Friday, 12 November 2010


So, I went on the National march to protest against the education cuts on Wednesday. Yes, I was in the group of people who went to the Millbank office complex. No, I wasn't one of the violent ones.

Something that I've found interesting though is the simultaneous accuracy and inaccuracy of the coverage of the incident, so I thought I would share my experience of it, to try and give a more realistic account of what happened and why it happened.

One thing that interests me is the use of the phrase 'Peaceful protest.' The protest was in reality anything but peaceful. It was loud. It was raucous. Thousands of angry people had come to make their voices heard, and we were shouting at the tops of our voices about how we do not find the proposed education cuts acceptable. It was not a peaceful protest. It was simply a controlled one. Until we got to Millbank that is.

How I ended up in Millbank (for those who don't know, the Millbank complex is basically Conservative HQ) was simply by following those who were in front of me. The march had been permitted to pass Millbank and me and a couple of mates followed the people in front of us into the grounds just because we thought that's where we were supposed to be going. (Some people ahead of us were carrying what looked like a person made out of cardboard and other stuff. This, it turns out, was the effigy that was burned outside Millbank Tower and 30 Millbank.) Once we were there and got a handle of what was going on, we wanted to stay there. This was the headquarters of the party that are planning to put these massive cuts (my college stands to lose about 80% of its teaching budget and will effectively be forced to close) into action. This is why so many of us congregated there. These were the people we wanted to hear our noise, our disapproval, our anger, and we shouted it at them as loud as we could. The tabloid headlines of Thursday would seem to want to have you believe that everyone who congregated at Millbank was a mindless thug, but we were all there for a very definite reason.

Now, the violence. I've been thinking for quite a while about how to write this. I think I'll just have to write it as it comes to me. Sorry if it rambles and doesn't make too much sense.

It started to become clear that something was going to happen when a few people started setting fire to their placards. It wasn't what started the trouble, but it did seem to coincide with the anger of the crowd turning into action. Police officers were blocking the entrance to 30 Millbank after some people had rushed the doors and got in. This meant that they were stuck inside. Some news reports have said that this was when the vandalism inside 30 Millbank started. That's not really the case though. At that stage it was more like when people walked into the Vodafone stores to protest against their tax evasion. They seemed to just be concerned with making things difficult simply by being there.

Anyway, a few people started to throw things and as more people came into the complex, more people were pushed up to the police line, which is when they first raised their batons at the crowd. By now the people setting fire to their signs were putting them on the fire remaining from the effigy and creating a small bonfire. The shouting was getting louder and angrier. More things were being thrown. The area outside Millbank Tower and 30 Millbank was filling up with smoke. Then riot police turned up. Then people started to try and break the windows of 30 Millbank. At some point a drumming group turned up and got people dancing. All of this going on at once in such a small area created a truly incredible and addictive atmosphere. It was exhilarating just being there watching all of this happen. That may sound weird, but it really was something that was easy to get caught up in.

At some point it actually started to get a bit scary and I decided to force my way out (I had been pretty much trapped in there by the sheer number of people) of the Millbank complex and go next to the river by the other side of the road. From there I watched the windows of 30 Millbank get smashed and more people getting inside the building (which is when the vandalism inside the building really started). I watched as a group of police officers trying to reinforce the police line were bombarded by people until they had to turn back and retreat. I didn't see the fire extinguisher being thrown/dropped from the top of the building, but a friend of mine did and said it was pretty terrifying.

I'm amazed it didn't get worse. When it became apparent that the protesters were effectively had the power in this situation and that there was no way the police would be able to control the those who were in the complex was when things got bad, but they could've got a Hell of a lot worse.

I feel that the violence of the day has been somewhat misrepresented. Yes, it was a comparatively very small number of people actually being violent, but they were being egged on by a good couple of thousand people. Few may have done the action, but believe me, many more than that really wanted it to happen.

I'm also not sure how to take the claims I've seen that anarchist groups like The Babylon are to blame for what happened. Firstly, I can't help but think that it would've been worse if there were. Secondly, in a way I think it's an attempt to undermine the whole incident. Chalk it up to anarchists and let's get on with it. If it's anarchists then it's just violence the sake of violence and you don't actually need to consider why there was violence. From my perspective, a lot of people were very angry and wanted to act on that.

My opinion is that this was inevitable. You have the Conservative party, who've always been seen as just be a party of the rich and for the rich, in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats who've been seemingly far too ready to turn their backs on their pre-election pledges and policies when given a whiff of power and are suddenly ready to tow the tory line. This is already a government that has left a lot of the people who voted for it feeling massively let down. Now add to that the bold moves of raising tuition fees to triple the amount and slashing teaching budgets (cutting budgets entirely in some subjects it would seem) and you are going to make a lot of people very angry. They seem to have underestimated how much people really care about education in this country. The protest on Wednesday was about showing that we will not lie down and let ourselves be walked over. With a march of this kind being allowed to go past Millbank, well, what did they expect was going to happen? People are furious and some will act upon that fury if given the opportunity. That is an inevitability.

A point one of my tutors raised today: How was it that this march was allowed to go past Millbank in the first place? How was that authorised with as little police presence as there was?

I'm still not entirely sure if I'm for or against what happened. Either way, one thing I am certain of is that, no matter what news outlets might tell you, it was absolutely not mindless. It was not petty or pointless. It served a purpose. That purpose was to forcefully underline that people will not stand for what the powers that be are trying to force upon them and if you try to make them, they will fight back.

There will almost certainly be more demonstartions against the proposed Government cuts. People will protest against the cuts they see as being unfair. This time it was actually pretty lucky there was as little violence as there was. It could've been a lot worse. A LOT worse. This was a bunch of students who still have a chance at something. Wait til you have a massive group of people who feel like they have nothing to lose and are at the end of their tether. Then see what happens.


Fat Chan said...

It's good to hear something about the protests from the inside. Thank you for writing about this dude and I really hope that the government will finally start to listen to the people... I'm pretty sure this is a democracy after all.

Ergh Argh said...

Really good post Axl. Considered submitting it to a news site?