By Charlie Crabb

Last week, after 137 long, arduous days of occupation, the student-led political organisation ‘Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action’ (GARA) ended its occupation of Deptford Town Hall in New Cross, South London. The occupation originated from a protest addressing a racist incident involving a candidate for the Student Union elections but rapidly gained momentum and began to challenge the very structures of institutional racism at the university. Their action aimed to create mass disruption to the institution in order to bring to public attention the harsh reality of daily life for many at Goldsmiths, a university which hides behind the façade of its branding as a space of radical inclusivity and progressiveness. GARA dealt with a range of related issues during the occupation, from representation in academia to heading a successful campaign for security staff, who are mainly migrant workers, to be brought ‘back in house’ and given fair pay and stable contracts. The latter action clearly built on the momentum from the victorious ‘Justice for Cleaners’ campaigns that have successfully ended precarious, outsourced and zero-hour contracts for hundreds of workers across universities and colleges around the country. 

The anti-racist occupation gained attention in the national press and they received public displays of solidarity from local Labour MP, Vicky Foxcroft; former Mayor of Sheffield and Green MEP, Magid Magid and the influential American academic, activist and former Black Panther, Angela Davis. They also built networks of solidarity with other political organisations around the world, including a sustained collaboration with campaigners and activists protesting the growth of campus militarism at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Through their occupation, activists reclaimed one of the most important and symbolic buildings of the university, Deptford Town Hall. This building has long been an uneasy reminder of Goldsmiths’ colonial past and of the prevailing strength of racist, colonial ideology in our modern institutions; there is literally a model of a slave ship on top of the building! But this wasn’t just about symbolism, they utilised the occupied space for community projects including educational workshops, dance classes, study and prayer spaces, communal meals and much more. It became a place of joy as well as resistance. The university was reclaimed by those that it truly belongs to: the students and workers -something which is often forgotten in the current age of the commodification of higher education. 

In the final week of the occupation, the senior management of the university decided to threaten the students with eviction and legal action, despite written promises that they would protect the physical and mental wellbeing of their students for the duration of the action. Despite the threats, the occupiers stood their ground, went back into negotiations and last week, after a gruelling 10-hour meeting, the management agreed to their demands and dropped all legal cases against the activists. We should all applaud these young militants who proved that with determination, hard work and discipline it is possible to challenge institutional racism and win meaningful concessions. This occupation also showed the power of solidarity; it was the bonds formed between the students and the staff and with other activists around the world that enabled this victory. This is what the future of Left politics looks like and it’s a hopeful sight. 

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