london students 29th jan march - report and picsTagged as: cuts ema students
several thousand students took to the streets in london yesterday, and determined not to be "contained", they led sporadic protests to the egyptian embassy, and across shopping and transit areas of london.
as the march assembled in malet street, it at first seemed as though the turnout was poor, with probably as few as two thousand, including students, socialist worker newspaper vendors, and some workers' unions present too.
head of police operations, julia pendry, handed out leaflets similar to the ones at last week's EMA protest, but with the lovely addition of a little graphic placard bearing the words "right to protest". what an english sense of irony the police graphic designers have, having soundly attacked the right to protest in pre-christmas student demos, and demoralised many young people to the extent that yesterday's turn-out was so diminished.
however, as the march set off, a little early, accompanied by the combined SOAS/rhythms of resistance samba band, more and more people appeared, and soon the crowd was several thousand strong.
policing was conspicuous by its absence at the front of the march, but TSG groups were waiting around trafalgar square, and they joined alongside the marchers as they passed through and into whitehall.
whether because of the early start, or because of the pace of the march, police outside downing street were literally caught on the run, and had to make a sprint up whitehall to stop the march taking over both sides of whitehall where the central barriers began.
some protestors stopped outside downing street and flares were lit, but soon the march continued on through parliament square, almost without a pause, and towards millbank.
before they hit millbank tower, there was some communication between police and UCU stewards, the latter then holding the front of the march up. this then resulted in a short sit-down protest, but soon they were on their way again, and the tory headquarters was in sight.
of course there was a large police presence there, but with the march by now well ahead of time, not much sign of the organised rally and speakers. seeing boarded up windows, massed lines of police, and very little else of interest, and with the concern of being kettled in from behind, the front runners made a decision to keep walking, and pushing through an unprepared police line on the far side of millbank, they continued up through vauxhall, victoria, and into park lane, making a bee-line for a solidarity visit to the egyptian embassy.
as police re-inforcements moved swiftly towards the embassy, the protestors kept a close look-out for any attempts at containment, and with the layout of the streets outside the embassy not in their favour, quite a large group made a move once again, and headed up towards oxford street.
they took over the road, and chanted anti-cuts slogans, as well as simply "revolution" and a particular favourite "don't watch us, join us!", which occasionally worked as some people did tag along. there was of course a whole swathe of different public reactions to the unexpected protest, but apart from the occasional inevitable "get a job", i think the overall response was surprisingly favourable, and many bus-drivers hooted support, and many shoppers gave the thumbs up and smiled or cheered.
it's a shame that there were no leaflets available to tell people more about the connection between the students' struggle, the cuts struggle in general, and the anti tax avoidance campaign. i think many passers-by were confused when vodafone shops slammed their shutters down in fear of invasion, and the public was bemused by the sight of dozens of cops protecting the tax cheat phillip green by encircling his 'top shop' outlet.
oxford circus was of course the focus of a sit-down, but again, as police arrived, the group of several hundred people quickly marched off down regent street, through piccadilly and up shaftesbury avenue.
meanwhile, back near the egyptian embassy, police horses waited in hyde park, with fully-kitted riot police, but there was no kettle in force and some street fires were keeping protestors warmed. once again though, a group of a hundred or so demonstrators set off down park lane, taking over the thoroughfare, and holding back the police vans attempting to follow them. they were aiming back towards millbank, as perhaps some of them had to catch coaches, but they stopped for a while in parliament square and staged a sit-down protest, resisting first attempts to move them, and then the majority of them headed up whitehall and into leicester square.
also from the embassy, another group set off north and once again along oxford street. there weren't enough to hold oxford circus, but they carried on towards centrepoint, down charing cross road, through leicester square, and into piccadilly circus. by now, police TSG ran alongside on foot, and FIT teams (rather less fit physically), kept popping up in their oversized 4WDs and taking pics and film of people exercising their met-police-facilitated 'right to protest'.
in piccadilly, the boots shop became a target for the chant "pay your taxes" but again, this chant seemed to confuse passers-by, as the remaining placards were still mainly about EMA and cuts.
this public ignorance about tax evasion isn't helped by the bbc, who seem to have given up all journalistic integrity by never mentioning tax avoidance in the same story as students. i thought at journalism school, the professionals are taught they should always explain the who, what, why, where and when of any story. but the beeb has consistently described students as targetting or attacking shops in oxford street, without ever explaining which shops or why.
i understand that as well as the shop lock-downs caused by wandering spontaneous groups of protestors, there had also been a campaign of organised small autonomous actions throughout the afternoon, and several tax-avoiding businesses had been shut on repeated occasions as a result of these.
the bbc's omissions on the subject have been so glaring on so many occasions that it is hard to imagine any explanation other than a clear editorial directive. maybe one of the targets for direct action on march 26th might therefore be the bbc, as they appear not to be trusted to stick to even basic professional standards in covering the issues around the inevitable mass protests we will be seeing.
i left the students once again marching up regent street and yet again taking over oxford circus, all but briefly.
on 'sukey' i was receiving reports of other similar groups around london, with one lot walking along the euston road towards king's cross. 'sukey' itself seemed to have performed reasonably throughout the day, sending out accurate reports of movements which enabled groups to find each other and stay out of police containment.
while the police may have demoralised young protestors before christmas with the uber-kettles, violence and intimidation, they have also spawned a new breed of protestor, learning new skills, and using new technology, and yesterday was a good model for future larger scale protests.
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