Impact sent a team of reporters and photographers down to Demolition 2010 on the 10th November. This is what they saw and what they thought of the events that took place.
Ben James Writes…
Helicopters circled the scene at Demolition this Wednesday, as the work of some 40-50,000 demonstrators was undone at Millbank Tower by 500 violent protesters, who took it upon themselves to turn the poignant march about the unnecessary nature in the rise of tuition fees and university cuts into one of frustration, alienation and repulsion.
NUS president Aaron Porter set the goals of Demolition animatedly, indignantly and clearly at a press conference on Wednesday morning, “We are here to contest the unnecessary speed and depth of the university cuts and the political, not economic, reasons for these cuts and to encourage stimulation not a decrease in the economy”. On the streets, numerous placards demonstrated the direct yet light-hearted approach of the demonstrators; “Education for the masses, not the Ruling Classes”, “I wanted a future but all I got was this stupid sign” and “Fuck this, I’m moving to Scotland”. Although the atmosphere was serious and with purpose, there was still a sense of solidarity and of excitement – people of numerous ages and backgrounds put aside their differences to unite for a common goal. This crowd was neither threatening nor destructive, and above all, encouraged an expression of the student opinion to those who otherwise would not listen.
However, the building momentum of this rally turned, in one small section of protestors, to violence – but why? In my opinion it was the misdoings of the rally leaders and police. Following the promising demonstration of students’ opinions across the afternoon, the finale of Demolition was a series of videos and a number of speeches by officials many students wouldn’t have recognised. These speeches, although rousing, were ultimately anticlimactic and imbued a sense of enthusiasm to the ever bloodthirsty demonstrators that potentially pushed them to a violent alternative. On the other hand, had this enthusiasm been halted by the police at that time, Millbank would not have been so easily ransacked. Admittedly, the police only anticipated the participation of roughly 15,000, and as nearly three times as many turned up, they were understandably unprepared. But given that they had the majority of policemen idly stood outside Westminster, having protestors rioting only yards down the street seemed ridiculous. The police could and should have applied a more assertive force in order to quell the ever-growing hostility.
Unfortunately, and stressed at length by the media, some excited, opinionated and/or drunk protestors turned their sights upon the Conservative HQ of Millbank Tower and Millbank 30. Protestors began by starting bonfires in the square of Millbank Tower, before then shredding entire panes of glass in their bid to enter Millbank 30. Some 40-50 protesters took to the roof, waving banners and throwing objects down to the on looking crowd. Amid all this action 3 policemen and 7 protesters were hospitalised with minor injuries. Riot police defended the base of Millbank 30, as chants of “When I say “Cameron” you say “Wanker!” When I say “Clegg” you say “Liar”” rang out across the mob. However, few of the actual protesters were in fact students – on average they were either 15-17 or late-twenties to early-forties. Very few seemed to be students who are presently at university. This begs the question – was this violent protest the doing of students, or anarchists? And what are the consequences for students nationwide?
The worst part of all this is the waste; the waste in time, energy and organisation and the damage it will do to the NUS, the UCU and the peaceful demonstrators who will now be demonised in the eyes of the public and the government. It seems likely that those in power will be less inclined to sympathise with the cause of Demolition, and only strengthen their resolve for university cuts and tuition fee rises.
Mea Goodall writes…
The 50,000 defenders of higher education who enthusiastically descended on London yesterday from Exeter to Inverness, and not forgetting Nottingham of course, exemplified the energy and passion that people from all social and economic backgrounds feel about their education. Marching along chanting lines like ‘Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue’, although quite amusing, cemented the sense of unity and solidarity that goes with any mass demonstration.
The march itself was really exciting; being in the capital, defying the government, diverting traffic and generally making a lot of noise. However, when we reached Millbank Tower, also known as Tory HQ, there were uncomfortable scenes of rowdy protesters kicking at glass panels and fatuously shouting things like ‘Tory scum’ and ‘Nick is a c**t’. A little while later, as we were nearing the end of Tory Towers, we came across smashed glass and police officers. Most of the peaceful protesters looked on with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. Isn’t a 50 000 turn out enough to show how furious students are? Little did they know that this was just the beginning of the violence.
The majority of the demonstration was inspiring, and the speeches by NUS President Aaron Porter and the UCU general secretary Sally Hunt were uplifting and provocative. A will to fight these cuts and to continue to vigorously oppose £9,000-a-year tuition fees seemed to be the general feeling amongst the protestors. The whole event, unfortunately, was overshadowed by a minority who believe that violence, chaos and destruction is the way forward. Never mind the inspirational images of mass demonstration, it will sadly be the disgraceful, animal-like behaviour displayed by a very small minority, unrelated to the NUS, that receives the most attention from the press.
These people, reportedly not students, do not represent us. Our work against these cuts has been made even harder, because now we have to prove to the general population that we are not violent anarchists out to destroy the government. We should applaud Aaron Porter’s quick condemnation of the violence as “despicable”, but this is the sort of thing that the 24 hour news coverage loves to sensationalise. Headlines to the effect of ‘students turn violent’ are completely misleading.
Daniel Fine Writes…
Yesterday over 52,000 students took to the streets in what was the largest student protest in over a decade, against the cuts to higher education and the rise in tuition fees. It was billed by NUS president Aaron Porter as the beginning of a nationwide campaign to oppose these measures, in which he promised to attempt recall elections in Liberal Democrat constituencies, but violent protestors at Millbank tower may have already given the protest its death knell.
The day started off well with over the three times the predicted number of students gathering on the streets of London with the air of a festival as we marched through Westminster to the Tate museum, where speeches from Mr Porter and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt were heard among others, but amid this jovial atmosphere there was always a very palpable feeling of anger within the crowd, directed especially towards the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg, who have backed away from their election pledge to vote against any proposed rise in tuition fees, or as protesters’ signs so elegantly put it “Nick Clegg your mum bends over as well as you do” and “Clegg’s a traitor now we hate ya”.
The great patriotism towards the Labour party shown throughout the march seemed to overlook the fact that the Browne review, which has proposed the rise in tuition fees to £9,000, was commissioned by Lord Mandelson and the Labour government and that the previous administration, if re-elected, probably would have pursued similar policies, although doubtful to the same extent as the suggested 80% cut in higher education funding.
There was little hope among the protesters that the rally would have any impact whatsoever, on the decisions of the coalition government but the march was designed to display our opposition and as one organizer said to show that this policy wasn’t implemented unopposed. Well that has certainly been achieved.
Then came the violence at 30 Millbank that overshadowed the day, where an effigy of Nick Clegg was burnt before around 200 demonstrators, including some schoolchildren protesting the cuts to EMA, breaking into the foyer of 30 Millbank and ‘occupying’ the building breaking windows and throwing missiles, including a fire extinguisher down from the roof. These included many anarchist rioters who were just out for some violence. That said, to say they were the only violent demonstrators would be a gross misinterpretation of the situation. Many students were hanging anti-cuts banners off the roof, and thousands of students cheered them on in the courtyard outside of Millbank. The police’s reaction was woeful; far too few officers were stationed around the building which allowed the violence to continue for hours in which protestors broke windows from inside the building, although one police officer, who remains anonymous, remarked when asked if more riot police where coming “Yeh, but they’re cutting the police budget too so we’re in no hurry”. Putting aside this, hopefully, joking comment the police were too few and were unprepared. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police admitted “It’s an embarrassment for London and for us”.