Britain: Everyone’s thinking, “at last students have gotten out of bed and done something”

Interview with 3 protesters involved in occupying Tory HQ

Below we publish an interview carried in this week’s edition of the Socialist, paper of the CWI in England & Wales, with 3 young people involved in the protest and occupation at Millbank tower, which holds the HQ of the Conservative party, after a massive demonstration of over 50,000 people in opposition to the British government’s attacks on education and tripling of university fees. Click here for a more in-depth report of the protest.

Why did you go on the demonstration?

Olivia: My EMA bonuses have been stopped already and my EMA will be cut in April and I don’t think I’ll be able to afford tuition fees and university. So when I found out, I told all my friends.

Jack: I went to the National Shop Stewards Network demonstration on 23 October and definitely wanted to go on the next one. Especially since it was concentrated on the cuts that would be affecting us. I’m doing a BTEC course which should directly lead on to university but I just can’t afford it.

Harry: I saw a few posters but it was mostly my personal opinions on education cuts- it’s just terrible and I just thought I’d show support for a cause I believe in.

What made people go into the building on Millbank?

Olivia: I didn’t know before that day that that was Tory HQ- I’m pretty sure nobody did. There were people on megaphones outside saying ’it’s Tory HQ, let’s go and speak to them’. We walked on looking for the speeches and things at the end. But we thought it was rubbish and were thinking of leaving because we weren’t sure what to do next. So we walked back to Millbank and there was a huge crowd and fire going. We saw people trying to get in.

Jack: The feeling had gone from ’look how many of us there are’ to ’hang on, what are we doing? Where are we going?’

Olivia: When we went back to the crowd, there were fires going and you could see the tension. You could see there weren’t enough police. There was a point where the first people broke onto the roof and held their fists up and the whole crowd shouted ’vive la revoluccion’. There was an absolute buzz there. You could see people start to really want to get in.

Harry: Then the police started pulling people in at the front. We were pushing to get in but we wanted to do it en mass and not as violent demonstrators. But then loads of people started getting dragged to the floor and kicked in the face by the police.

Olivia: They let the press in to stand around the edges of the room. That’s how the photos of the protesters inside were taken. Some people rushed straight for the elevators but other people were just trying to get out.

Harry: Yeah, I thought, there are loads of police, not many of us, I want to be with the crowd outside!

Jack: Then people were throwing things at the windows from the outside but at the same time there were people trying to break them to get out from the inside.

Olivia: Then once the first window broke, everyone poured in

Students enter Tory HQ en masse

What happened once people were inside?

Jack: For half an hour, it was just students. Things were still packed but we were wondering around and meeting up with the friends we’d lost earlier and talking to people.

Olivia: Someone had brought an amp on a bike and was playing music. There was a vibe, people were dancing and drumming. Everyone was united.

Olivia: Some of them were giving us the finger! Obviously people were chanting at them.

Harry: Shows you how closed minded these people are. You’ve had you’re chance, let us have a go!

Olivia: I thought, you Tory scum! You went to university for free!

And how did it end?

Jack: As the sun started going down, the police had regained control of the building and moved people out of the foyer area where everyone first came in. And then we saw the police coming round the sides and we thought they’d corner everyone else and didn’t want to get kettled in and arrested so we left at around 5 or 5.30. Going back to the tube station we saw massive crowds of police waiting for people.

Olivia: There were a few hundred people there when we left but at the height there were 3 or 4 thousand. I read an article the day afterwards that said ’unlike what we saw at the G20 with all the hard old anarchists, there were young, fresh faced teenagers looking angry’ and that’s all it was!

Jack: At least 60 or 70% of the people there were 16, 17, 18 at the oldest and I can’t imagine many of them had been to a protest before. I saw loads of people that I knew, even who I’d met at festivals over the summer.

Olivia: It was wicked. For days after we had such a buzz.

So it must have been pretty horrendous to see Aaron Porter on the news?

Olivia: He should have been right there behind us. Why should we listen to someone supposedly representing students who doesn’t support what students have done? He should be backing us with every bone he has in his slimy body!

What did you think of how NUS organised the demonstration?

Jack: They should have known it would happen- to gather that many people, to have so much of a buzz but such an anticlimax at the end. Noone really knew what they were doing. Lots of the people there had just been told by their friends and seen it on facebook. They expected something at the end. The fact is, if we’d just done the march and got to outside Tate Britain and stood there and watched the drab videos and the hard to hear speeches, it would have barely been in the metro the next day- ’Teens stand outside museum’.

Do you think other students will be put off because of what happened at Millbank?

Harry: I think that any other students who are concerned will be more inclined to demonstrate. People are actually starting to listen, people are waking up and thinking ’maybe we should get out of bed too’.

Jack: Most of my friends have always had a similar point of view- it’s a really normal teenage thing to dislike authority- especially when the authority is so out of whack. There’s a general feeling that what’s going on isn’t right and it’s time people started reacting. We’re meant to be a generation that just lives off their ipods and blackberrys and now we’re using our ipods and blackberrys to spread awareness.

The college has responded hasn’t it?

Harry: Yeah, they’re supporting it. I think everybody in their right mind is supporting all of us. Everyone’s thinking, at last students have gotten out of bed and done something.

Olivia: Britain’s got out of bed and done something! Everybody who was there was like ’look what we’ve just done’ and everyone who wasn’t ’look what we could do’. Everyone’s thinking, wow it’s international now. But the media has just warped it all.

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November 2010