Universities across the Netherlands have been facing financial troubles: it has been decided that tertiary education will suffer some budget cuts. The faculties at the University of Amsterdam that are mainly victimized by budget cuts are the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences. These cuts have direct consequences for the quality of our education. In our own courses we notice that seminar groups are too big and that classes are more and more crammed with readings because the professors have less time but the curriculum stays the same. Professors often teach very few hours whilst having a full-time workload, research projects are phased out and we have less and less electives to pick from.
This retrenchment at the University of Amsterdam has been going on for a long time. In 2015, indignant students started a series of protests and eventually occupied Het Maagdenhuis, one of the buildings of our university. This year after yet another wave of budget cuts, the student party Humanities Rally has called for another protest: they want to be vocal and clear about not supporting nor accepting the university’s willingness to sacrifice important fields of study. The Humanities Rally argues the UvA should stimulate critical thinking rather than conform to a neoliberal standard of “it only matters if it makes money”.
On Tuesday, the 22nd of May, the Humanities Rally hosted a Night of Protest at the Oudemanhuispoort. It was a relatively calm night of lectures, discussions and a general gathering of thoughts on the issue, all in preparation for the bigger protest a little over two weeks later. Us two and some other Pisswives attended the protest and went to a lecture by University of Colour, a group that advocates not only for the importance of the Humanities and the Behavioral and Social Sciences, but also greatly emphasizes the importance of decolonizing the university. The night went by without any major troubles: everyone was angry yet well-behaved and confined their radical thought to discussions rather than violence. The night ended with passionate speeches that rallied up the crowd: we all knew that we were in this together and that we would be marching the streets of Amsterdam to show it.
A second protest took place on the 8th of June, organized by Humanities Rally, ASVA and New University. Students and teachers marched from Oudemanhuispoort to Roeterseiland in the Mars voor het Onderwijs (March for Education). After the march, determined students decided to stay the night at the field in between university buildings at the Roeterseilandcampus. It was a peaceful protest: they set up tents, hosted guided discussions, played live music, listened to poetry, talked and had a laugh. As it started getting dark out, UvA officials urged the protesters to leave the campus because they ‘needed the grass field’ for ‘setting up children’s activities’ for an event the next day. The students stayed put as that is kind of what a protest is about, and asked the UvA representative why they had to leave. Noise complaints were out of the question, for as of 22:00 the protesters would withhold from playing music. The use of the field was a sad excuse on UvA’s part, for the protesters promised to be gone early the next morning. Slowly, the UvA started running out of excuses and seen as the students saw no valid reason to leave the area, UvA officials called the police to do their dirty work for them.
Police and UvA security enclosed the field, accompanied by dogs, sticks and pepper spray, and started tearing away at the students one by one. Gone was the peace. Helen, one of our wives that was present at the protest, stated the following: “I saw police pulling my fellow protesters away from the area by their hair. By their hair! People were dragged by their feet, face down, by their clothes, by their arms, kept in arm locks and thrown onto the floor. They were beat, jumped, and driven away like cattle. All the while, no sign of any violence came from the part of the protesters. All we did was support each other, stand together and sing together in protest. Nothing was done that night to deserve the violence that took place.” A small part of Helen’s experience that night was recorded on this video:
The next day, the protesters returned to the field they were so violently removed from the day before. Guess what, there was no children’s activity to be seen.
It’s been 10 days since the protest night and it is strikingly silent at the UvA. UvA officials have not apologized for calling the cops on their own students, all they have stated is that they are ‘disappointed, because now all focus is on the police violence instead of the common cause of the protesters and the UvA’. Many have written articles on the protest and how it ended, GroenLinks – a Dutch green political party – has opened conversation on the matter in the House of Representatives. Students are outraged, feeling betrayed by their university that claims to care about their critical minds. A group of such students – calling themselves We Are UvA – have started a campaign titled “We Aren’t U”: referencing the slogan “We Are U” that is usually displayed on UvA posters and shirts. Although the group wishes to remain anonymous, we were able to get a word with one of them. They stated that they operate independently from Humanities Rally, but stand by them and are equally angry about the budget cuts and the events that took place on the night of June 8th. We Are UvA photoshopped pictures of the brutal police intervention and made them look like UvA’s advertisement posters, printed them and spread them around different UvA establishments. Their powerful gesture points to the clear hypocrisy in what the UvA praises itself for and what they actually practice. The We Are UvA representative stated that their “campaign lays bare the backwardness of the UvA’s “We Are U” propaganda. If you do not support your students, but choose to violently take away their agency through calling upon policemen with dogs, sticks and pepperspray, and letting them do the dirty work for you – you can expect a little backlash, don’t you think?”
Text: Tessel ten Zweege and Helen Weeres