Defend the right to demonstrate
Edward Woollard, the student protester who has admitted dropping a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Tory Party HQ on 10 November 2010, has this week been handed a 32 month jail sentence.
Although what he did was clearly extremely dangerous (and is not condoned by Socialist Students), this prison sentence is an utterly inappropriate response to what was a ’moment of madness’ in which, thankfully, no one was hurt.
The incident took place in a split second and in a very highly charged and unexpected situation, with the police behaving violently towards students – using batons and beating back the protesters.
Despite this, and the fact that 30 people attested to Edward’s good character, the judge still saw fit to punish him in this way. The personal cost to Edward Woollard will be a high one, but the sentence was not aimed simply at him as an individual, it was an attempt to send a message to the whole movement.
The purpose of this long jail term, the judge even admitted, is to ’make an example’ of Edward and gives further evidence that the government plans to follow through on its promise to use the ’full force of the law’ against protesters.
Over 200 students have been arrested so far. Clearly shaken by the wave of mass action that broke out in the autumn, the Con-Dems are keen to quell the student movement through victimisation and intimidation.
They also wish to set a precedent, preparing the ground for dealing with the mass struggles likely to develop in the next months as workers move into action against the vicious cuts agenda.
The government is using the legal system to further its own political ends and this sentence demonstrates that the system is far from being an impartial instrument.
The case also exposes the enormous hypocrisy of both the government and the police. Without a massive, democratically organised campaign applying pressure on the government, hope of justice for those who fall victim to violence from the forces of the state is slim.
What of the police who dragged Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair and almost killed student Alfie Meadows through a blow to the head with a baton? And what of the MPs who, whilst protected by riot police assembled in their thousands, voted to sign away the future of a whole generation? Where is the justice for the hundreds of thousands of young people who will not be able to go to university because of sky high fees? What about the young people for whom even a college education will seem out of reach now that the government has decided to cut Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)?
These are the questions which young people will have been asking as they saw the news story breaking this week. Those who have undergone the police tactic of ’kettling’ on recent demonstrations will know that there is an attempt underway to put young people off protesting and fighting back.
The treatment of students involved in the Millbank protest, the 24th and 30th of November demonstrations and the march on December 9th, with hundreds of arrests being made, is all a part of this.
The Youth Democratic Rights campaign has been set up by Youth fight for Jobs & Education to defend the right to protest. We say no to the criminalisation of students and call for the charges to be dropped against protesters.
Although the government won the vote on tripling tuition fees on 9 December, this fight is far from over. Now we need to rebuild the momentum of the student movement.
We must argue for greater organisation and for elected stewards to protect our demonstrations. We need democratic, anti-cuts and Youth Fight for Education groups in every school, college and university, linked on a regional and national level, able to organise and coordinate action.
Elected stewards from every anti-cuts campaign would have the authority to direct and protect the demonstrations, making them as safe and effective as possible.
The day of action on EMA on 19 January, and the demonstrations uniting students and workers on 29 January are the next big events for students who wish to fight the cuts.
We need to be building and organising for these from now if we are to restart the movement and show the government that we are not going away.