Today marked our first protest event, and this saw RMFO organisers and supporters convene in Oriel Square from midday to protest and demand the removal of the Cecil Rhodes Statue.
The event was publicised on all of our social media outlets, with the biggest response being on our Facebook page. With over 500 people having clicked attending, the event page quickly became a page for much debate as to why the protest was needed, whether or not this was a productive action amongst other frequently hailed criticisms at the RMFO movement. Supporters of the protest, however, quickly took to the page to show their arguments for protest and in fact highlighted their right to protest as students of the university.
Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford believes that the veneration of a racist murderer on our campus violates the University’s own commitment to “fostering an inclusive culture” for its black and minority ethnic students. It is also an overbearing, visual reminder of the colonial apologism rife in one of the world’s most esteemed educational institutions. So long as these statues are allowed to stand, we as a society can never begin the process of recognising the violence of our past.
A crowd of over 200 students and locals gathered to demand the glorifying statue of Cecil Rhodes – a brutal, racist colonial oppressor – be taken down. People came prepared with drums, pots, pans, wooden spoons and whistles to create as much disruption as possible outside the college. We wanted to make sure that we could not be ignored, times are changing, a crowd is rising – Rhodes must fall.
At the start of the protest RMFO organisers introduced the movement and a summary of its aims. This was quickly followed by a performance of ‘Dreaming Spires’ by Femi Nylander and Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. Between speeches by RMFO organisers on Rhode’s crimes, testimonials from South African students and other BME students at the university, were chants and breaks of noise. The crowd held strong despite adverse weather conditions and kept up the noise for the two-hour duration of the protest.
Mid-way through the protest the Vice-provost of Oriel College and Senior Dean came outside to accept the petition which has been signed by over 2,000 people – including alumni of Oriel college. What was particularly powerful about this part of the protest was when Ntokozo Qwabe, an organising member of RMFO, demanded that the representatives of Oriel College sit down with us – as equals and fellow human beings who are no more important than we are. We salute our South Afrikan comrades who came up with this trend – it is a powerful way of upsetting power and authority, and reclaiming the space.
After the petition was handed over, Ntokozo asked the representatives of Oriel College to leave, and the protesters continued with chants and breaks of noise. Towards the end of the protest spirits were still high, even after its official end people stuck around to discuss the day’s events. Personally it felt like we had taken one big step closer to removing the statue, but also that we were well into the swing of discussing Oxford’s colonial history and how it must change.
Below is a video summary of the protest from Cherwell student paper who were live tweeting throughout the whole protest.
Today required every single RMFO organiser and member to put their energy and strength into decolonising the university space, we are all physically and emotionally drained, but know that we made our voices heard – Rhodes is falling.