DayX3, reflections

December 9, 2010

I was down at the student fees protest in London today and, for what it’s worth, I should offer my reflections on a turbulent day (which is still ongoing in town, although I had to bail).

The march from Malet Street to Parliament Square was well attended with a huge variety of groups, from younger school students, to university students, graduates like myself, trade unionists and the usual assortment of Socialist Workers Party, anarchists, communists etc… All to the good, and the crowd created a lively, volatile atmosphere as it made its way through London. We marched across one side of Russell Square, past Holborn, then into the Strand via Aldwych, and into Trafalgar Square. Here the way down Whitehall was blocked by police lines, leading the march around Horseguards behind the Treasury and into Parliament Square. Whether this was the “agreed route” or not I cannot tell, but it seemed like a deliberate diversion by the police.

In the square, protesters had already begun to clash with police lines outside Parliament, taking the fences from within the square (erected to stymie previous protests, lending  a certain irony to their deployment as weapons to breach the police lines. Placard sticks (very lightweight) were being  tossed, not much else. At times the lines seemed to buckle and fold, but the police remained solid.

I moved back behind the main protest, sensing an imminent kettle, which wasn’t applied as quickly as I suspected, but was in force before too long. Standing on Victoria Street, I could see police horses wading into densely packed protesters, with red smoke from fireworks making their pretty irresponsible forays doubly diabolical to the eye. Missiles were thrown regularly from within Parliament Square, but the police could not force their way far into the crowd. As the horse charges intensified, protesters gathered on our side of the lines. A man next to me tried to walk through the line, was pushed backwards and when he moved forwards again received a sharp baton blow to the side of his head. Although he was bleeding heavily, medics arrived slowly, and only offered him a small tissue. The riot cop’s number was taken, but I don’t suppose any action will be taken.

Round the corner next to Central Hall, a small medical station had been set up. I saw a couple of police laid out, probably with back injuries, and a row of protesters, all with hastily bandaged heads. They all told me that they had been beaten with batons. An officer delegated to mind them, on the other hand knew better, telling me that it was “their own people” who had done it. An unlikely story. In reality, police were liberally using their batons, in a way that some saw as unprecedented in their experience. A mixture of the likelihood of kettling, the very swift deployment of horses, and the use of batons against missile throwers and innocents alike, raised the temperature of the demonstration. Any subsequent “violence” was, of course, a self fulfilling prophecy.

Back in Whitehall, we found ourselves facing another police line, behind which a couple of thousand protesters had been rapidly kettled. Wandering around the corner onto the Embankment, we found a small rally hosted by Coalition Against Cuts etc…, with an earnest, if patronising speaker telling us that we had raised our voices commendably but, even as the result of the Commons vote had not been announced, we should all leave “safely.” The crowd responded with understandable hostility to being patronised in this way, and throughout the day it was quite clear that the “organizers” had no authority over the mass of young, energetic activists. After I left, activists in Whitehall burst up into Trafalgar Square and onwards into Regents Street and Oxford Street, taking a slice of Top Shop with them. They had no intention of going home, surrendering in effect, without a fight.



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