Demo 2010: A mostly peaceful student protest.

Having just returned from today’s demonstration in London, I’m shocked but not quite surprised at the media coverage of the event, which is primarily focused on the violence that took place at Millbank Tower.

From what I saw, the march was a peaceful one. Arriving a little after the scheduled 11:30 meeting time, I was met by a huge throng of students stretching in all directions along Horse Guards Avenue. After a little help from some stewards, who pointed me towards the students who had come on the behalf of my former university, we stood around chatting, waving flags, and occasionally chanting slogans.

We eventually set off towards Parliament, moving slowly, but hollering our slogans passionately. As we passed Parliament, I saw that some students had decided to turn the march into a sit-down, which was nothing out of the ordinary. We then passed Millbank Tower, where a large group of students had gathered, with some protesters entreating us to stand, in solidarity, outside Conservative HQ. This was before anything got out of hand, and before any windows were broken, but ushers were still trying to get people to continue on with their marching.

After a while, we came to a halt in front of a large screen erected in front of the Tate Britain. On it, we saw a projection of NUS head honcho, Aaron Porter, shouting about something I was sadly too far from the screen to hear. From there, my small band of protesters I’d been marching with made attempts to double-back on ourselves. However, some were slightly scared by the raucous crowd circulating in the general area surrounding Millbank Tower. As a result, we decided to hang back for a short while, purchase some lunch, and then return to Horse Guards Avenue in greater numbers, joined with others from the same Students’ Union.

In a nutshell, that’s what happened, at least to us. A recurring thought amongst my peers was that there was no sense of elation when we reached the end of the march. The crowd petered out, with some protesters going home, and others going to board coaches to transport them back from whence they came. It wasn’t unsatisfying, it was just a little empty. So many Unions from across the country worked tremendously hard, along with the NUS and UCU, to coordinate today’s protest, and for what?

There are blogs emerging that advocate necessary action as opposed to “a dour rally like a ticker tape parade for the homecoming queen”, justifying what happened by claiming that some riotous response was to be expected. In my personal opinion, however, what took place was a bit rash.

While it is in the interest of students to draw attention, and perhaps make attempts in illustrating their ire towards the proposed fee increases, I don’t think that smashing bricks through car windows, and drawing on walls is the right way to garner such positive attention to our cause, and to bring about change. Believe me, I’m as angry as most about the proposed increases, and Nick Clegg’s colossal U-turn on his policy to abolish fees, but I think what happened today went a considerable way to undermining what thousands of well-wishing students set out to achieve.

Before you light your torches and get angry, let me explain myself. Most of those (at least in the blogs I’ve read) who claim that what happened at Millbank Tower was a just response, also claim that action on this scale was essential to possibly highlight students as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, who will accept nothing other than a complete reversal on economic policy, and the elimination of these preposterous fee increases. While it is necessary to make a bold statement, with something perhaps greater than a march, there are still a few universal truths we need to remind ourselves of. No matter how much we desecrate his party’s base, David Cameron will still be our Prime Minister at the end of the day. Nick Clegg will also remain our deputy PM, and will be sure to still behave as any other politician would do so in his situation. This is a sad state of affairs, at least on the behalf of students. Still, cry as we might, we are restricted within the confines of a system these men control. Rather than rebelling against it in the extreme, my suggestion is that we play ball.

Today’s march was meant to be an exercise in unity; a stand in solidarity to show that we, as students, can stand together, and be angry about spending cuts, and fee increases. However, by staging something like Millbank Tower, all we’re doing is showing the general public (who far outnumber us) that we’re a bunch of hoodlums who can’t follow basic instructions and simple marching etiquette. At the end of the day, it’s their money that will go some way, whatever happens, towards subsidising our degrees. I’d argue that it’s in our best interests to show that as a nation of students, we’re deserving of such subsidies, and ideally, towards a free education. If we had the general public on our side, the government would really be soiling themselves, as today was a chance to make people more powerful than any of us sympathetic to our cause. Sadly, that’s not what happened.

