by Michelle La Guilla
The short but exciting history of Radical University to date can be traced back to a political writing workshop, brainchild of Chris Witter, an activist with Lancaster University Against the Cuts and latterly RadUni contributor. The idea was to explore how, alongside our campaigning and protest activities – and working for our degrees – LUAC activists could expand the struggle against all forms of oppression by writing about it. Chris envisioned writing itself as a form of struggle, and two exciting workshops were held where we not only talked passionately about our political hopes and ideas, but discovered when we shared our work that we had a pool of enormous untapped talent.
Subsequently, however, with many of us in the third, all-consuming year of degrees, the original energy started to fizzle out a little. With essay and dissertation deadlines to meet which understandably had to be put first, articles were left unfinished or missed the SCAN (Lancaster University’s official student newspaper) deadline. Additionally, put bluntly, some of our material was perhaps too radical for SCAN; for example, I have strong suspicions that the much shorter version of my post ‘Fear and Loathing in the Con Dem Nation’ that I wrote for SCAN was rejected not because it lacked merit but because I set out my stall in the first paragraph when I called our current leaders ‘a coterie of dead-eyed, grinning (and crucially, rich) sociopaths who literally laugh in the faces of the poor as they rob them’.* What if, I thought, we could write without having to self-censor? What if we could write what we really wanted, without having to factor in the bland, conservative with a small ‘c’ nature of mainstream student journalism? What if we could create a forum whereby any activist could post at any time, giving them freedom to write what they wanted when they were able; without having to meet extra deadlines for people already drowning in deadlines?
My idea was met with general enthusiasm, but the touchpaper was really lit by the passion and involvement of my co-founder Anaïs Charles. One cold night in March the two of us sat down together at her place to make it happen. In a whirlwind, breathlessly exciting couple of hours we set up the blog, named it, created its look and design, and posted our original trio of finished pieces; my ‘Fear and Loathing’, Anaïs’s ‘Addicts R Us’ and Laura Clayson’s ‘Ecocide’. During the next few days, we watched in amazement and delight as our hits mounted up and readers all over the world came to the site. For both of us, it’s no exaggeration to say it was an emotional time. I grew up in an old Labour household with fiery left wing parents who taught me to question everything and never to blindly accept the status quo; this coupled with a modest way with words meant that really all I had ever wanted to do was write about what was really happening in the world, about dissent, about challenging power structures and living with compassion and love. Anaïs had already founded and was, alongside Laura Clayson, the driving force behind another campus activist group, Lancaster University Against the Arms Trade. We both agree now that without the other we could never have made it happen; our combined passion and energy, our different but complementary talents, our shared worldview and our close friendship and mutual support all combined at a special moment to give birth to Radical University. Since then, we have gone from strength to strength, with friends, comrades and new allies alike all contributing thought provoking, incisive analysis; the creation of a Facebook page and Twitter account to grow our blog and both expand our readership and attract new talent (the day Anaïs showed me our Twitter being followed by big hitting feminist Naomi Wolf was one of the most exciting in my recent memory, though just as exciting is the fact that many Lancaster University lecturers and students now follow us and that we have been read in 20 different countries at the last count). We’ve become multi-media with the inclusion of short films and beautiful protest art (see Anaïs ‘s short film ‘Who Profits from Apartheid’ and Ruth Malcolm’s moving and disturbing art work ‘This is Not OK’.
Paradoxically success has brought new challenges. Our initial vision for a free flowing forum of activists posting on whatever subjects they wish at whatever time continues to be dear to our hearts; we will never sacrifice editorial freedom and organic growth for a site festooned with corporate logos – considering our radical positioning, we feel this would be not only inappropriate but ludicrous and we would never sell out in this way. However, the nature of our own lives and those of our fellow writers means we cannot write on every single issue we would like to; our available time to do so is circumscribed by study, work, frontline activism, family commitments, and all the other minutiae of contemporary, fast moving academic and social life. We write with passion and for free and we don’t want that to change; thus we have had to consider how we can grow our site and reach out to new readers and new talent whilst keeping our integrity. We are also all too familiar with the phenomenon of ‘activist burnout’; sometimes the suffering and injustice we see all around us and try to fight becomes too painful, and at these times when our souls ache and our hearts hurt, forward motion can become all but impossible. This has been an issue I personally have had to grapple with, and at times it is no exaggeration to say this has been a life and death struggle, as I documented in ‘Fear and Loathing’.
Thus we have come to the inevitability of having to expand our blog and recruit new writers. Anaïs and I have recently watched in frustration as current debates have come and gone without either of us having the time or energy to contribute pieces on these issues to RadUni. So it is with excitement that we invite you to get involved!
*We do not demonise the rich, nor do we lump them into a generalised super-category – but we recognise the undeniable links between wealth, hyper-capitalism and widespread oppression.