Sunday, November 14, 2010

My last student post - honest

The press agenda around the student protests on Wednesday was pretty clear. Even the so called liberal press decided to characterise the protests as riots which is a deliberate exaggeration and one we should not go along with.

The media love to sex up a story and dry reports about the proposals that led to the protests are nowhere near as interesting as a marauding horde. For example, all the press went with the 'perfect' photo of a masked hooligan breaking a window with a well placed fire just to the side.

Of course if the picture is taken from a different angle it tells a rather different story. Namely that the window smasher is clearly on his own surrounded by a mob of photographers and behind them... a line of police who watch with a piquant sense of curiosity as this one man riot goes to town.

Likewise with the thrown/dropped fire extinguisher. This idiotic and reckless act on the part of one of the anarchists on the roof of the Tory HQ has been labeled attempted murder and turned a rooftop protest that was pretty harmless into some kind of terrifying airborne assault on our boys in blue.

Yet on the whole the press failed to report that when the fire extinguisher was thrown from the roof the entire crowd below started chanting "stop throwing shit" and the rooftop brigade did. The protest showed it was completely opposed to that sort of moronic behavior just as, I'm sure, most of those reading this will be. More importantly it shows how movements can lead themselves and can actually stop people getting out of hand.

If a policeman had been hurt of killed by this action it would have been a disaster not just for the policeman concerned and their family but also for the movement against the cuts who would have been destroyed by it. That's one of many good reasons to be in favour of non-violent direct action.

However the actions of one or two individuals have been allowed to overshadow the actions of thousands who marched on Tory Party HQ and the tens of thousands more who marched on the day. Blurring the line between violence against persons and political vandalism is something I think we should resist. Compare and contrast the way the press branded the demo with this video which shows the far more positive side of the day.

However, when you're part of a movement you don't get to dictate to everyone in that movement how they behave, you can only put arguments and promote your vision while moving forwards together. The move to say that the Millbank demo was 'tiny' or that they weren't students have been shown to be false with estimates ranging from 2 - 5,000 at Millbank and all of those arrested were students, ten of them children. These were real protesters who share our anger - that has to be our starting point.

I think Adam's piece on a diversity of tactics is spot on and we have to understand the anger - particularly at the Lib Dems - and help articulate the economic alternatives to cuts. It's understandable that there are student voices that want to target the Lib Dems. I think the national day of action scheduled for Wednesday, November 24, at 11:00am which is promoting local direct actions in schools and universities across the country is really important.

You can read more about it in the Guardian, on ITV and read the anti-cuts pdf. I hope it goes well, both confident and peaceful and makes its point felt in as clear a way as possible.

It's also worth reading the pieces in the New Internationalist and on Open Democracy who try to place this developing movement in a wider context.

The key thing, for me, is how students build the momentum from this demonstration and getting bogged down in condemning some stupid acts seems simply misplaced when the government attacks are actually upon us.

The years ahead are going see a lot of hurt, a lot of protests and occasionally we're going to see things we don't like. My concern at the panic some people felt at the Millbank protest is about what this bodes for the future when, perhaps, there really will be riots.

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