Marching, Occupying, & A Tiny Bit of Smashing

I thought it was important to turn out today for the demonstration against education cuts. Whatever positives remain in our education system will likely be eviscerated by these changes, with the dregs of hard-won meritocracy (never mind equality) that have survived thus far to be steamrollered in favour of a Tory educational plutocracy.

We assembled in Trafalgar Square; it was a beautiful day, with a bright, low winter sun and a cloudless sky. It took around an hour for us to move off down Whitehall (I was pleased that I remembered to make a flask of tea…), though we sped up halfway down when the temporary fences were cast aside and the marchers spilled across all four lanes. Everything was good natured, with police and passers-by of particularly cheery disposition. After an eternity waiting to enter Parliament Square, the crowd thinned out and we moved swiftly past the Palace of Westminster and down towards Tate Britain where the speakers were due to address the crowd.

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Arriving home just now, I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) that all the headlines were about violence. There was very little, and nothing serious from what I saw. After a restorative cup of tea at the gallery, we headed back towards Conservative HQ at 30 Millbank. Some protestors had gained access to the roof – a row of riot police blocked further access to the building while another row of hardened protesters buffeted up against them. Just a few feet away there was a carnival atmosphere with students and other marchers dancing to recorded and live beats around impromptu bonfires which were fending off the chill of dusk (See one of the photos for how near to the police line the fun started). Though every so often a placard stick (and bizarrely, some dead pot plants) arced through the air towards the thin blue line, it hardly constituted a violent protest. I think there were about as many protestors and police spoiling for a fight, and both groups were in the minority at about ten of each (though at events like these, the riot police always seem an entirely different species from the regular cops, who are generally fine). A couple of broken noses and a few smashed windows at Tory HQ is really nothing to write home about.

It was, though, both better attended and more militant than either organisers or police had expected. I think reports of 50,000 marchers are about right, but it was the resolve to wait around and willingness to test the nerve of the police that struck me. Though we are hardly in any sort of revolutionary situation, it was encouraging to see that, when the effects of the cuts kick in (which may not be at its worst for two or three years) the state apparatus might have a bit of a struggle on its hands.

NUS President Aaron Porter laughably missed the trajectory of the day by saying “I absolutely condemn the small minority of students and others that have gone off on this splinter demonstration.” There were far more people occupying the 30 Millbank site (and for far longer) than listening to the equivocal and vague witterings at the rally half a mile away. The crowd, against the expectations of the organisers and the police, made the focus of the day the more threatening (though, I would repeat, not actually nasty); meanwhile the union bureaucracy looked like apologists and the political opposition were absolutely nowhere to be seen. If these cuts are to be resisted then it will be need to be done without the help of either the Labour Party or the union leaders, I would suggest.

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I did forget to mention that the idiot who dropped a fire extinguisher onto the crowd below probably deserves all he gets…

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