Your Protest Story

Fifty-year old legacy

In 1969, the students of Amsterdam raised their voices as had never been heard before.  2010 was the start of renewed student activism. It started at Dam Square in Amsterdam, at the heart of the city, on March 2010. It was followed by a procession through the city. When the crowd walked by the Maagdenhuis, someone screamed: “Let’s occupy the Maagdenhuis!” Due to sudden enormous police presence, it did not happen. However, a five-day occupation with a fifty-year old legacy was still resonant among a new generation of student protestors.

Dam Square Protests, Amsterdam, March 2012. Courtesy of ASVA

Dam Square Protests, Amsterdam, March 2012.
Courtesy of ASVA

Sjoerd ter Borg. Courtesy of Sjoerd ter Borg.

Sjoerd ter Borg.
Courtesy of Sjoerd ter Borg.


More Students than Journalists

December 10, 2010, Dam Square. The editor in chief of the satirical student magazine Propria Cures screamed: “The student protest was dead! This is the first time in ages that there are more students than journalists on a demonstration. We may not have ideals, but once you touch our money, we will protest!” The crowd was cheering. Once more, the student protest was a force to be reckoned with.
The student protest was organized against proposals to fine students for taking too long to complete their studies. This focus was essential to the success of the campaign, says Sjoerd ter Borg, a coordinator of the protest. Former protests were too broadly defined, but the concerns about tuition fees were now shared by many students.
Also, the mobilisation strategy was better than in years before. From the beginning, other student organisations were involved in the organisation. This increased the involvement of different groups. Social media was deployed and flyers were spread. Another important element was the ASVA chair Lodewijk Berkhout, who had a charismatic spirit.


Student Protest is Dead?

With every recent student protest, critics say that the current student demonstrations do not have the same spirit as the 1960s. Students are too lazy to go out on the streets and money is more important than the quality of education. Verheij, leader of the Maagdenhuis Occupation in 1969 disagrees. “What is wrong with students fighting for their means of existence? Of course money is important.” In his contact with students nowadays, he sees the same willingness and frustration as in his time.
Sjoerd ter Borg sees differences between 1969 and now as well. “I think it is hard to say whether students were more idealistic back then. Maybe they expressed their idealism in a different way. I do think that more people were willing to do things with their ideals. To do something physically.”


The protests in 2012 were framed as the funeral of the higher education. Coffins were carried through the public, Amsterdam, March 2012. Courtesy of ASVA

The protests in 2012 were framed as the funeral of the higher education. Coffins were carried through the public, Amsterdam, March 2012.
Courtesy of ASVA

Paul Verheij in 1968, who would become the leader of the Maagdenhuis Occupation. Courtesy of Nationaal Archief, Den Haag;  NL-HaNA, ANEFO / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, bestandeelnummer 921-7949, licentie CC-BY-SA

Paul Verheij in 1968, who became the leader of the Maagdenhuis Occupation.
Courtesy of Nationaal Archief, Den Haag; NL-HaNA, ANEFO / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, bestandeelnummer 921-7949, licentie CC-BY-SA

Occupy the Internet

Both Paul Verheij and Sjoerd ter Borg claim that the student protest should find new ways. Verheij: “Back then, the Maagdenhuis Occupation was new. If you would do something similar nowadays, you would have to hack the university server.” Now the information is saved online, instead of the desks and drawers of the Maagdenhuis. You have to renew the strategies, otherwise people will think “there you have the students again, repeating themselves.”
Ter Borg says there should be less ‘no’ and more alternatives. “The Minister of Education speaks of stimulating innovation and a knowledge society. However, according to Ter Borg these ideals are meaningless regarding the current government policy. Instead, he combined protest with new innovations such as crowdfunding. According to Ter Borg, students should organize their own courses, or even universities. By crowdfunding, gathering money from many small donations, students could get the money to organize their own education.
“We found something with idealism, but not for 100%, because we are a realistic generation. Our opinion is more nuanced. We nuance ourselves. There is no clash of generations, as was the case in earlier generations.” In the 1960s, the authorities would not listen to the students. Now they do, so there is less need to express yourself in a radical way. In his opinion, the best way to achieve something is creating alternatives, like crowdfunding a university.








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The Maagdenhuis Occupation is of course not the only large-scale student protest in history. We are interested in your experiences. When were you involved in demonstrations? Where was it? Why did you go on the streets? We would like to hear your story. Contribute to this website with your own experiences.

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