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Looking back: Millbank

16/12/2010

Stepping off the coach down from Lincoln, placards in hand and noisy, excited chatter in the air coming from the hundreds of students walking along the Thames towards Lambeth Bridge. Some are face-painted, some dressed in specially printed tee-shirts, and almost all are very young and eager.

For many this is the first demonstration they have ever been on. A protest against the government proposals to increase the tuition fees cap to £9,000. A mixture of angry defiance and eagerness lingers amongst them.

On the other side of the bridge, the noise gets louder. Furious chants from several thousand students pierce the ears of protester and police officer alike. The steady thud of 50,000 pairs of feet marching towards the rally point. A firework is set off into the sky by a masked man, to resounding cheers.

We march past Millbank Tower, where a huge crowd has gathered, drums are being beat and a lick of smoke can be seen emerging from a ferocious bonfire. Anticipation’s building.

Stewards that appear lost and confused by the developing chaos urge protesters to make their way to the rally point. The crowd swells, chants of “Tory scum” can be heard; outnumbered police and security staff look on with nervousness.
We walk past, away from the swathes of smoke and chanting, back into the jovial march of the majority.

There are too many people here for most to see the platform from which impassioned speeches are being made, but many just seem happy to listen. A man wearing a suit of money walks past holding a placard that says “do I look like I’m made out of money?.”

Back at Millbank, things have become ugly; the sound of windows being smashed and war cries of fury envelop everyone. Police look on, bewildered and utterly demoralised. Some protesters unveil banners, to cheers from the crowd. We leave as a contingent of riot police prepares to strike the protest.

This was just the beginning.

J

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