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Conforming to and Challenging Expectations: Was Yesterday's Protest a Success?

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Ask anyone about yesterday’s protest today and they will say it actually passed quite uneventfully.

Ask anyone about the protest on Tuesday and you would have heard a lot about plastic bullets, warning letters, violence and policing tactics.

After two large and eventful student demonstrations last year, and a summer where riots and connotations of a feral youth occupied the nation’s media, it would be fair to say there was a lot of anticipation in the build up to yesterdays’ National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) student demonstration.

Throw in curiosity about newly appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and any new policing tactics he may have introduced and you have the ingredients for a cocktail of drama, violence and a potential nasty clash between protesters, police and politicians.

Yet in the end, the elephant in the room for those in the media and at home is that yesterday’s march did not in fact generate the sensationalising headlines that were expected.

To an extent, young protesters challenged expectations of fire extinguisher lobbyers and Cenotaph swingers.

But are such seemingly unfounded expectations of youth simply indicative of a general more overriding problem revealed by a recent YouGov survey, showing that 59% of adults have little or no understanding of how the new fees system will work?

Do students fall in to rut-deep stereotyped cliché of the misunderstood youth?

Certainly more than 59% of the students at yesterday’s protests understood the new proposals due to be implemented next year.

Furthermore, despite many of them outright throwing their hands up against claiming to be extensively knowledgeable in politics or economics, students who marched through London yesterday also had a fair idea about the way in which adults in charge have handled the proposals which were passed in parliament last December.

James Wilson is a first year Natural Sciences student at UCL. He told TNS that the proposals passed by parliament were ‘very short-sighted’.

‘I’m no economist’, he declares, ‘but everything was implemented very quickly. The government passed the plans almost six months before the accompanying White Paper to the bill was published; members of parliament had to vote without being properly informed about the proposals.

‘Furthermore, Universities had to submit Access Proposals [detailing the ways in which they could justify higher fees through widening access] to the Office of Fair Access (OFFA) in February, also before they had any idea of what was expected from them really – something also detailed in the belated White Paper, but by then it was too late.’

James, who was marching with a ‘Stop Fees and Cuts’ placard, added, ‘I don’t think unfortunately that we can achieve anything directly today.

‘However, sometimes it’s no good just sitting at home, if people feel strongly about something then it’s better to protest and show people how you feel than to just do nothing.’

19 year-old Law student Matt felt the same. The first year, who is disabled and attended the protest in a wheelchair, said that he was not deterred from coming on the march by reports of the authorisation of plastic bullets and ‘other scare tactics,’ as he called them.

‘I’m here to give the government a message. Through coverage of other protests we’re made out as troublemakers – but we are just expressing an opinion. I was a bit apprehensive about coming but it didn’t stop me. This is what I believe in.’

Amongst politically aware students at the demonstration there were angry academics too.

Film lecturer Dr Steve Presence thinks students and academics are ‘two sides of one coin’. He will be joining teachers and other Unions in a mass walk out and general strike on November 30.

‘I don’t want to be teaching only privileged kids; we need to ensure these plans don’t affect our future children.’  

He was not the only older attendee at the demonstration. There were men and women in their thirties who are not students also protesting.

Yet, interestingly, these were the ones who were holding the banners and placards with ‘OCCUPY’ scrawled across them. The one’s shouting into megaphones about the ways in which the police were – in their mind – provoking them. The one’s who blankly shrugged when asked their views about the White Paper.

Students are not the only group seen to fall into clichés it seems.

Later in the day, TNS spoke to local workers and residents in a pub near to St Paul’s Cathedral. One – a man in his 40s – detailed his views as a member of the English Defence League (EDL).

He described how he attended an EDL march in Luton earlier this year. How does he feel about fees and cuts in education, and the students who are marching? He also shrugs: ‘There’s always been protests – you should’ve seen some in the 80’s. Not going to achieve anything are they...?’

Unsurprisingly, he missed his own irony. He did, however, shuffle nervously at the suggestion that traditionally left-wing students might not sympathise with his provocative views. With the thought that up to 10,000 of them were marching towards the pub, he left sharply.

Later, TNS also stopped off to chat to workers in the City about their views on the demonstration: ‘Well let them do their thing, they’re young. Fancy a drink love? We’re the good bankers.’

For conversation about a typically typecast demographic, those who lent their opinions to TNS on students did not do well to challenge their own stereotypes.

However as idealistic as it sounds, not all young people that attended the lengthy protest yesterday from the University of London Student Union to Moorgate challenged both the new fees system and expectations of students at the protest.

There were, arguably, cliché students too.

Like this guy. He’s marching against imperialism. And drowning in blood:

 

Another demonstrator, Adam, broke into and occupied Millbank in the student protests that took place a year to the very day that yesterday’s march was planned for.

Where does he fit in to all this? He believes that occupying is ‘the only way to get the government to take notice of us’. He also thinks ‘the police are out to get us.’

The TNS is not going to dismiss an opinion, but neither will it sympathise on unsubstantiated claims of police provocation.

From the organisation witnessed yesterday, although out in full force, the Metropolitan Police carried out their job effectively, smoothly and with respect to protest and the students attending it.

Although scuffles broke out in the front lines of the demonstration as it made its way down the narrow New Fetter Lane, officers maintained control of keeping protesters behind police lines in order to prevent them spilling out into other parts of London.

A fluid kettle, in effect, as it has been described by others, is a good way of explaining yesterday’s policing structure.

Students were told they could leave Moorgate as soon as the protest reached its final destination – with protesters dispersing successfully and peaceful in what many worried beforehand would be a space too small to allow this.

Towards the end of the protest a group of approximately 40 students set up a sound system and started dancing in the middle of Moorgate, but they were permitted to leave at any time.

Jack Sachs and Alice Astbury were just two of them. The Camberwell students said they wanted to stay ‘to soak up the atmosphere really’.

Most dancers had left by 6pm after listening to the likes of Maverick Sabre, Shy FX and D Kay & Epsilon:

 

(Yep, that’s right – ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m in Barcelona’ is the new ‘Pow’).

TNS’s lesson from yesterday? Students may be pigeonholed, but if they are, then those doing so need to remember two things; one, that if they are being typecast then it should be for the right reasons; and two, nobody else is immune stereotype and generalisations either.

Now, back to D Kay & Epilson; I didn’t realise students were old enough to know who they were...

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