A predicted 50,000 students took to the streets of London yesterday to campaign against the proposed cuts to university funding and rise in tuition fees.
As a former university student, I can look at the level of teaching I received and the amount of student debt I have and can safely say that if I were still a student I’d have been protesting in full voice yesterday.
So when I was invited by some of my old University friends to observe yesterdays “Demo Lition” protest, I expected a far different experience to the one I had.
Before the march I expected to see a scene similar to the time I took part in a student protest against the proposed introduction of top-up fees (jolly students in party atmosphere a bit annoyed but acceptant that the economy is in a dreadful state and, financially, life is not easy for any of us)
What I instead saw was a far angrier congregation. As the students waited outside the Ministry Of Defence for the march to start, they listened to the pre-march rally which took place and cheered as phrases were spouted from the peaceful, “No ifs, No buts, No education cuts” to the slightly less peaceful, “the class war has returned”.
The march began in a traditional, peaceful way, with students using signs and their voices to get their point across, and there were some brilliant signs too, ranging from the politically disappointed “I agreed with Nick” signs to the humorous (one student’s cardboard sign merely read, “I’m already too poor, look at my budget sign!”)
As the protest progressed and the students marched down Whitehall, there was the usual mixture of chanting, booing as the crowds passed Downing Street, the odd sit-down protest, and occasionally, some wally jumping on top of a bus stop to wave at the crowd with a placard in hand.
By this point (about 2pm) the seemingly peaceful protest was cold, slow moving (we discovered that we had got stuck behind a sit down protest for an hour) and generally seemed to be just another traditional student protest.
Then the phone calls started coming in.
Word spread that some fires had been set off and part of the protest had been hijacked by groups’ intent on causing trouble.
These ‘protesters’ had chosen to storm Millbank Tower.
As my friends and I stood by the roundabout next to Lambeth Bridge trying to find the rest of the students from our university I witnessed a sight that I’ve only ever seen on TV before.
A small army of police officers (about 30) marched past where we stood on their way to Millbank Tower, alongside these officers was an idiot who thought it entertaining to march alongside them and give a Nazi salute to the watching crowd to show his discontent towards the police.
The shocking sight wasn’t the small army of police though, it was the 200 + protesters chasing behind them like schoolchildren running to observe a playground fight.
Eventually, we came to the realisation that, as students from our group may also be at Millbank Tower, we had to go and make sure they were safe. So we progressed down the street and watched as the crowds once again grew to a mass congregation. Only this time, the scene resembled something out of a movie.
For no apparent reason, a drum and bass gig had started outside Millbank Tower, a party atmosphere was seen for a space of about 20 square feet, just to the right of this impromptu ‘gig’ however was a banner which had been hung to a banister and read “SMASH TAX-DODGING TORY SCUM (NOT EDUCATION)” as we witnessed protesters storming their way into Millbank Tower.
As signs and banners were set on fire and great cheers were heard at the sight of thugs smashing through windows, the sad realisation dawned on my friends and I that, for 50,000 student protesters, their politically motivated stand had been ruined. The story was no longer the protests, it was the violence.
I spoke with protesters and the opinion towards the day was mixed, while they all condemned the violence that took place some actually questioned if violence could be the answer to making politicians change their minds, while others predicted that the events of Wednesday will just be the start of nationwide protests which will inevitably end in the same fashion time after time.