The student protests: all rise, students

I’m sat, once again, in the Jeremy Bentham room at University College London, fortunately the activists here are able to enjoy relative relaxation, after the day they’ve had, with some music and cheap rosé wine.

While an important meeting takes place – which those of us not at liberty to know so, know nothing about – one of the occupiers sings about how Liberal Democrat voters were robbed by putting “Clegg in the cabinet”. This, as need not be mentioned, goes down rather well among students who have today braved the winter cold to tell the coalition government what they think of their crippling agenda.

I made my way down to Trafalgar square today at around half past two/quarter to three. I wasn’t part of a group at this stage so I was able to walk in quite quickly – groups of people found it far harder to operate around town. I’d seen tweets from protesters throughout lunchtime to say Oxford Street had been a safe place to run to when police tried to kettle protests before they started. Ingenious young things would sing their own protest songs outside flagship stores owned by tax avoiders, before Her Majesty’s Maladroit’s arrived to play in a round of cat and mouse – an activity it seems bright young things are better at than confused constabulary used to easy pickings.

When I started to walk towards the fountain, crowds of angered students congregated on the other side of the National Gallery, as well as a smattering near Nelson’s Column. No sooner that I walked towards the stairs some protesters emerged as if to come from Tesco via Charing Cross Waterstones (this post may rely on Central London knowledge) – what I’m assuming is that some protesters were kettled in down there, and they got through, because the mood was particularly euphoric, as if they’d just been able to escape.

Lines of police tightened to block protesters getting through to Charing Cross Road, the crowd started to get a little packed which pushed myself and others towards the National Gallery. After a couple of moments the protesters moved sidewards to the left of the National Gallery, and it was at this point I realised all roads out of Trafalgar Square were being manned by police.

To the left of the National Gallery, police had managed to block protesters in a small circle. I came in from the other side and was unable to enter past. Within the small group a fire was set, fireworks let off, and beer cans flew. What it looked like to me, was that the police were trying to create small blocks within the kettled area of Trafalgar Square. This seemed to be for no other purpose than to arouse the tempers of those people (indeed tempers flew in the form of fireworks, some of which – sadly – were being launched at the police, causing one officer to dash off covering his eyes).

More than anything the kettling and blocking seemed to be a tactic to annoy people, and play silly games with them. Small pockets of people could leave the area if they chose to, which is standard practice to a kettling of this size, but mainly the crowd were limited to spaces opened up by the police – which usually led to another closed area. At no time were the protesters allowed to march in the designated area through Whitehall – and as Richard Seymour rightly put it “There’s no reason for this. They haven’t done anything illegal, hurt anyone or damaged anything. They certainly didn’t ‘riot’. But the police are exacting revenge, punishing the protesters. This is what kettling is for.”

A picture captured by the Daily Mail shows a man being taken to the ground by a police officer – unprovoked. The man in question is staying at the UCL tonight and I had the opportunity to catch up with him. At a site near to the one agreed for protesters to march down, lines of police sped into a group of innocent objectors to cuts to the EMA and University fee increases. The man just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was rugby tackled by a policeman for no reason. These are the sorts of tactics carried out by police to deter people from expressing their right to protest and it must be counteracted – and people are seeing right through it. All support to the students.




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