Issue #026 Published: 05-09-2019 // Written by: Rosie Fawbert Mills

Time to protest

Throughout history people have had to take a stand (but I’m not about to list them all here). Within these, I think there might be one overlooked but important protest story. Thankfully it is now having it’s struggle acknowledged in a new documentary by Director and Writer Jon Seal. Set in Norway in 1942, during World War Two, it tells the remarkable story of a set of teachers who outright refused to teach the Nazi curriculum and were punished for it. The themes of the film are astonishingly current, exploring the power of passive resistance to bring about change. On Friday September 27th there will be the first in a series of screenings and post-screening discussions of ideas, themes and topics. ‘The Teachers’ Protest’ is taking place at Filmhuis Cavia, Van Hallstraat.

Since the dark ages, public protest has shaped the lives of individuals and influenced the development of society. It is a form of resistance but also a form of attack and can be a movement for good. It can give voice and momentum to groups of people who refuse to be oppressed or denied a place in society. But what prompts people to protest?

We are surrounded by false advertising.  The future is not orange - the future is grey, or is it green? Blue, red... What colour would you say the future is? Is it an Orwellian black pit of a despairing proletariat, or the acid yellow of an Atwoodian twist on the logic of life. Perhaps it will be a silver Matrix - style, virtual reality mystery? If you were offered the red pill or the blue pill, which would you take?

Will the future be the same for everyone? In Twenty One Lessons for The Twenty First Century, Yuval Noah Harari warns of technological advancements creating greater and deeper divisions in society, such as a class divide more profound than ever experienced before! It seems the time is right to stop and think about this. Perhaps now is a time to protest.

But why and when do people feel the need to protest? For some young people, even some of those currently going through the higher education system, don’t see a bright future. One British student, Michael, gave an inspiring speech at a National Education Union (NEU) rally in the UK on November 20th 2018. He had joined thousands of teachers, parents and MPs to march in protest to the UK’s Department of Education’s funding cuts to special needs, post-16 and early years education facilities. Michael spoke about being abandoned by his school, as they were unable to provide for his autism needs. His closing remark was hard to be unsympathetic with: “we are the ones who will be looking after you when you’re old, so look after us now.”

Equally, here in the Netherlands, teachers are taking a stand against pay and conditions. In March there was a nationwide strike and teachers of all levels participated in a week of campaigning. “The need is high everywhere”, Dorien Konig, director of general education union AOb said to the NL Times.  There is a teacher retention problem - much like that in the UK and other Europeans countries.  They felt a collective need to protest.

Another focus for recent protests: climate change. Global Norwegian heroine, Greta Thunberg, made a name for herself in August 2018 because she skipped school to protest outside the Swedish parliament. She describes herself as a “climate radical”. Recently she has been making headlines for joining forces with the UN (and holding hands with celebs) to raise awareness and influence change.

Another example: abortion rights in countries as diverse as Ireland and China; since the Stonewall riots in 1969, LGBT protests continue all over the world - alongside widespread heavy criticism of governments not “doing enough” to make changes. From Hong Kong we have seen footage of anti-extradition bill protests and the government’s extreme and forceful reaction. There is continued resistance in the West Bank and Palestine. Since January, there have been regular protests designed to to remove Nicolás Maduro from the presidency; in Venezuela.

You might not know Jon Seal yet, much like the Norwegian student before she took a stand.  Having been a holistic, dynamic and passionate teacher for several years, he is also a musician, a boat builder, an avid cyclist and a mentor to many.  He is a bit of a nomad: he often travels and is always drawn back to Norway (having found a kinship with the country after a naive cycle trip there as an 18 year old).  So if anyone was going to tell this story with a sense of discovery, respect and genuine admiration, it was going to be him.

Whatever color the future is, I am grateful there are still people of all ages inspiring me and us all: to take a stand, to protest for what is good and right, and maybe skip work or school to sit in front of the Parliament office to take a stand about something that matters.

Illustration: Dünya Atay // Photo: Luke Dray