Participating in the London Student Protests 10th November

Report by student Joely Dicks:

"On the day of arrival at the London Demolition student march, we were greeted with a stream of students already prepared with banners, rehearsed chants and good intent. The weather was calm with clear blue sky and not a cloud in sight: one could almost say nature was with us, allowing that one day in the week to be perfect and stimulate an already excited atmosphere.

Not that I have anything to compare it to, this being my first protest, but there really isn’t anything like it. We turned the corner to a roaring crowd; a huge mix of people, from students and prospective students to parents and teachers.  The sound was nothing like I’ve heard before, even at a festival. We quickly made our way in and found one of the very few free walls outside the Ministry of Defence (already lined with police officers) and looked out onto the sea of people.  Everyone was there for the same reason and regardless of university rivalry or different walks of life I felt at ease talking to the surrounding protestors. Chants such as ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!’ and ‘You say cut back; we say fight back!’ were among the most popular, but we can be very creative with the slogans and chants that echoed throughout the streets of London, the majority ranging from the very inspirational, to the rude and provocative, to the downright entertaining.

Just before the march began, there was a great deal of motivational speech coming through all of the surrounding speakers.  Unfortunately it was difficult to make out what was being said, but the crowd was more than informative about when to cheer in the right places and raise the signs higher.

So the crowd set off slowly, rounding the corner to an adjoining street that was also packed to the pavements with protesters, almost doubling the size that we had calculated on first arrival. The pavements were also lined with marchers: some with big banners; others on top of bus shelters. Some people trying to get to work appeared worried that if they nudged us we’d be up for trouble at the slightest touch and others were annoyed at our presence. This seemed hugely ironic considering that the protest was to fight for our right also to have a good job one day, and to be able to afford to live. Many times the all-too-ineffective barriers were pulled apart and then masses of the crowd would flood into the other sections of the road.  Admittedly the police have been criticized for lack of involvement or the absence of patrolling officers but realistically, with a crowd that size, it’s inevitable that inanimate obstacles are going to be rendered useless.

By the time we got outside the Houses of Parliament the crowd had started to bottleneck, so a few of the universities, including Portsmouth, at this point realized that continuing the march onwards was pointless as the message we were trying to convey was annoyance and stubbornness. On command of some of the particularly anarchistic protestors, with a chant of ‘On your butts, if you hate the cuts!’, the crowd started to sit down on the spot. One particularly motivational student stood up and ‘On a serious note’ informed the march that sitting down in front of the Houses of Parliament was more annoying than to move the march forward, showing the Government that we were here and we were going to make one hell of a noise.

Sitting there gave the protestors time to reflect, refuel and socialize with each other, finding out about everyone’s views, where they had travelled from and what they had done within their university to rebel against the intended cuts and tuition fees. 

When our group had reached the end of the march, we realized that where we were was in fact Tory HQ. We had no idea at the time, but as any interested and slightly riled students would do, we made our way into the crowd and some watched as the fire was lit in the courtyard and all of the windows downstairs were being broken down whilst customers in the next-door coffee shop sat idly by. Although the protesters that made it to the roof had broken and entered, some people thought it was entertaining and definitely making a point. 

I can’t be disgusted enough with the person who threw the fire extinguisher, but to all those who think we have just shown ourselves to be mindless, violent students, I say: you deal with the debt we now face in a climate we didn’t even create, in a country where the younger population are asked to vote, only to have their opinion dismissed. We have been let down by the very foundations we trusted and we are speaking out.  You may not have liked the approach of some among us, but we will continue to protest until we make our voices heard.  Some protesters may have been destructive in a physical sense but the Government’s behaviour is going to be destructive for years to come. We all deserve the right to an education."

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