by Jack Brindelli.
Thousands of enraged students marched through the streets of the capital on Wednesday November 19th to call for Free Education – despite warnings of ‘health and safety’ issues causing the NUS to withdraw its support for the demonstration. Regardless, over 4000 students still converged on London, in an energetic march that toured past flashpoints such as Parliament Square – the site of a mass police kettle in December 2010 – and a number of sites belonging to corporate tax-dodgers like Starbucks. It was, as a result, a predictably vibrant and radical affair, which promises to revitalise both the student and anti-cuts movement – with a focus not just on student issues, but a distinct call for an alternative to austerity present in every section of the march.
The most notable point undoubtedly occurred outside the houses of Parliament, where police were powerless to prevent almost the entire march clambering over low-standing barricades and drumming, chanting and stamping across the grass of Parliament Square. A significant number stayed, occupying the Square for the long haul, while others pushed through further barriers to take the protest to other sites of political interest. This included the Business Innovation Skills centre which received an unscheduled redecoration in a pleasant shade of autumnal orange.
There was a significant media presence too – most students came away with stories of being interviewed by Sky, the BBC, Press TV, Russia Today et al. Despite this – and the fact the protest was billed for months previously as a national call for free education – it was largely reported as “over tuition fee rises” – a sore point in the aftermath, along with the press’ predictable conflation of kicking over fencing with the protest “turning violent”. That is not to say there was no violence of course – but it was provided by the police not the protesters. Officers stalked students through London yesterday, and as has become customary, singled out various protesters for symbolic acts of brutality. One such exemplary explosion came at the very end of the day, when at least 20 officers surrounded a single man, dragging him off into a van – in what can only be described as the world’s smallest kettle – for no apparent reason outside a John Lewis store.
In spite of all that, the demonstration can only be thought of as a success. Against the odds, regardless of the absent NUS and a bullying police force, the student movement has announced a triumphant return to the UK’s political scene, months before a general election it is still broadly excluded by. And with a radical core of thousands of placard-thrusting, flare-burning, slogan-bellowing students willing to face down all that is stacked against them, it has done so with a bang.