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It is fair to say that the Students’ Union was taken by surprise this week, both by how quickly its tickets to the NUS’s London Demonstration sold out, and the type of students reserving them. 200 tickets gone in two days, and an extra 50 disappearing just as quickly, while other Unions in the region struggle to reach 100. This is a credit where credit is due case.
But what is more impressive, or worrying depending on your point of view, is the number of so called “ordinary students” attending the Demo. For ordinary student you can read students who aren’t Cross-Campus or JCR Officers, whose names aren’t instantly recognisable in the Students’ Union building. Less than a quarter of those signed up for London are Union Officers, breaking the model for almost all Lancaster campaigns in recent memory.
This proves wrong a lot of accepted norms. The first being that students at Lancaster don’t care about politics, and don’t want to know about what goes on down in Whitehall. Students do care, enough to get up at 5am for a six hour coach journey at any rate. They care because they understand how it is going to affect them. The Students’ Union can’t take credit here: the national media has made sure everyone is aware of what the government is up to and the repercussions their decisions will have. The second norm proved wrong is that it is only JCR Officers who take part in Students’ Union campaigns. This certainly seemed to be the case last year, but for whatever reasons it is not the case this year. It can only be healthy for student democracy at Lancaster that more students are engaged than officers: it means that the message is more genuine, stemming from students’ real concerns, not just what a select bunch feel the agenda should be.
There was one more thing that was proved wrong, and that was the JCR Officers themselves. When the Students’ Union decided to dip into its coffers to provide the £3000 needed to send 200 students to London, the JCRs expressed concern that it would not be able to find the 200 students who would be willing to attend which justified that amount of money. It was suggested that if every JCR officer took just a few friends the 200 places would be filled easily, not that this was needed in the end.
Those officers who questioned if 200 students were that committed to fighting their corner should seriously rethink their understanding of the student body at Lancaster. It’s clichéd to say JCRs are out of touch with the students they represent, but on this occasion the remark is bang on. Students don’t just want a piss-up organised every other night. They want to get involved in the decisions which affect them. They want their voice to be heard. And if their elected representatives won’t do it on their behalf, then they’ll do it themselves.