Thoughts on #dayx5

Today was dayx5, the latest in a series of student protests against education cuts in the UK. Students took to the streets of London and Manchester to voice their displeasure at the Con-Dem coalition's plans. I have quite a lot to say about the protests, but before I get to that, here's a little package I made using photos and video snapped today.

The editing on the video isn't perfect as I'm still finding my feet in that respect, but it's a better job than my last offering. Onto the protest, I attended the one in London and there are a few things that I think need to be addressed. Firstly, this protest wasn't attended particularly well compared to previous demos. Given that it was on a Saturday you'd have thought that all those students who felt strongly enough about this before would have been out in full force. That being said, though, there were two protests instead of one.

The crowd out in London today was a strange one. There were a lot of the Counterfire crew out. They were handing out scarves for people to cover their faces. This gave the demonstrators a very aggressive appearance. Admittedly the police were filming them, but Solomon et al should have nothing to hide if they are as peaceful as they claim. Students and non-students alike marched towards Millbank with the familiar chants ringing out. When we got to Millbank everyone started running and there was a confrontation with the police.

The police quickly formed a line to keep out the protesters, who tried their best to break through, and in fact one of them did, only to be arrested within about 20 seconds. The mass of protesters very nearly overpowered the police and I think they could have if they had really wanted to. Almost immediately people started throwing sticks and placards, completely unprovoked. Any talk of solidarity with the police is utter bullshit. The protesters were acting like animals. They were aggressive, confrontational, unnecessarily rude and just plain juvenile in how they dealt with the police. Once again, this was mostly from the Counterfire camp.

I'd like to say it was just a minority, but these kids appeared to be getting a real buzz out of verbally abusing policemen and women who, in their defense, did not deserve it. Once the hardline protesters had become bored of Millbank there was a sudden wave of confusion. Nobody really knew what to do. In dribs and drabs, the march continued and I followed the Counterfire crew as they carried on up the road, apparently separated from most of the other protesters.

There was a soundsystem on wheels that kept the group happy. After a while it became clear that they didn't know where they were going. One of them actually said, "We're just walking up random roads." A few times we. And then we all walked up a dead end and had to do a U-turn. Priceless.

There had been a vague call to go to the Egyptian embassy. I thought this was strange. There are groups like Counterfire who protest in the name of a number of causes and I don't have a problem with this as such, but this whole one-protest-fits-all idea wasn't very well thought out.

It's one thing to show solidarity, but what do a group of belligerent students really bring to a group of people who are on the streets because their country is in a state of revolution? The students arrived in the area around the embassy and started burning their placards. They had nothing else to do. They couldn't even be bothered to chant for more than a few half-hearted seconds. Most of them were stood around or else sitting down. None of them appeared interested in Egypt.

I felt that any attempt at comparing the situation in Egypt with that in Britain was misguided. There were people in tears in front of the Egyptian embassy, while there were students brandishing cans of Stella and singing about how shiny David Cameron's head is. It just didn't match up. On the way to embassy I saw one protester push a large wheelie bin into a Mercedes. Oh you anarchists, you.

It was dayx5 and the students had the same placards, same slogans, same costumes, and yet their numbers had dwindled. It's hardly a revolution. There was no clear leadership and no sense of direction — literally. After Millbank, large groups just wandered off aimlessly. This is not the social uprising we've been led to believe it is and confronting police, who are their to do their jobs, does not help the cause.

A selection of my photos from today are now up on FlickR.

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