No, saving Cellar was not a true victory for people power

Saving Cellar was an important victory, writes Fred Dimbleby, but pointless divisions are stopping students from uniting to fight for more significant causes

Walking into the pres in my college, I delivered the happy news that the planning application for the replacement of Cellar had been removed. Cheers went up around the room, as students realised that their actions had preserved one of Oxford’s cultural highlights. The student body has the ability to fight for larger social issues. This, however, does not qualify as a true victory for the people.

The recently founded Class Act campaign, and the work of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, are real examples of this, where many students work for real change in Oxford and beyond. The problem is that, unlike the Cellar campaign, other students are not getting on board with their campaigns. If it doesn’t directly impact us, we don’t seem to care.

In a Cherwell editorial from October 1987, there was a call to action to fight for human rights. They quoted Elie Weisel, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, saying: “it is by fighting for the rights of the oppressed that we justify our own lives”.

The following lines detailed the ways that Cherwell readers, and Oxford students, could mobilise against oppression. It launched a campaign to help free the Jewish Soviet ‘refusenik’ graduate Boris Nadgorny who was being kept in the Soviet Union, offering readers the use of the Cherwell offices to call the Russian embassy and demand his release.

In last week’s edition, the paper published an exposé on a boycott by Christ Church students of their hall because they were no longer going to be served their food, and instead now had a canteen system. The disparity is shocking. Where we once joined forces across the University, we are now divided by infantile spats and unsavoury disputes.

The campaign to save Cellar was impressive and it was certainly a start, but this is now the time to build to look at wider social issues. An outsider may be forgiven for thinking that our rallying around Cellar as a student body belied a practiced apathy towards social change where it really counts.

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Supporting groups like Class Act or the Oxford City Living Campaign, should be as common a task for the wider student body as fighting for the survival of Cellar. We must all take responsibility for bettering society. We can’t sit happy, having saved a nightclub, and leave other students fighting more important campaigns without support.