Friday, December 10, 2010

no ifs, no buts, no education cuts

I chose to protest Thursday, instead of going to my classes. As yet I've missed every demo because I've been worried about missing valuable learning time, but this was the big one. So it wasn't just an excuse to bunk-off school, as numerous claim. I felt it was immensely important to contribute.
At around 9 years of age, my mother had a boyfriend who introduced us to Rhythms of Resistance, a london-based samba band. We've played with RoR, as well as other samba bands, on and off every since.
If I've understood correctly, Sambatage are a relatively new group formed of SOAS students. Because RoR is a little dead at the moment, some are joining in with their gigs instead.

The day started at ULU, at around midday. We listened to and cheered speakers from universities and trade unions, then proceeded to march and play. I had not a clue where we were heading, but the crowd moved towards Parliament Square and we arrived there at around 2pm. I didn't know then I would be there for another 7 hours.
Riot police were lined up circling the square, mostly staring blankly refusing to answer questions. A couple proceeded to rant about graffitists encouraging violence, and that anyone still there after the results were announced were either condoning violence or were the perpetrators. To anyone who saw how they behaved this is laughable. I personally did not witness any actual violence by protesters towards police, and several instances of the police towards us.
Immediately after the result announcement, people started backing away from the fences (with the police behind) with the intention of charging at them. However, other supporters of peaceful protest, including my friends and I, nervously blocked the way. There was then a long debate over the effectiveness of different methods of direct action that went a bit like:
"They're just doing their job"
"So were the Nazi guards"
"That's a ridiculous analogy"
"That policeman knocked my mate over without any possible justification"
"But violence is not the answer"
Nothing happened eventually.

We went to warm up by fires and sat on statues, made conversation, ate Raph's banana bread and finished Olivia's tea. Occasionally we sought out the samba noise and joined them for a few songs.

Coming up to 9pm we were told by the police at one corner of the square that they were letting people out at the opposite corner. By this time, we were numb with cold, hungry and really needing the loo. When we got to the other corner, noone was being let out but apparently they were "shortly" (it was always shortly) going to be at the next corner. We were directed every which way again and again. Eventually we actually moved at 9pm on the dot, Big Ben ringing, towards Westminster Bridge. We sung 'Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye' and happily informed some police their shields were upside-down (later we discovered the left-handed ones have to do this). Little did we know, we were still being kettled, except now whilst moving.
Before the bridge we noticed a tiny path the police hadn't thought of, and we could have squeezed through it, but I hesitated. A few went through, and I reckoned we could make it but the man directly in front was confronted by the sudden appearance of a policeman, who reacted pretty badly at being outsmarted. I was so glad we didn't take the chance.
So we were then on the bridge, moving very slowly indeed, whilst chanting and swapping rumours. Then we stopped. We didn't move again until 10pm, on the dot, Big Ben ringing. Then we stopped again. Riot police in full gear were sitting on boats below us, provoking one hilarious man to start a trend of shouting 'stop spending our money on useless fucking boats' at them. 'Laser Boy', as we called him, someone who had come fully equipped with a green laser pointer, joined in by pointing it at them.
The students around us declared:
'Thursday night's the best night for TV"
"I've missed Misfits now!"
"And Never Mind The Buzzcocks!"
"And Question Time!"
I found it comforting that I was at least freezing to death with people that liked the same programmes as I did.
The funny man shouted 'come closer so we can pee on your heads, we really need to pee' (honestly, it was very funny at the time), which prompted the guy next to me to crouch down and do it through a clover-shaped hole in the bridge. Then he shamefully stood up and apologised. I was just jealous as I had been needing to go since that morning.
Another guy said he was a tourist, that he knew there was a protest and thought he'd have a look. Unfortunately, he came in the Square at precisely the wrong moment.
Nearing 11pm, I got ready to move again (we'd figured out that this was happening every hour). People we re getting out apparently, but so slowly that we were stuck for another half an hour. When we finally were face to face with the police we realised we were among the last on the Bridge. No idea how exactly that happened.
I couldn't feel my legs and couldn't quite believe I was walking (although very strangely). Olivia and Raph shouted 'FREEDOM!' as we got on to the road, only for someone to reply 'You're not free mate'.
Incredibly exhausted and aching all over, I found the tube station eventually (some entrances were closed) and got talking to some nice guys that were surprised to hear I'd only just been let out. They had escaped an hour ago and gone to the pub.

When I checked the BBC News site, I couldn't believe it. The only headline was about poor Camilla and Charles, and any hidden stories of the protest strongly emphasised the few injured police. Nothing to be seen of the WestminterBridgegate, or the riot police charging at us (some on horses). The reporting has been incredibly biased, very much expected of course from the Daily Mail & co, but the BBC!
BoJo was said to be "appalled by the scenes of violence this evening... It is an insult to our democracy". Gobsmacked. It was the police's unnecessary violence and kettling that was an insult to democracy.

I do think kettling is wrong, it antagonises and it's unethical. Most people just wanted to go to the pub; the kettling was actually prolonging the protest. And what about our civil rights - freedom of assembly?
"Why are we being punished for protesting?" we shouted.

The day in (albeit bad) pictures:

Unison, SOAS

a speaker on malet street

many helicopters..

the balloon

'How can I afford Hogwarts now? First Dobby dies, now this?!'


blurry pic of The Famous Pink Stormtrooper

a much better pic of The Pink Stormtrooper (via

pretty big fire started, amazing amount of black smoke

a red flare

everyone gets the shit scared out of them as police charge

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