Riots, rebellion and revenge: the life of a student activist

— Tamsin Bickley contributed with this report.

Running through the streets of London, waiving her banner high and shouting at the top of her lungs, Martine Smedley was fighting a cause against nuclear arms.

Passionate about battling injustice in the world, she would regularly attend protests with thousands of other students. They were determined to make their message heard, so long as they did this, repercussions of their actions did not matter.

Twenty-five years later, Martine, now forty-six, from Newark, still believes in the causes she fought for as a student. She opposes nuclear weapons. She wants equal rights for all. She believes in the right to a free education. However, like many people who protested in their uni years, she has lost her fighting spirit.

The banners she once waved high with pride are firmly packed away, gathering dust. Weekends are not spent running through the streets of London, gathering support for a cause, they are spent trawling the aisles of DFS, looking for a new three-piece-suite.


Socialist Students Lincoln organised a protest against funding cuts in education. Photo: Huseyin Kishi

She no longer shouts alongside others about the injustices imposed by our Government. She now shouts at the students in her classroom for uncompleted homework. Her main concern is no longer the atrocities committed throughout the world, but how to meet the next mortgage payment.

Martine knows how easy it is for other aspects of life to take over the activism that was once a vital part of her life:

“I was always so passionate about the causes I fought for, and still am. But once you leave uni, you’re hit by the demands of day-to-day life. You can’t fight forever. You get a job, a house and kids. Other priorities inevitably take over,” she says of this change.

Martine thinks this story is all too familiar. While at university, many students are filled with a burning passion to put the world to rights, and will actively and enthusiastically set out to do this. But once graduated, the same people who fought the institution become a firm part of it; conditioned into the next generation of authority figures that future students will fight against.

Student activism is not a new phenomenon, throughout history students have been at the forefront of protests. In 1968, a group of French students began protesting in the streets of Paris for university reform.

The protest grew at an unprecedented rate, and at it’s height a million people marched through the streets. They were met with extreme police brutality, and there were hundreds of casualties.

The infamous Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 was also led by students. Unfortunately, What started out as a simple protest calling for change, ended in a massacre. Demanding democratic reform, the students staged a peaceful protest for seven weeks, until the army randomly shot dead several hundred of the protesters.

In an iconic image known around the world, a lone student stood in the line of the oncoming tanks, risking his life in the name of democracy.


The Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 was also led by students. Photo: Kristin Brenemen

Huseyin Kishi, a 22-year-old journalism and politics student at the University of Lincoln, is no stranger to student activism. Huseyin is a member of Socialist Students Lincoln, and is an integral figure in organising protests against the cuts enforced by the Con-Libs.

Just like Martine was as a student, Huseyin is passionately devoted to making a difference and is motivated to stand at the forefront of student activism:

“When I learn about these social injustices in society I want to change that, and I think the first port of call to change that is you protest, you begin to stand against it and question the dominant ideology and beliefs in society,” he says.

Huseyin is unsure whether he will still be an active figure on the protesting scene once he’s graduated: “It’s that old adage. If you’re not a rebel in your twenties, you have no heart. If you don’t sell out by your thirties, you have no brain.

“Will that occur with me? I will always look in terms of social justice, and see where I can contribute,” he says.

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