A group of students meet to set up a café run entirely on donations and co-operation. They are in the EDB Café, another café shut down by the University and the financial disaster that is our Vice-Chancellor. Another group of students organise a free-shop, run on a give and take principal, to happen simultaneously with the café. Just before the setting-up begins, a campus security guard enters the room. He patrols around a bit, as if to assert his authority, but eventually decides he's wasting his time.
Autonomous Café serves home-made vegan/veggie food on a donations basis. As soon as the café is open, the students talk to people working in the surrounding offices. All seem positive if not delighted with the reopening of a café in EDB. Someone puts on a CD. There is soon quite a gathering of students, serving themselves food, rummaging through the second hand clothes and things that people have brought along. EDB Café is looking lively for once. The security guard comes back and sees his chance to maintain university authority when he hears the music playing; he announces that the music is disturbing people in the room. The students remain defiant to his demands that the music be turned off : his attempts fail because the people in the room stuck together.
The day turns out a full success: the café is busy for the 2 and a half hours it's on and the free shop supplies most of them with something new to take home.
Students can and should protest about university policies and mismanagement, but it is in taking direct-action that senior management is really hit. When they realise that we can get what we want by ourselves, they will do everything to restore past domination. For me, and I think for all the people involved in the running of the café, this experience was both empowering and inspiring. In fact, we felt it was such a success that we want to try and run it on a weekly basis. So keep your eyes open and visit us – bring along some junk for the free shop, too.
Location for now: every Tuesday in EDB café (University of Sussex) from 12pm.