protest and despair

Students all over Germany are on strike. This is breaking news. But have you heard about it?

If you live in the United States, I wouldn’t expect you to have heard a peep, considering the priority (even remotely subversive) world news gets on Rupert Murdoch’s watch. But if you live in Germany you must have heard about it. Right? Right?!

Oh. You didn’t? I’m sorry. I guess it’s not getting a whole lot of front-page press. But there are 1,985,765 students in the country (stat from 2005). That’s a lot of people. If every one of those million people told a couple of people, then more than half of the country would have already heard about the protests and the squatted lecture halls. That many people on the streets, and who knows what could happen. That many people on the streets, and I might start believing in the effectiveness of demonstrations again.

But, as usual, students remain one of the most apathetic groups of human beings on the planet. In Mainz there were two or three thousand on the streets for Tuesday’s demonstration. In the occupied/squatted lecture hall I’ve seen a regular 50-100 (a raised glass to you, the persistent!). A lot of people consider this to be “good turnout.” Considering the fact that over 30,000 people study here, I’d be more inclined to call it tragic.

Every student here is directly affected by the changes (and the bits long broken) being protested. Not to mention their parents, all parents of future students, employers, etc etc. Tuition fees are going up. The German “diplom” degree program has been swapped for the almighty Bachelor’s in an effort to make transferring between schools in EU countries a snap.

What this means is that German students are spending more time in general requirement classes. They have less time to delve deeply into the subject of their choice. Some students have to work more (and therefore study less) to pay for tuition. Students without money-ied parents to support them might not be able to study at all. Every student I’ve asked about it has complained. Every student I haven’t asked about it has complained. Then again, students are excessively talented at substituting complaints for action, a talent that extends from the papers they aren’t writing to the protests they aren’t attending.

I should know. I spent four years studenting my life away. In exchange for those four years, a fucking lot of money, and most of my sanity, I got a little piece of paper that is gathering dust in a box in upstate New York. I have never had to show this piece of paper to anyone, but its mere mention is said to open doors (into office buildings, that is). At the time I didn’t question any of it. If time and circumstance were changed, I doubt that I would be living in the squatted lecture hall, or attending the protests. I doubt I would have had the time, or particularly cared. At the time, I really liked school. Hahahahaha. Now I am a bitter, critical old hag. But my eyes are open.

At the same time I am glad that somebody is doing something. And I honestly hope that something positive comes of it. So here here for you, protester students! Boo HISS for you, apathetic passersby!

Me personally? I’m just cynical and bitter. The police know all about protest tactics. The government knows all about protest tactics. Protests have become well choreographed performances where everyone is allowed to vent a little anger, the police are allowed to beat the shit out of people, and the status quo is allowed to march on. We have been doing the same shit for years, and I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but we haven’t won yet. Actually, we seem to be losing more every day, on every front.

I can’t imagine that the German education minister will feel the need to take the protesters seriously. So fifty, a hundred, two thousand people want to change the education system? Well, as it seems that the other 27,950 students are fine with the status quo let’s just take a few press shots for posterity and get it over with. Democracy, remember, is an agreement to always let the biggest bully (read: majority) win, without any sort of consolation for those who thought otherwise. Compromise? Ha! Consensus?? Oh dear, you are living in a dream world aren’t you? Poor sweet gorilla.

But don’t despair. And don’t you dare drop out. That will ruin you for the employment market. Of course, you can use this room for now. We didn’t really need it anyway. Besides, all your banners and your workshops will give people the impression that things are happening, and eventually you’ll get tired of sleeping on a hardwood floor and go home. Oh, but a word of caution: if you try to do anything that could really stir things up, we’ll call some people with armor and guns and tear gas to fuck you up. So ta-ta now, enjoy this afternoon’s workshop on nonviolent protest.

I do not say this to discourage those fighting to change things, this time, any time. I say this because I’m mad at the people who aren’t. I say this because I think that nothing significant will change (can change) in the education sector as long as Uncle Capital is at the wheel. How (and why) should school be free if teachers can’t (and won’t) work without a salary? Within the capitalist context, paying for things—even for beautiful, endlessly important things like education—makes sense. Within the EU context, standardization is logical. While we need to be hacking at the roots we are eating leaves. I don’t know yet if they’re poisonous, but they sure don’t taste very good.


Oh don’t listen to me. I’m just a bitter, cane-shaking, old woman on a rant. There is hope, and it will come from a place we do not expect. I sing to you about these feeling of impotency and hopelessness because I feel them myself. I support the protests in my way (wherever there are mouths to feed are dumpsters waiting to be emptied). I sing until the poison has left me, and I can wake to stand another day. There is hope. Even here there is hope. Look under that rock over there, in those trees, in these hands.

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