Did myself a bit of a dig to see what the largest campus demos since the turn of the millennium have been before the bong-thief march a couple weeks back, and found to my surprise that anything notably bigger than about 400-500 would do the trick. I wrote about that for the Critic, reprinted bellow, and added a few subsidiary notes afterwards.
The 1990s hold a weird place of reverence in campus politics at Otago. Grainy black & white photos of students seizing control of the Clocktower or marching in their thousands alongside the Leith are impossible to surpass. It’s pretty easy when you’re on a march across campus today to have those pictures in the back of your mind and wonder what it’d take for the campus to go into that level of upheaval again.
While the Proctor Protest didn’t reach that level, it did get closer than anything else in the last twenty years. Without really being aware of it, everyone who turned out to tell the powers that be to fuck off out of our homes was part of history – the biggest demonstration on campus since the explosion of the ‘90s.
When, at the protest, Critic scrambled up whatever would get us above the crowd to do a headcount, I had it at 600 people – most media outlets gave 500-600 in attendance too.
That might not seem like much, but nothing bigger has happened in twenty years. It’s a far cry from the 4,000 strong march students led on the Department of Inland Revenue in the mid-‘90s or the several hundred strong occupations that took place from 1993 to 1996. After the Proctor Protest, though, the next biggest protest of the 2000s on campus was a march of 400 in support of an Association of University Staff strike in 2004. Beyond that there’ve been various other marches of 200-400 students, like the one against PE cuts last year and the Love Humanities rally in 2016.
We’re yet to see a return to the more inventive and radical tactics students in Dunedin utilized in the 2000s. Stuff like the occupations of WINZ and Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson’s office, the ‘smoke-in’ when NORML hot-boxed the central Dunedin police station, or the hundred person ‘die-in’ for Tibet on Union Lawn in 2008.
But if the Proctor Protest is merely a sign of a developing trend, then the call that student radicalism is back might not be that far off.
And some notes:
- There are some things that could sow confusion regarding what counts as ‘the biggest demo on campus’ up to this point worth noting. The Love Humanities rally in 2016 numbered up to 500 people, and as such should be noted as the biggest campus demo of the 2010s to that point. There were, however, estimates that put that number down at 350 – personally thinking back to the day I reckon 350-450 is a safe number. The other big demo against humanities cuts that year was a bit smaller – something like 300-350.
- I also somehow skipped a march on the Proctors office in 2008 against the arrest of a student during the 420 stoner circle/protests which numbered at around 500. I should note, though, that the number comes from an article from six years after it took place doesn’t seem to appear anywhere else. I can find plenty of other demos on the same subject on campus in 2008 but they clearly don’t number much beyond 100 – so I don’t think it’s possible to realistically call this supposed 500 strong march as even having existed.
- At the time the ODT estimated 1000 people marched against the cuts to the PE department – being one of the most fun demos I ever went to on campus it’s one that stuck pretty clearly in my brain and it was 400 max. It was, however, the most militant and boisterous demo I ever went on (on campus) and was a helluva lotta fun. Disrupting traffic is pretty much always fun, in all honesty.
- The occupations of WINZ and Pete Hodgson’s office were part of something of a campaign mostly around 2001 that involved other relatively small demos on campus as well as at least one march through town. The campaign, insofar as one existed, was to demand the reinstatement of the Emergency Unemployment Benefit which had been repealed during the welfare cuts of the 1990s.
- The OUSA exec meeting that drew 135 students a few days before the bong demo was not the largest since the millennium though. At the very least it falls in a literally half the 270 students that attended a 2008 general meeting which happened to deal with both the disqualification of 2009 OUSA president-elect Jo Moore and OUSA’s relationship with NORML/stance on cannabis reform.At the very least, it’s more than have attended any exec, election, or special general meeting in the last five or so years.
- On that point, OUSA weighing in on politics beyond the realm of campus isn’t that uncommon – for those spineless technocrats who get antsy about OUSA being ‘too political’ – in 2006 it was pushed to pass resolutions condemning the War in Afghanistan and supporting local Countdown workers during the 2006 Progressive Enterprises lockout.
- Also, speaking of NORML, there’s a fairly short history of it from the Critic in 2014 you can check out here. Their ‘Narkology 101’ campaign to expose police informers and train students in how to spot an undercover cop is also of interest today.