London to arrive at the forum.
It was smaller than we expected, cosy would be the way I would describe it. Not that it mattered, it just meant that we could sit closer to the front and feel even keener than we already were. After all, Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, was due to speak any minute!
She was inspiring, as expected. All of the speakers were, it was overall an incredibly inspiring day.
You could tell Natalie Bennett had done this speech many times over, and was simply relieved that finally so many people were agreeing with her, including the Labour Party. It just seems a shame that it takes a high profile male politician to speak to make these issues a real concern to parliament…
The theme of the day was saying no to trident, beating austerity by actually helping our citizens, beating climate change, standing up to the Tories’ cuts as a united front, helping refugees, ending war and investing in our students and the education system. Everything that I agree with whole heartedly!
So much was said during the course of the day, so many ideas being brainstormed and bounced off each other productively that I won’t bore you with the details of them all – you can read the Student Broad Left detailed version here! What I will say is that everyone was in agreement about becoming a united front against the Tories. The message of the day seemed to be that together, we cannot fail – and I thought that was beautiful.
We heard from people from all walks of life, who have had such different experiences and faced many different prejudices, but they never let it get them down, and they were determined to help anyone who had ever faced anything like they had, and even help those who hadn’t. After every speech, the Chair would bring back this idea of being a united front, and seeing the enthusiastic head nods from all of the speakers just reinforced the fact that this is only way we are going to make a change in our backwards country. As Richard Burgon ( Labour Shadow Treasury Minister) reinstated throughout his speech: ‘We are the 99%!’
It was nice to hear Labour accept their failures and learn from them, as well as being told about Corbyn’s support for students. Apart from that, Courteney and I switched off a little as it seemed all he was doing was promoting Labour, and personally I need to see some actual change before I can trust them again – but Corbyn is definitely on the right lines of thinking, and I guess that’s better than nothing.
For me, the highlight of the day was meeting Natalie Bennett, and just hearing a range of perspectives from people from all over the world. For the first time in my life, I felt listened to and understand by adults, as students are often incredibly under-minded, especially in politics.
Courteney agreed, saying:
‘I definitely enjoyed the day! Everything that was said was very thought provoking and it was an amazing experience to meet people from so many backgrounds. Obviously as a politics student and enthusiast I would have to say my favourite speaker was Natalie Bennett, but I think Shakira Martin (NUS Vice President) was definitely up there with her! Natalie Bennett made some very interesting and good points, many of which I was able to relate to but Shakira’s speech was so heartfelt and although I personally couldn’t relate to her stories, I found it incredibly easy to empathise with her. I would definitely attend more of these events, especially as I was able to meet so many likeminded people and realise that it is possible for change to occur.’
I was also lucky enough to talk to Fiona Edwards who organised the event. Even though she was obviously exhausted she looked so happy and so relieved to pull off such an inspiring event.
Transcript of the interview:
Megan Flaherty: What made you guys think of organising such a forum?
Fiona Edwards: Well, we’ve done this for many years! We organised the progressive students forum because we want to bring together all students that want to campaign for students, for a progressive student movement that fight on key issues. We want an international perspective because our government is bombing countries, we want to combat climate change – so we want to find solutions for that. We also campaign on the issues of opposing the governments cuts and any attacks on students.
MF: Amazing! So what do you hope the outcome of this year’s forum is going to be?
FE: Hopefully a lot of people that came will feel inspired, will have learnt new ideas and met interesting people and will be inspired to take action in their communities and on their campuses.
MF: And what events have you guys got planned for the future?
FE: The students assembly against austerity is involved in the national demonstration for free education on the 4th of November, and we have a national student convention which is happening on the 21st of November in London as well.
MF: Cool! So what what do you think the future holds for the Students Assembly? You spoke a lot about membership increasing which is great, but what else do you hope for the future?
FE: I hope that we can unite student movements to fight for free education, oppose cuts and I mean, ultimately we wanna win, we wanna end the tuition fees and all the attacks we’ve been facing.
MF: Awesome, and overall how do you think today went as an organiser, as we really enjoyed it but as an organiser we want to know how it went for you!
FE: I’m really really happy with how it went! As an individual I’ve organised 3 nation student action events in 6 days so I’m quite tired!
MF: Wow, yeah I’m sure!
FE: But this was fantastic as it brought together all really inspiring speakers, all whom I agree with, and it’s helped to build alliances and students from over 25 campuses came today so we’ve really spread the message wide today!
I would whole hearted recommend going to any of the Student Assembly’s events, even if you don’t fully agree with the politics it’s a safe place to discuss your opinions, listen to inspiring speakers and feel listened to yourself. Just look out for them online or on Facebook or click on the links below.