The 1990s hold a weird place of reverence in campus politics at Otago. Grainy black & white photos of students seizing control of the Clocktower or marching in their thousands alongside the Leith are impossible to surpass. It’s pretty easy when you’re on a march across campus today to have those pictures in the back of your mind and wonder what it’d take for the campus to go into that level of upheaval again.
While the Proctor Protest didn’t reach that level, it did get closer than anything else in the last twenty years. Without really being aware of it, everyone who turned out to tell the powers that be to fuck off out of our homes was part of history – the biggest demonstration on campus since the explosion of the ‘90s.
When, at the protest, Critic scrambled up whatever would get us above the crowd to do a headcount, I had it at 600 people – most media outlets gave 500-600 in attendance too.
That might not seem like much, but nothing bigger has happened in twenty years. It’s a far cry from the 4,000 strong march students led on the Department of Inland Revenue in the mid-‘90s or the several hundred strong occupations that took place from 1993 to 1996. After the Proctor Protest, though, the next biggest protest of the 2000s on campus was a march of 400 in support of an Association of University Staff strike in 2004. Beyond that there’ve been various other marches of 200-400 students, like the one against PE cuts last year and the Love Humanities rally in 2016.
We’re yet to see a return to the more inventive and radical tactics students in Dunedin utilized in the 2000s. Stuff like the occupations of WINZ and Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson’s office, the ‘smoke-in’ when NORML hot-boxed the central Dunedin police station, or the hundred person ‘die-in’ for Tibet on Union Lawn in 2008.
But if the Proctor Protest is merely a sign of a developing trend, then the call that student radicalism is back might not be that far off.