Radical Oxford students were evacuated from the Radcliffe Camera by police this afternoon, after occupying the Lower Camera for over twenty four hours.
Protesters, who had met at Carfax at 1 pm on Wednesday, marched down High Street, before turning into Radcliffe Square. Here, demonstrators halted, before overpowering a thin police cordon and storming the entrance of the Rad Cam.
The students issued a statement online from within the building, saying, “We – students and residents of Oxford – are occupying the Radcliffe Camera because we oppose all public sector cuts. We stand in solidarity with those who are affected by the cuts and those who are resisting them.”
Police were not allowing demonstrators through the gate into the Rad Cam. However, after some students jumped over, many more followed suit, taking a sound system and food in with them, and locking the main door against the police.
One student received a serious head wound in the stampede, after she fell headfirst onto the cobbles, and had to be taken to hospital.
The take over was premeditated, and some students had been stationed within the library since the morning. As the marchers from the protest entered the building, large banners reading “Fight the Cuts” were unfurled from the upper floor of the building. An anonymous student with a megaphone announced “This is now a public library. We are making history here.”
A protestor told Cherwell, “When we got inside there was a group studying. It was announced that the lower section of the building was part of an occupation, and if people wanted to continue working undisturbed, they should move upstairs. Some decided to continue studying downstairs, but the majority moved up. Then we bought the sound system in, started dancing, and the carnival atmosphere really took hold.”
After the initial party died down, students announced the start of a consensus meeting to fix their demands to the University. The meeting continued during the course of the afternoon, as students discussed why they were there, what it was exactly they stood for and what their demands were.
There were also classes and talks, workshops and poetry readings, all on the topic of protests, which carried on throughout the evening. This “teach-in” was part of the Oxford Free University movement. “Let’s reclaim this space for the education we deserve,” said one speaker.
Library staff inside the building tolerated and in some cases helped the occupation. The senior member of staff present, said it was frustrating but not inappropriate.
“It’s a library,” the senior staff member said. “This is stopping students from studying, but I can completely understand why people feel so strongly about it. It’s a really important issue. There isn’t really any anger from the library staff”.
The librarians announced that they would be staying in the Lower Camera, even after the library closed. A student recalled, “The librarians said they were staying there out of love for the library. There was a healthy relationship between librarians and protesters; the librarians were included in our discussions.”
Earlier, a Police Inspector had asked to enter the library to begin negotiations with the protesters, but he was told to wait until the meeting had finished. Meanwhile the police circled the building, chained up the side exits, posted mounted officers in the square and began searching and filming everybody who came out on suspicion of theft.
During the afternoon, police guarding the gate called the situation “ludicrous” and said that the occupation “had ruined it for everybody.”
One student said, “We had grand, lavish feasts inside. There was more food than I’d ever seen. People from outside were passing it through the windows all afternoon.”
There was an attempt at a surge to get more people in just after 7 o’clock, but this was repulsed by the police. A more successful break in took place in the early hours of Thursday morning, at around 1.30am, when a group of students broke police lines and joined the occupation downstairs. Students within the building explained how “at 1.30am there was a big bang at the door and suddenly a group of twelve people burst in to join us. They must have taken the police by surprise.”
The workshops and meetings continued the following morning. A student described the atmosphere overnight. “Everyone was still in with the plan and no one was getting cold feet. Some had to leave to go to their jobs and tutorials. But those that could, stayed.”
On Thursday, occupiers connected via Skype to other universities such as Edinburgh and UCL, who were also occupying buildings in their universities. Staff disconnected the internet, but people connected via USB wireless sticks and phones.
A student said, “We gave Edinburgh a tour of the Rad Cam and we both talked about what each other were doing and plans for the future. Throughout the night and second day the police kept reading out legal statements informing us that our actions were illegal and we were accountable to trespassing. They tried to push documents through the door to make us read them, but we pushed them straight back.”
The occupation of the Lower Camera continued during Thursday, until the police broke in.
“I heard the stack door suddenly being smashed at around 4.30pm. The police started battering down the door and stormed in. We realised there was no point in resisting and so we retreated upstairs as a group.
“The Senior Proctor came in a read out a statement about having to leave. There was a struggle; the police wanted us to leave one by one so they could search us, because of reports of a laptop and books being stolen.
“A lot of people were complaining about bruising to their arms. The police were very strict.”
The occupiers, consisting of Oxford residents and students from Cherwell College as well as Oxford University, also received messages of solidarity from the NUT National Executive and the Oxford Anti-Cuts Alliance. Some academics also declared their full support, including Dr John Parrington, the Senior Tutor in Medicine at Worcester.
“I came to the occupation earlier tonight to deliver a message of support,” he wrote, “but the police were denying entry. I fully support your action against the disgusting attacks on education currently being attempted by the government…students should continue their protests until we beat back these government attacks, and lecturers and other workers should support these protests.”
The reaction from students was more mixed. Carla Neuss, a second year English Master’s student at St Peter’s College, said she was frustrated that her work had been disrupted by the protest.
“All I want to do is read Walter Shilton’s ‘Mixed Life on Devotional Literature’,” she said, “and all I’m reading right now is ‘F**K FEES.'”
The statement which the demonstrators released online stated, “We believe that education should be public and free for all. To this end we demand that the University of Oxford reiterate its opposition to education cuts and commit to not increasing fees for any courses. This library is now open to all members of the public and we invite you to join us.”
A spokesperson from the University Press Office said, “The University of Oxford supports freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest. This naturally includes protest about government spending plans for higher education. However, this was an unlawful occupation and one that caused considerable inconvenience and disruption for students wishing to pursue their studies.”