Imagine what the news reports would have been like if this would have remained a purely peaceful protest. Like, if any news outlets didn’t have any violent tales to spin out of proportion. I think I’ve made my point already, but please, do ponder this before you go to sleep tonight. What would tomorrow’s headlines have been if Millbank Tower had never happened, and what effect would this have had in rallying positive attention towards our cause? Riddle me that.

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5 Comments on “Demo 2010: A mostly peaceful student protest.”

  1. neil's lil bro says:

    aris dude, i was there today aswell. and i completely understand what your saying. but my point being. (as was made by a representative of the nus on tv) that this would not have received the media coverage without millbank tower happening. i am not justifying the actions of the pricks who started a war with the innocent police and workers and endangered other protesters. however, i think that it is acceptable to destroy a goverment building or 2 in order to get this cause knowticed. this is the only way it would have got nearly as much media coverage.

    ps. nice blog

    • Aris says:

      Mike,

      Thanks for your comment.

      While it may be true that the protest may not have received as much coverage without the events at Millbank Tower, there is a definite difference between positive and negative media attention which I try to address in my post. People certainly took notice of what happened, but this was generally accompanied by a disillusionment of students.

      Whether or not you think it acceptable to destroy a government building, it still stands that what took place today has tarnished public opinion of students. Sadly, this public opinion could have been a very powerful ally in our attempts to genuinely make a change.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jaki Booth and Toby Nutter, Aris. Aris said: It's late, but I've written up my honest opinions on what took place today. I'd appreciate if you read them. Thanks. http://bit.ly/9crlG4 […]

  3. jamiepotter says:

    Thank you for the link to my blog, though I think you’ve slightly misinterpreted me. I wasn’t just suggesting what happened can be justified because it was expected. The wider point was that the media spun the events over and over, almost laughably, and by using similar language we fall into the trap of marginalising ‘non-conformist’ styles of protest. If instead we seize such action for ourselves it ceases to be demonized as it does in the mainstream media.

    There were a few cases of actual violence meted out against people, which is unacceptable, but the act of occupying a building and even smashing a few windows is hardly really outrageous. (I’d wager many people in the country secretly wouldn’t mind smashing up something of the Tories). It’s such behaviour which can make those in power think again and people claiming to be leaders of students (it’s not just a student issue and therein lies a problematic divide) should show respect for the independent actions of people showing the courage to stand up for themselves, embrace the diversity of the common struggle and not claim legitimacy for a wider movement.

    • Aris says:

      Hi Jamie. Thanks for commenting.

      I’d argue your point about seizing action leading to the anti-demonisation of our protest. Indeed, I’m sure you’ve seen the awful news coverage of the protest since Wednesday, which has even reached the front page of the New York Times. Students are being demonised to a great extent, whether it’s by a somewhat flustered David Cameron condemning what happened at Millbank Tower, or by Nick Clegg, who yesterday justified his turnaround on the issue of fees. Perhaps (I’m purely speculating here) Clegg feels that the events at Millbank provide some vindication for his actions.

      Just as you say, occupying a building and ‘smashing a few windows’ is hardly really outrageous, yet you claim that what happened is meant to make people in power ‘think again’? For what reason? You talk of respect, particularly about how those in power should show respect to us students. Us students, who have just markedly expressed a profound disrespect for our government, and our capital. I must assure you that I am not a fan of our current government, hence my reason for being at the protest, but at the end of the day it is them who are going to be doling out policy choices that will affect our future, and the future of all British students, whether we like it or not.

      As it stands, we have just given the ConDem government a big reason to not change their minds on their fees policy. Honestly, I fail to see the purpose of the Millbank invasion. Were we meant to scare the government into giving us what we want, through some threat that if they don’t, we’ll damage more buildings like some unruly mob? People aren’t scared of us; they are disgusted by us. This single event eclipses every action, including the protest, that every other well-wishing student or politician has taken part in.

      As I say in my post, Wednesday’s march was meant to show that as a nation of students, we’re worthy of kindness and a subsidised education on behalf of the government, and the taxpayer. However, after Millbank, we’ve only shown both parties that we are perhaps not worthy of such kindness, and that we’re perhaps not even capable of deciding what is good for us. This truly breaks my heart.


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