Earlier this year, students embarked on the longest ever occupation at the University of Edinburgh in solidarity with striking lecturers. This renewed student radicalism was replicated at universities and colleges all over the country. Keeping that spirit alive is The Rattlecap, a new student-led magazine which launched in the aftermath of that occupation. Iz Gius and Phoebe McGowan write on the motivations behind this project and why students should get involved…
The Rattlecap is a radical, left-leaning publication established earlier this year and run by students at the University of Edinburgh. We wanted to create a space where activism and radical thought were accessible, where we could challenge and reimagine the world around us. We publish monthly issues around a central theme, combining creative writing, art, politics, history, education, current affairs, and advocacy. We focus on lifting up the voices of the disempowered and showcasing underrepresented narratives. Obviously, this is quite a large task for such a small paper, so we publish monthly editions, centered around one theme, in order to sharpen our focus. Our upcoming third issue, themed around the environment, will be released on November 24.
The idea for The Rattlecap came to us when we visited the occupied George Square Lecture Theatre at Edinburgh during the UCU strikes earlier this year.The occupation was an inspiring space where the left was able to thrive, educational hierarchy and narrow curricula were abandoned, and learning was treated as a lifelong pursuit rather than a commodity. It was a space where all identities were respected and learning was truly collaborative. We enjoyed the opportunity to learn beyond the canons enforced by our standard courses and think radically.
But we also found many of our fellow students, even and especially those sympathetic to striking staff, were intimidated by their own lack of knowledge and engagement with this student activism. They felt disenfranchised and excluded from the movement as they didn't understand the reasoning behind it, nor were they consulted in its formation. While we weren't personally involved with the occupation to a huge extent, we felt that its perceived insular nature was a key reason for its lack of popularity among the student body. We wanted to find a way to keep the momentum of the occupation thriving, to make radical thought accessible for an audience larger than those brave enough to step in an occupied lecture theatre for a longer period than the length of an occupation or strike.
We also feel that as university students, with access to a huge wealth of academic resources, we have a responsibility to try and share a portion of the knowledge we gain. We are encouraged to write at university, to pen our own theories and share our knowledge, but it's rare that this work makes it outside of the academic bubble. This means our input goes back into the same system, unavailable to access and therefore unavailable to all. Academia can be a rich source of subversive, innovative, and otherwise radical discourse, yet can seem terminology-heavy, intimidating, and too focused on theory rather than praxis.
Rattlecap articles are short, easy to understand, and open to writers of all backgrounds, educational levels and writing skills. We hope the publication can utilise the most of the university’s resources and research, and yet go beyond the narrow interests of the student body, which is overwhelmingly privileged, wealthy, and white. The creative contributions to our paper are key to this accessibility, as they offer a variation in form and approach, which we hope is able to merge the personal to the political. We were also surprised to find, when we arrived at the university as freshers, there was no regular, overtly political or radical publication being produced on campus. Universities have always been a centre for radical thought and activism, and we hope to continue this tradition with our publication.
More widely, we wanted to harness the freedom the growth of online media has provided to smaller publications. We feel that now is an accessible and opportune time to bring new ideas to life and build communities around a shared voice. The rise of the internet and social media has allowed The Rattlecap to exist and thrive – without it, we couldn't have grown so quickly and successfully. Yet, the rise of social media also has its downfalls.
The commodification of identity and self-expression, from Instagram influencers to The Guardian, has led to an increasing amount of sponsored content, which we feel doesn't allow media the degree of separation from large corporations so desperately needed. When we can't trust big media to produce work that isn't influenced by need for profit, we should be turning to smaller publications to ensure we're receiving a diverse chorus of voices contributing to public opinion. We hope to be just one of those voices; we are student-run and operate without ads, sponsored content, or influence from any outside organisation. And by providing an openly political publication, we hope to work against the concept that news must be unbiased in order to have value.
The Rattlecap is still growing and shaping what it wants to be. We hope that we can give a platform, however small, to organisations that deserve support, and to young creatives who are just getting started. We hope we can build community, enable imagination and dialogue, and sustain advocacy around Edinburgh and beyond. Please check us out on Facebook and our website, and join our movement.