Problems the DNU had: Part 2

Submitted by hadrian on Wed, 05/06/2015 - 14:12
Every protest movement requires critique in order to improve. "De Nieuwe Universiteit," (DNU) a student protest movement in Amsterdam started with the occupation of the Bungehuis in February 2015 and continued with the occupation of the Maagdenhuis two weeks later. The movement has made its mark in the history of student protests in the Netherlands with two lengthy occupations and it inspired some people to become more active in other cities. How the DNU must continue requires us to turn our collective gazes inwards and backwards in order to analyze the problems we've had so that we may look forward with new experiences and hope for a more successful movement. This text deals with some of the problems I've noted. It's part 2 of 4.

The vainglorious hope for redress was not the only problem. It is an important problem in the field of tactics but a movement is more than just strategy. Movements consist of many people who are involved in different amounts. During the days of the Bungehuis there was the group that was actively working daily on the occupation. This included the people who slept inside and organized the many activities of the Bungehuis as well as the outside team who were in constant contact with a lawyer and arranged a multitude of things that the inside team couldn't do. The most important problem to arise during the Bungehuis occupation was an almost complete absence of constructive communication between the individuals in this group. It was quickly normalized that the outside team which was tightly knit in the first week and part of the second week of the occupation shared virtually all the information amongst each other. The outside team had a safe base of operations which allowed a rapid exchange of information. This exchange was mostly absent in the inside team. It became normal for the outside team to disseminate information between the various contacts they had in the inside team. The foot was so far removed from the hand that they were barely stitched onto the same body.

The problem of an unequal distribution of information is that it quickly leads to power-relations inside. While the movement was fighting for more democracy many people inside who didn't have continuous access to information were reporting that they felt left out of decision-making even in the General Assemblies which were held multiple times a day. The movement affirmed the age-old addage that "scientia potentia est" -- knowledge is power. This led to people who were beginning to feel left out, especially amongst those who didn't speak Dutch and couldn't understand the moments when those who did switched back to their native language. Of course, switching back to one's native language is something that easily happens and there are several people who do their best to be aware of this. However, many times that which was already discussed in Dutch was not retranslated into English. Next to the language-specific issue, the distribution of information itself was a problem that was not solved during the entire occupation. Suggestions were made for days on end to install a bulletin board but this was considered to be too much effort to keep updated and was only installed near the end. It never became normalized during the Bungehuis occupation.

The problem with the lack of distribution of information wasn't confined to the creation of power-relations. Some of those who were placed in power because they had the information eventually reported that they didn't actually want that power. Moreover, they were beginning to get annoyed at the fact that they had to relate the same thing to multiple people which, naturally, took a large amount of time. For this reason, a good system for distribution of knowledge, even if it seems too much time to keep updated, is imperative for the smooth functioning of a movement. Moreover, the existence of a small group with a large amount of information meant that people started going to them for instructions. Inefficient and unequal distribution of information, thus, leads to engendering and strengthening lack of free initiative.

It is clear the distribution of information is imperative for the democratic process. It is also important to keep people in the movement. Those who feel they lack the ability to get to the information they believe they need may feel unappreciated or not useful and leave. Those who have all the information, on the other hand, run a high risk of getting overburdened with the power-role they are getting. Moreover, it is very exhausting to have to explain everything multiple times when something needs to be done because information, sometimes over a day old, has still not reached most people.

The problems with distribution of information was, no doubt, an important part in some people burning out after this occupation. Furthermore, it hampered the democracy in the movement itself. Although communication has slightly improved in the Maagdenhuis with the institution of working groups, some of which had a dedicated room, and the increased use of facebook groups the distribution of information has continued to have problems. Communication is, in any social relation, key. This is the reason one of the demands of the DNU is transparency. Accepting the State as a social relation this means that those organizations which flow forth from the State, such as the bureaucratic university, need to be fully transparent. This transparency is of even greater importance in organizations that flow from interpersonal social relations such as the DNU and other protest movements. My advice for future movements is to be self-critical on the distribution of information.