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Jan 29th, Manc, 1 POV


For the record, I’ve been to a few rallies and marches in my time, but more recently, I went to the NUS demo in November and was at Millbank. I spent day X1 with the rest of SSL trying to organise the people of Lincoln against the education cuts. I was at X2 in London, playing ‘cat and mouse’, and I was, of course, in London for day X3, as has been written about substantially in this blog. Besides a sound demo outside Karl McCartney’s office, the 29th was the first mobilisation against the cuts that University of Lincoln students have attended. Travel was kindly provided by the SU, and there was an improvement in numbers from the last demonstration, possibly due to the time being a bit later.

TUC, UCU and NUS had organised this demo. ‘Funding our Future – A Future that Works: National Rally for Young People’. Part of the reason for the demo was to try to recall the bill which got rid of the EMA. It is quite common for trade union marches to consist of meeting to sell various party papers, walk and chant with signs, then go and listen to their top dogs give speeches about why they are there and what they want to achieve.

M passed some printed copies of my Guide to Protesting, and was passing it around the coach. The NUS bust card also made its way around. I was pretty ill prepared having just moved house, but none the less was prepared for the worst. I borrowed a mask off another passenger. At a stop I noticed one of my more apolitical friends, who isn’t a student, and his mates. When we got off the bus, a large portion of us tried to make our way to a toilet. Our first attempt to mass walk into the museum’s automatic doors was thwarted when they simply ceased to open. We split up, and me and M used Manc Met SU, then crossed the road to the veggie vegan place, where I ate a salad and an ‘energy bomb’. Making our way back through a sea of paper sellers proved to be difficult. We could barely see our own feet to move forward, let alone find our group. I decided as a SolFed guy with the Education Worker was stood there without actively trying to get people to take them, and it’s free, that I’d take one of those. The strangest thing was walking past a small group of mini-anarchists, who all appeared to be about 14. I was heartened by the amount of black flags however, that this might be more interesting than other rallies I’d been on, and that the mood from the other demos might have made its way into the Trade Union Movement.

We found some of the rest of the Lincoln lot, and ‘touched base’. Just then, a large group paraded through the crowd, shouting about Aaron Porter. I didn’t realise quite how significant the actions of this group were in chasing the guy down the street. One of us was passed a leaflet that said ‘heckle Aaron Porter’, which I found quite funny and insurgent. Others in the group were discussing how Porter has been put in a difficult position and doesn’t deserve the shit, so I figured I’d found my moment to find my crowd. M wanted to tag along, which was fine, of course. It was good timing, as the crowd began following the parade into the main march. Top of my list was finding anarchists, and second on my list was finding a sound system. When I realised that the anarchists had the soundsystem I was doubly pleased.

One of the most inspiring moments was next to the amp. There were 3 small girls stood there between about 11-13. They were relatively ‘normal’ looking, with high street clothing. But they were wielding Socialist Worker flags, had ‘Leeds’ painted on their faces, and a mini battery-powered megaphone between them. The smallest one pulled back her blonde hair and tied a white bandana over her face. It made me smile. One of the young adults on a megaphone had painted his on. A good idea. I walked forward closer to the side of the bike pulling the system. There were for black-bloc-ing people carrying a McDonalds banner, with the other side painted. It was the Anarchist slogan “you hold the scissors, we hold the rock”, and this time it was rather literal. Cuts, music… There were always one of two people steadying the speaker, and one pulling the bike. In the direct area there were about 7 more obvious anarchists walking alongside, and around another 10 less obvious similar-minded people, as well as the mini-anarchist group, two action medics, and two very obvious anarcho-punks. I pulled up my mask and my hood, and walked amongst them.

I couldn’t help notice how big the divide in moods was. There were those chanting at the back and the front; some of which seem to enjoy marching and chanting in itself, who possibly hadn’t been to any of the recent student demos which had been creative, insurgent, largely unplanned, and involved some degree of civil disobedience and direct action, or had just resulted in clashes with the police anyway. Of those that had, it was clear that some had never been to an A-B march then rally. Or that they had, and didn’t like them, and were assuming that this one would be different. Everything has changed. Jobs are being lost, the public sector is being cut or privatised, welfare is being sashed, especially for the disabled, and national libraries and museums and art projects are closing. That’s the case before you approach education. The students near-rioted over a rise in fees. Last year it turned from a protest into a real movement, and we wanted the workers to join our fight.

As I walked with them, I was asked to take a turn at carrying the banner for a bit, which felt pretty good. We swapped in and out, and at one point orchestrated it so that we had a fully female line up doing the lifting work. It was comfortable, if strange, to work in harmony with people despite having no intention of asking them their names. A school student from our occupation, A, came past to take some photos. I felt a little embarrassed in my ninja outfit, and stuck out my tongue behind the mask. There were a lot of purple eyes around me. Some people really take this stuff seriously, down to the contact lenses. We eventually came to a big park, which was playing some 2-tone, turned off our music, and walked a far distance from the stage. We planted the placard into the ground and parked up the bike. It was a good time to chat. I was stood near a guy with a V mask on. He had already had enough of the speeches. By the sound of it, he wasn’t an anarchist, but he was getting irritated at hearing the words “young people”.

