LSMedia caught up with NUS Vice President Society and Citizenship Dannie Grufferty earlier this term to quiz her about #demo2012 and her experiences in Liverpool.
Dannie Grufferty was President here at Liverpool Guild of Student from 2008 to 2010 before being elected as one of the NUS national officers in 2010. Her Society and Citizenship role encompasses the impact students have in the wider community, both locally and globally. Campaigning on everything from human rights to the living wage, this zone arguably contributes to the views and attitudes students take once they leave university.
“I think I am biased but the Society and Citizenship zone is doing lots of exciting things over the next year so I’m really looking forward to it.
“We’ve got a few things we can really get our teeth into like the national demo – I’m actually more excited about the work after that, and some work we’re doing with UKUncut and other groups – some local action which will engage other students that might not be able to make it down to London. I think other campaigns that we can use the demo as a platform for to engage activists are things like the Living Wage campaign we’re running or campaigning on unpaid internships.”
“The failing of a whole generation”
With #demo2012 being the hot topic within students’ unions at the moment, Dannie appears hopeful about its potential to affect change.
“There’s still some cynicism, there was cynicism last time round and although we don’t have a specific policy objective, this time round I think we’ve actually got more reason to be on the streets and lobbying those in power in Westminster about the failing of a whole generation by the government’s austerity agenda.
“We’re seeing a lot of officers who were initially really skeptical about the demo are actually coming on board and they’re finding that the slogan, as well, allows them to go to their members and tailor the argument specifically for them.”
One of the reasons for this cynicism is the media and public reception of the last protests, with headlines including “Infantile behaviour” and “how young thugs at student protest broke every taboo”. Aaron Porter, NUS President at the time, condemned the s0-called violence.
Dannie said “I think it’s difficult and a challenge for us going forward, but actually the beauty of this demo is that it’s not just about higher education fees or education maintenance allowance, it’s not about quite narrow issues, it’s about a voiceless generation, a generation who time after time are really just discriminated against by the government and are paying for the crisis of others.
“We want to support our students and their right to protest and we will be working with groups like Liberty and ensuring that students are well versed in their rights and also that they know what they can do if they do get into trouble, if they are on the bad end of police violence.
“But I also think we’ve got to be clear on where the lines are because actually there is peaceful protest but there’s also violent protest and I think NUS, with some clear messaging and some buy-in from officers and students up and down the country, we can bring some clarity to what those lines are.”
The NUS have been keen to involve all young people in the demonstration. Dannie felt that “we are in danger of going down that road of it being seen as a student-only demo so that’s a real challenge for us and our local unions over the next few months, to be making the case that actually this demo is about a whole generation and it’s about future generations too.”
At the forefront of human rights
Human rights campaigns play a huge role in the Society and Citizenship zone, and interviewing Dannie at Amnesty HQ seemed the perfect opportunity to ask her about their importance.
“I think students have always been at the forefront of campaigns on human rights and global justice.
“NUS was set up out of the peace movement when soldiers came back from the first world war and decided that we needed a new movement for peace and prosperity and I think over the last 90 years NUS has really led the way in campaigning on the issues that are natural to Amnesty as an organisation – human rights and social justice around the world.”
“I was involved in my Amnesty society and that’s how I got involved in my union.”
“Do get involved with the Guild”
As a former Guild president, Dannie had some advice for students here at Liverpool, especially first years.
“I loved going to places like Heebie Jeebies and Bumper, but I know every single year there are new clubs and bars opening. I went down to the docks, because it was just a novelty being in Liverpool. I did a lot of sightseeing – make the most of your free time.
“Do get involved with the Guild… try to do stuff in your first year because people just see the first year as time for having fun when actually they get to second and third year and they see how much the Guild has to offer and they regret that they never did anything in their first year.”
Dannie is clearly excited about the coming year, her second as a national officer, but her commitment remains to students around the country, and she seems to really believe in the power of those people. “I think actually students are often shown to care more about these issues because it’s quite a unique moment in your life when you’re around so many politically active, engaged people.”