I am writing this after 20 hours of travel and protest but I wanted to get out some quick thoughts on the issue of violence at the demonstration yesterday. But take a look at the video above and tell me: does this look like a “tiny despicable minority ruining it for the others” to you? Or does it look like a thousand very pissed off students deciding that passively listening to Aaron Porter talk about “action” (as if he has any idea what that means) wasn’t enough of a message?
I made it into a pub about 3pm while in London for the NUS/UCU National Demonstration against education cuts to find out what was going on, to discover that the reason the march I had been on had stopped and then started to disperse was because a) there was a sit-in in Parliament Square, and b) student had stormed the Conservative Party HQ. Commentators repeatedly referred to “a few anarchists, not students”, being responsible, and Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, accused a “small minority” of having “hijacked” the event and described the violence as “despicable”.
Ignoring the rather stupid implication that anarchists cannot be students, the fact is, however the media will spin it, maybe a couple of hundred broke into the building itself, but the reason they got away with it (the people arrested are people who stayed at Millbank well into the evening) is because of the thousands of protesters who surrounded the building and prevented the police from getting hold of them. At least 2000 people watched as people broke the windows of the Tory Party HQ and hung banners from the roof. And it would have been more if NUS stewards had not lined up at the end of the road and started lying to people that the Millbank protest had ended in an attempt to get them to go away.
I have been to a lot of protests and several that have turned violent, but this has to be one of the first where a small group of people started to engage in violent direct action and were immediately supported by *everyone* around them. I disapprove strongly of throwing fire extinguishers from rooftops, but direct action against buildings is as valid a method of protest as any other. The fact that so many people were prepared to engage in and support direct action should probably tell us all something about the potential scale of the movement that we are building, and just how powerful we can become.
And I think the message got through today that this is real, and we’re not going to go away, and people’s lives are going to be ruined by these cuts. Time to put some meaning into Mr. Porter’s dictum, “We will not stand for cuts”.