At first glance, you might have mistaken London’s packed streets on November 10 for a Mardi Gras carnival. There young faces and large grins, combined with incessant whistle-blowing, trumpet-blasting and drum-beating. All mixed together to form the din of student protest.
The noise took shape and all of a sudden burst from the centre of the crowd, picked up by everyone else: “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” — the main chants of the 50,000 students marching forward from Westminster to the destination of the Milbank headquarters of the Conservative Party.
There was a fun-filled, party-like atmosphere as the surging mass moved past parliament. But under the jeers, laughs and wafting smell of marijuana, there was a serious message — and a deep river of emotion at having been betrayed.
The flags and picket boards were either quirky messages fused with humour, outright attacks against the capitalist system, or just a good stab at Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy PM Nick Clegg. Clowns joked with police and protesters dressed as Batman posed for photographers.
The crowd, now 50,000 strong, eventually reached its destination, greeted by massive speakers blasting out ’80s pop tunes. An open top double-decker bus worked as both platform and barricade. People hung from trees, bus stops and walls, looming dangerously over the Thames.
Speakers from the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and College Union stepped up the anti-coalition government rhetoric with passionate speeches. Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, kept the energy high until Trade Union Congress deputy general secretary Francis O’Grady took the platform.
O’Grady raised emotions, shouting at the crowd: “We’ve got a big fight on our hands.” She went on to attack the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition justification for the education cuts, stating: “Don’t tell us, don’t dare tell us, we’re all in this together.”
NUS president Aaron Porter told students to “fight back”. He promised that, “it is not us who will pay. We will make them pay”. His speech was accompanied by the shouts, boos and screams of the protesters.
Some were so enraged with the situation, they took to Milbank. Gaining ground against riot police, they managed to occupy the roof of the Conservative Party headquarters — waving anarchist flags proudly to the students below. Windows were smashed and the protesters lit bonfires, but there was a lack of hard police resistance.
Instead of the usual baton-wielding crowd control, the police seemed to be holding a relatively silent protest of their own.
Even with these events and the passion of those present, the whole demonstration ended as quickly as it had gained momentum. But it is doubtful students will go home and forget what has happened to them.
They understand which promises have been broken, they know who is responsible, and they will not be satisfied with half-truths and lies.