I couldn’t tell you what happened at Millbank yesterday- I wasn’t there. I and other UCLan students were due to catch our coach back to Preston at 3.30pm- in fact, many students had been coached down to London as part of their student unions. None of us had time to hang around in London burning things.
But what of those who did? The condemnation of those students, teenagers and random, trouble seeking strangers who took part in the hours of vandalism and destruction has been widespread. Yes, there were some who had turned up to make trouble, but we should be wary of demonising all the students who turned up to the protest. Attempting to demolish the Conservative Party’s headquarters was too much, but unfortunately, this is a sign of the times. The political parties who betrayed students were in need of a symbol of discontent, but this was a symbol too far.
Some factions of the mainstream media should be chastised for honing in on the violence of the protest. This kind of reporting obscures the original message of the demonstration, and blurs the very reasons why students were out on the streets. Initial coverage gave the impression that the protest began and ended at Millbank tower- failing to stress that 50,000 plus students marched peacefully.We walked, we danced, we chanted, and approved of each other’s banners and placards. Some people in the crowd formed a conga line that meandered closely to the barriers, only to be pushed aggressively back by police on the scene. This was the only incident of police brutality I witnessed at the event, and it didn’t look very fair to me. Thankfully, as the the day went on, media coverage increased in its balance.
On the morning of the 1oth, news channels were reporting that both students and lecturers planned to march on the streets of London. By 4pm, the same news outlets were reporting that student riots were in full force, with no mention of the peaceful protesters, or the lecturers who were marching beside them. Nothing was said of the parents that marched for their children or the elderly gentleman outside Westminster who held a placard that read ‘I’m fighting for my grandson’.
The most remarkable fact about yesterday’s demonstration was that, for many who marched, the tuition fee hikes won’t even affect us (with the exception of further education students who were there). We were there to protest about the injustices of the future. Yes, students are angry. We are angry because thousands of students voted Lib Dem, and we’ve been lied to. Disillusion and unrest are spreading fast. Those of us who campaign against tuition fees need to cut the violence and keep up the momentum.
As for those Conservative bloggers who are calling NUS president Aaron Porter to step down from his position- the very idea is ridiculous and counter productive. Neither Porter or the NUS could anticipate double the predicted numbers, or the violence and protests. Vicious criticism of the demo’s organisers reads like Tory propaganda.
Yesterday’s demo was the depiction of frustration and a regrettable explosion of discontent. It’s sad that as students, some of us have had to go to a ridiculous extreme just to be heard. This is what happens when you ignore and betray the people who you were elected to represent.
It’s looking likely that nothing will change. Thanks to the violence and riots, all students have been tarnished by the actions of a few. It’s time to understand their anger. I’m proud to have taken part in the largest student mobilisation of a generation. Yesterday was of the utmost importance- even if we’re ignored; at least we’ve demonstrated our discontent.