Students rise!

IssueDecember 2010 - January 2011
Feature by Alice Turner

Westminster students, sabbatical officers and staff from the University of Westminster students’ union (UWSU) joined over 50,000 students from across the country at the National Union of Students (NUS) central London demo on 10 November.

We were protesting against the Government’s plans to slash the university teaching budget and raise the tuition fee cap (how much students might have to pay a year for a university education). At 9.30am Westminster University students started marching to the University of London Union where we met fellow protesters from other London Universities. Then we joined students from across the country as they meandered through the streets along the Strand, past Trafalgar Square and down towards Parliament Square.

Students were equipped with banners and placards and made lots of noise as they chanted “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” leaving passers-by in awe of the noise and the number of protestors. A brass band, drums and music added to the volume. The public showed support by honking car horns and cheering.

It was exciting to be part of the biggest student demonstration in over 10 years! There were people from all backgrounds uniting to defend education. The number of demonstrators showed that students really care about the future of education for themselves and their families.

About 50 students had gathered in the courtyard outside the Conservative Party HQ at Millbank, near the end of the scheduled march, and lit a fire with their placards. As the march continued, other students spotted the activity in the courtyard and joined them.

Judging from the genteel nature of the protesters throughout the main stretch of the protest, it seemed very unlikely that the scene would later escalate into riotous violence. The police had clearly not anticipated the sheer mass of protesters who turned up, and I think they reacted in a more threatening manner to counteract the vulnerability they were feeling in this situation.

Their heavy-handedness seemed to provoke the crowd, and the atmosphere became confrontational. There were also cameras absolutely everywhere, and these can also act as a catalyst for action, since some people feel pressurised to act up to them.

I understand that it might seem attractive to many students to play a more active, aggressive role in protest, since the majority of my generation feel they have become such passive spectators to the dealings of our government. The small minority who first broke into the Millbank centre were followed like sheep by a flood of excited students living out a freedom-fighters’ movie in their heads.

It was a great spectacle, and that’s why it was in the papers. I went for a late lunch.