We were all getting agitated and some were getting increasingly bored by the focus on young people. See it was a rally for young people, but young people are interested in more than just the things that affect them, and even were that not true, we have gotten used to representing ourselves, not being represented by elected leaders, or by teaching unions. That isn’t to say that they aren’t interesting individuals, but trying to appeal to the things we are interested in was failing miserably. It isn’t that the subjects weren’t true or interesting. They were. But they were also repetitive and offered no answers. For many of us, it wouldn’t have mattered what they were saying because so many of us are past the talking stage and wanting to get a bigger group to mobilise with. As a member of the NUS stepped up, taking Aaron Porter’s place to speak, the student activists in the crowd became more restless. (I don’t include the majority of ULOccupiers, who respectfully stayed quiet till the end) They shouted to get him out, and after hearing how good a job NUS were supposedly doing, was egged off. The next MP spoke against eggs, and talked about how none of this would have happened if Labour was in. He was egged too. Back away from the stage, our music turned on, which I didn’t think was a brilliant idea. It had to go off again after someone got really angry at them. Kudos to the SWP lad who spent a good 10 minutes in a crowd of black hoodies adamantly trying to sell a paper to some of the more intimidating looking fellows. There were horses guarding the port-a-loos, and there were FIT taking photos of us from a distance. I tried to tell someone with his mask down, but he was obviously high on life, and looked under my mask and hugged me, so I gave up.

There were a lot of talks about what to do. It was clear that staying here and patting ourselves on the back wasn’t an option. What could we do to make a point? Apparently, the SWP and some student occupiers had planned to leave after heckling Porter, but as he didn’t show up, the crowd was confused. I got a text from A, asking what the anarchists were doing, as she was bored. People were shouting “we know!” and “strike!” and “Why are we in a field?” The idea of an occupation came up, for which we may need to change clothes to get away with. The clowns had returned, and were actually far more entertaining than anything currently going on. They weren’t doing much; just frog marching and having a good time, but I’ve never seen them before. We decided that if we wanted to see what we could do, then we needed to see how many people would come, so we moved the system a bit, picked up the placard, and put on the music. After about 2 minutes, about a third of the crow followed. I grabbed one side of the speaker to steady, and someone in sunnies grabbed the other. The only people in front of us were the dude with the bike, and one person who ran ahead to tell the police by the gates what we were doing. They facilitated us onto the road.

The (amazing actually) music was blaring from under my hands. We led the way, followed by the big black banner. Photographers kept jumping in our paths to get a good view. It felt like some kind of crazy music video, and honestly, I loved it. It’s always pretty empowering to walk out in front of cars without fear. The police bikes zoomed past us and we knew the free reign of “Our Streets” wouldn’t last very long. As lines of police passed to ‘contain’ us, we would turn the other way. Eventually we ended up down an alleyway. We were cut off by the police. They broke up the banner and there was ‘scuffles’, as the police call it. We were struggling to get the sound system out, what with the horses, but it was now partly my responsibility so we stuck with it. I was worried that they’d try to take it, but after forcing section 60 on us (no face masks, but there was no FIT around anyway) they let us carry on. We took the music further down the road, and soon got a crowd again. A different one this time. People I didn’t see before. As we walked to a safe quiet spot, the guy who talked to the police before stopped to briefly say what he felt this was about. He said the idea was to take the protest onto the street where the people could see it. Just then I noticed the guy I know, N, and 2 or 3 of his mates. I was kinda surprised.

There were quite a lot of times where we had to run to avoid being kept in police lines, and I really have a problem with running. I would walk fast so that at those times people run, the gap of demonstrators would be filled before I was at the back. I took a few short cuts rather than following the crowd in parts. It was near 3, and the bus was coming at 4. I tried to tap N, but people ran forward. M told me that we should go, so we walked around the crowd as I had done and out the other side. When we came out, we found out how lucky we were to have done that, because everyone else, about 150, had been kettled in. I phoned J to tell him I thought N was kettled with his mates but that me and M would make the coach, and then tried texting M to call me if he needed somewhere to stay as I know few people. Just as I finished, N appeared, but not his friend. After a lot of ‘should we stay or should we go”-ing, and phone calls, we decided to leave. The mounted police were being very firm in trying to push us. It was becoming increasingly tempting to use the paint bombs in our hands. We left past a hanging effigy of Nick Griffin, after talking with some of the other people.

By now we had to walk at almost jogging pace. Mine and N’s legs were killing. We had to make several phone calls to keep the coach waiting for us, as we were far further away than we thought. Still, N explained his story; that they had got bored half way through the speeches and went to the pub. It was their first ever protest, and he had thought “well if THAT’S a protest, no wonder they don’t work”, but as they sat there the news came on with breaking news of protestors breaking out the park, and they saw people running past the window, and belted out to join them. They went from having never been, to not wanting to go on another, to being really excited about the next one in March. For M it was one of the most liberating experiences of his life. Eventually we puffed and panted on to the coach, and I related everything back to A, who wished she had been there.

I don’t want to post about arguments, but I do wish to note my opinion. Solidarity for me is about supporting each other’s actions and about fighting the same cause. It isn’t about being in the same place and doing the same thing as each other. It’s about being there for each other. As friends and as comrades. Not as colleagues. We have a movement going, and we were going to try to get back into it after Christmas, not take a step back to the same old demonstrations of pre-Millbank. We would have liked for the unions to join in and become part of it, but we weren’t about to join under an already established heirachy (which goes against a large section of the student activist community) which isn’t yet moving. I appreciate that it was trying to set up, and it was seen as rude for a large portion of the crowd to vamoose, but if the rally and march had fulfilled what the students wanted to do, then there’s no way that walking away with a sound system would have taken so many away so easily. I can’t help but think that the only people that enjoy A-B-Rally marches are unionists and socialists from various parties. The demo was mostly socially middle class, as opposed to those in London, but it still didn’t hold their attention. I realise that this is controversial in our group, but honestly, if the traditional workers left wing isn’t willing to radicalise or at least loosen up a bit then the student movement will just carry on without it, like it has the NUS, but remember, without the NUS the students were still there, and whilst our movement may get by without the trade unions, it will not get by without the workers.

Some posts on the subject that caught my attention:



From → Diary, LOLCⒶT, Opinion

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