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Laurie Penny on how the 1% are blaming the victims

They want to punish us for wanting what they say we can't have.

The one per cent punish us for wanting what they say we can't have.

There's such a thing as riot ennui. Having spent over a year watching youtube videos of police on various continents violently assaulting peaceful protesters, I thought I'd lost not interest, but perhaps a certain capacity to be shocked by raw footage of tear gas, teenagers with blood running into their eyes, young men being pulled out of wheelchairs, police horses being driven into crowds of unarmed protesters with nowhere to go. This is the new normal. People taking to the streets, because conscience or desperation lead them unavoidably to those streets to stand against austerity, and being beaten back and beaten down by armed state heavies, time after time after time, in developed and developing countries. This is what democracy looks like.

For those of us who give a goddamn about a fair and sustainable future, these images have become routine. Do anything at all to make your feelings about financial feudalism known other than shuffle slowly and silently from one state-sanctioned march point to another and you can expect to be punished, hurt and arrested. It's worth taking a moment to sit back and think about what that means. Quotidian as they may have become, Miami-model policing and intolerance of political dissent of any kind are not inevitable. They are deliberate political choices made by world governments who have run out of counter-arguments to anti-austerity protests that don't come at the end of a police baton.

Ritual humiliation

It's been a year now - exactly a year this weekend, in fact, since the Parliament Square kettle. But there are still moments when the routine becomes unfamiliar - when you understand with renewed rage that these images must never be allowed to become part of our psychic furniture. Watching this youtube clip of a young woman in Melbourne being stripped to her underwear and thrown to the ground by police, you feel your breath catch in your throat. There have been far viler, bloodier videos this year. But there's something in the grim, determined way that the officers, male and female, pull the girl out of her costume and shove her to the ground as she cries out "don't take my clothes off" that makes the hairs on the back of your arms stand on end.

It's the sense of ritual humiliation that's truly chilling. It's the pointlessly brutal demonstration of who is weak and who is strong in this game, and the grim, sour humourlessness of it all. It started with a joke: three anti-capitalist protesters at Occupy Melbourne, forbidden from having tents, dressed up in enormous tent-shaped costumes and made at least twelve police officers chase them around a park in the city-centre. "Come on, it's all in good fun," says a disembodied voice behind the camera as the officers finally march, disgruntled, out of the park. Later, the police return, and proceed to strip the young woman of her costume, refusing absolutely to see the funny side of this harmless piece of protest theatre.

That's not the most unsettling thing, however. The most unsettling thing about the video is the comments underneath, which are as usual the run-off channel for all the slurry of human vindictiveness that is somehow supposed to matter less online. One of them reads: "Got wot she deserved!!! Do as you are told and the police wont 'harrass' you!!! [sic] Get a job."

Courage and desire

There it is. Right there. For anyone who ever doubted, for those who continue to doubt that women's liberation and the fight for socio-economic justice are part of the same struggle against complicity and complacency. Dare to speak your mind? Dare to make trouble? Dare to wear a short skirt, a hoodie, a bandana, a placard, an ingenious costume in the shape of a tent? Well then, you deserve to be hurt and humiliated. You deserve to be frightened and bullied and beaten. Sit down, shut up. Get a job and work till you drop like the rest of us, and if you can't get a job then get on your belly and beg like the rest of us. You deserve it. You asked for it, by daring to make your desires known, by showing your anger, showing your heart, showing your skin. Be quiet and do as you are fucking told. Bitch. Scrounger. Benefit scum. Hippy. Whore.

The most dangerous thing in the world for the one per cent is desire. Unsanctioned desire, desire for things that we can't be made to buy, things like power and sex and and social justice, is always dangerous when it can't be controlled. The only possible solution is to punish the desire and blame the victims for inviting that punishment.

Women and Occupy

It's not that the Occupy Movement has always been a haven for female power, sexual and otherwise. The axes of oppression rarely run perfectly parallel. Consider, for example, the second image down on the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street tumblr - a site claiming that rank objectification of young female activists is a celebration of the movement, deservedly torn to dialectical tatters by feminist bloggers when it first emerged - which suggests that images of the violent arrests of young women by faceless police officers should be considered sexually arousing. Because nothing gets a young manarchist hot and heavy and ready to smash the state like a crying girl in handcuffs.

That's to say nothing of the alleged rapes that have occurred in the Occupy encampments, leading to the formation of women's working groups and systems like the Safer Spaces area, set up to provide a safe sleeping space for female occupiers worried about sexual assault. Whether or not it is the case that the world outside the encampments is vastly more threatening to women, the role and status of female-identified people within the Occupy movement is not just a PR issue to be dealt with, potential ammunition for hostile tabloids. What would really ruin not only the reputation but the ethical fortitude of Occupy would be any suggestion that allegations of rape, sexual abuse and structural sexism within the movement are not being taken seriously.

This movement needs women, just like the world needs women. Women know what it is to swallow desire, to be dishonest about the lives we want to lead and the power we want to challenge. A new world will not be won until women and the underprivileged have the courage to express their desires without fear, and until their notional allies have the courage to listen.

What remains

Things change. In just under a year since the university occupations in London of which I was a part were evicted, I have seen UK Uncut and the student movement change and expand, descending at times into weary bickering, elevating at times into moments of powerful clarity that the intensity and adrenaline of full-time occupation dosometimes not allow. This is what remains, after the clouds of smoke and pepper spray have cleared: a scar over your friend's right eye. A tendency to twinkle your fingers upwards like a goon when you agree with a given statement. And the idea of solidarity - to paraphrase Tom Geogohan's words in "Which Side Are You On", one of the few remaining loves that dare not speak its name - as a value that can be lived in practice.

Now, after months of escalation, publicity and counter-attack, the first stage of the Occupy movement is over. Most of the major encampments in America and across the world have been evicted - the latest, Occupy Boston, was cleared by police just this morning - and the challenge now facing Occupy is to decide which scars will not be allowed to close, which gestures will remain ingrained, and which realities will not be permitted to pass into memory.

The hunger for justice is catching. No wonder the police and local city authorities have been so keen to describe these protests as smelly, filth-ridden, contagioun, walking into evicted campsites in Los Angeles and elsewhere in Hazmat suits for the benefit of those tame members of the press only too happy to smear around the 'unsanitary hippies' stereotype. Desire, and the courage to express it until power has no choice but to listen, is a terrifying prospect to anyone with vested interests in the status quo. Of course they call you dirty. Of course they call you sick. The idea of democracy has always been infectious, and right now it is spreading like a virus around the developed world, with Occupy as its main vector.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com