Walking up the steps of Temple station, one could hear the roar of a crowd, the buzz of megaphones, and the anger of protestors. The visible signs of a demonstration were also clear, with banners as far as the eye could see and literature being handed out left, right and centre.
Demo 2012 was organised by the National Union of Students for the 21st November, with a call to ‘educate, employ, empower.’ An estimated 10,000 students participated in the march, which began at Temple Station and ended at Kennington for a rally in the park.
The recent hike in tuition fees to £9,000, has sparked action by the NUS, as well as the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance for those over 16 in education. The massive debt accumulated by students and lack of availability of jobs for graduates also featured heavily in the discourse of protestors. All very timely, considering the recent figures stating that suicide rates amongst students is on the rise, predominantly due to unsurmountable debt and financial problems.
These issues have been debated greatly recently, with some Universities reporting serious losses in money because of a failure to fill clearing places because of the raised fees.
This was the first national protest organised by the NUS after two years ago, when around 50,000 students took part in a demonstration that ended in several violent clashes with the Police. A number of arrests were made in 2010, and the authorities ended up ‘kettling’ the protestors, trapping them in Trafalgar Square as well as other key landmarks.
In 2010, protestors occupied 30 Millbank, the building that housed the Conservative Party’s campaign headquarters. Police in riot gear clashed with protestors outside the HQ, and fourteen people were injured – including both police and protestors.
Far from this level of violence and disorder, Demo 2012 was generally peaceful, with only a few minor clashes with the Police, who were obviously heavily aware of the history of NUS demonstrations, and thus had a significant presence on the day to try and keep order. A reported sit-in on Westminster Bridge was about as dramatic as it got. Indeed, the march remained relatively peaceful on the day, with no real deviation from the planned route.
One of the protestors in a monkey onesie was hoping for no violence at the demonstration, which he said could actually bring about change. He stated that if it remained peaceful, it may actually be able to show the government that the protest was serious and political, rather than an excuse for a riot. But, others who wore masks and scarves covering their faces suggested that perhaps not all thought on the same lines.
Banners displayed included ‘this wouldn’t happen at Hogwarts’, as well as the traditional ‘no ifs, no buts, no education cuts.’ But although the march may have inspired many students to come out and have a voice, its impact will be limited, no doubt.
Michael Chessum, President of the University of London Union, stated that the slogan of the march was poor, and ‘not particularly punchy’. It’s fair to say that ‘educate, employ, empower’ is not the catchiest of mottos. Chessum was also critical of the route the NUS had chosen, which he stated was not going to make enough of an impact.
One protestor we spoke to, a PhD student at Queen Mary University, admitted that there were mixed messages being given by the crowd. She argued that the language used was asking for trouble, and certainly not going to change media or government attitudes to student protestors. Perhaps she’s right that ‘David Cameron fuck off back to Eton’ was not the most succinct way to try and affect serious change in this country. But what sort of demonstration would it be without a spot of governmentally aimed effing and jeffing.
Curses aside, maybe we need to think differently. Yes, tuition fees and government cuts would not be seen at Hogwarts. But as hard as it may be for a certain section of the population to believe, Harry Potter is a work of fiction, yet the issues at the heart of Demo 2012 is a very stark reality. Maybe a different approach is needed to get the government’s attention. Instead of complaining about the actions of the government, perhaps we should come up with a workable and realistic solution that would implement actual change. Change does not happen by stamping our feet and waving our banners. It may make the cause better known and summon up more support in doing so, but to instigate real progress, logical and valid alternatives need to be presented – and very few of those were seen at the Demo.
The hilarity and general irony of seeing students with banners saying ‘start the revolution now’, going up to Police at the end of the day to ask for directions never ceases to amuse. They may hold a level of disdain for the government and want dramatic change, but the reality is they would be lost without them – literally.