Thursday, 11 November 2010

But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out.

I was part of the Sheffield delegation. 600 of us joined the march at around midday. Everybody was in good spirits, but that didn’t stop bitter slogans being chanted by the assembled students.

There was a carnival atmosphere as the march started slowly progressing along its route. The further you travelled, the more lively the protest was getting. Students had climbed on top of bus stops and were leading chants, ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!’, and hammering sticks on the top of the shelters.

Passing Downing Street was the first time I spotted a police presence. Despite huge crowds, there were a limited number of Police Officers. Those who were present observed the crowd in a relaxed manner.

A further casual police ensemble stood along the pavement bordering The Houses of Parliament. Many groups had chosen this the place to make their voices heard. Protestors cheered along to the drums. The crowd was impressive, peaceful, hopeful and smiling. A few people were encouraging a sit-down protest, but the vast majority drifted by.

Marching on, our throng was met by a swarm of fellow protestors running to join the crowd. Someone had a boombox as big as a car. We headed on past the Victoria Tower Gardens, with a little more room for manoeuvre.

As I got nearer to Millbank, it became obvious that the mood here was different, more aggressive. Protestors had occupied Tory HQ just before 2pm, and a bonfire had been started outside. Despite this, there was still a notable lack of police presence.

Chants could be heard coming from protestors outside and inside 30 Millbank. ‘Nick Clegg, we know you, you're a fucking Tory too’ and ‘Tory scum’ proving to be most popular. As more protestors fought their way in, the riot squad turned up, the first significant response to the action unfolding. Protestors began to disperse. Many, like our Sheffield cabal, had coaches to catch.

52,000 students marched to fight cuts to our higher education system that will create a two tier structure and stop poorer students attending university outright. We have been betrayed and disgusted by Nick Clegg. We have had our fear of the Tories confirmed.

While Millbank for pundits evokes the eighties, the students protesting against the cuts today aren’t feeling the same odd nostalgia. The majority of us were not yet born in the eighties or were more worried about how yellow and edible a particular building block was than the ruthlessness of the Conservative government.

We are worried about now. We are worried about the very real threat to our universities at the hands of the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

This national demonstration was about reminding the government that they are not unaccountable. If they lie to us to gain power through the ballot box, then we will take to the streets.

Until the trouble started, I was feeling happy and excited about what we were doing. A few hours later I’m feeling disappointed and frustrated. I hope that people realise what really went on today, and feel proud and inspired by our country’s students. The actions of 200 provocateurs isn’t the story, you could find more impressive hooliganism at a rowdy football match. The story is 52,000 students from across the country, marching together with one voice.

No ifs, no buts, no education cuts.

James Ashford

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