It may be hard for the archetypal student protestor to find their Christmas spirit this year. With tuition fees on the rise, funding to humanities cut and Education Maintenance Allowance confined to the history books, it seems that we would be justified in throwing away the tinsel, leaving the halls un-decked and removing our Santa hats. However, when you look at the values of opportunity, equality and future security upon which the protests this year have centred, we see that actually we should pause before pulling the stockings off the wall.
After a year of hesitation, deviation and, dare I say it, repetition, the American Congress has finally come up trumps as a beacon of hope for the liberal student masses. Within the final two weeks of the legislative year, the current lame duck Congress has passed a measure removing the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy from the US Military and ratified, through the Senate, the New Start Treaty. These actions represented a bipartisan movement towards equality of opportunity and rights, and a more secure future.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had placed a legal obligation upon American military personnel not to disclose their sexuality. In total, since the policy was enacted seventeen years ago, over 17,000 troops have been discharged because of their defiance. In 58 days time, it will finally be safe for homosexual members of the military to be honest about their sexuality without fear of the consequences. It was an act which many speculated would never come. In 2007 Time Magazine published a poll in which only 30 percent of the American public claimed to believe that openly gay servicemen should be allowed to serve in the army, causing speculation that the policy, which Marine General Peter Pace at the time argued was the only way to avoid condoning “immoral” behaviour, would never change. However, the numbers have now moved in favour of repeal. A Gallop Poll published only two weeks ago showed that now 67 percent of the American public were in favour of the repeal which was finalised with President Obama’s seal on Wednesday 22nd December. The American public, Congress, and even 23 Republicans therein, have allowed the passage of a piece of legislation which eases the lives of a, speculated, 65,000 gay or lesbian troops whilst promoting equal rights and opportunities across the forces.
Should this news have you only replacing the fallen baubles on the tree, and not yet donning a full reindeer costume or hanging mistletoe, the ratification of the New Start Treaty by the Senate, also on Wednesday 22nd December, may help to push a reluctant dieter to a second mince pie. The New Start Treaty with Russia reduces the limit on the production and purchase of new nuclear warheads by 30 percent on the limit set in 2002, and also allows for the visual inspection by either side of the other’s adherence to the treaty. Although this Treaty cannot be said to remove all nuclear threat, the improvement which it shows in relations between Russia and the USA, alongside the reduction, however small, in nuclear warheads, can be seen as a positive step towards security and peace. Passed by the Senate with 13 Republican votes, this treaty is still to be ratified by Russia, a debate which is due to take place on Friday 24th December. Unfinished and restrained as the New Start Treaty may be, movements by the US Senate allow a clear message of hope for peace and diplomacy, one which student protestors can recognise, to ring out over the carols.
They may be small steps but repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the ratification of the New Start Treaty highlight continued belief in and aspiration towards social equality and a less threatening world. Even with tuition fees placards only just beginning to gather dust in their defeat, crestfallen protestors, do-gooders and liberals the world over can see the wassail being raised by the American Congress.