Socialist Worker

A student from Cornwall on what really happened on 9 December

by Josiah Mortimer
Issue No. 2231

'Rabble', 'thugs', 'yobs' and 'criminals' – just some of the words used to describe students taking part in the London protest against the tripling of tuition fees on 9 December.

There is a lot to say about what happened in London on that day.

A small group of around ten students from Cornwall, including myself, headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that even students in the tucked-away South West want their voices heard.

The sense of anger at the Coalition's proposals to increase tuition fees could be strongly felt. We were part of the massive march in London defying the government and the Lib Dem's broken promises.

Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting, 'Go for it' and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.

At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature.

The vibe was good-natured, and though at the back the speakers could not be heard, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with huge energy.

The march itself was unbelievably peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting, 'They say cut back – we say fight back'. People were waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. The collective noise was of Samba bands, passionate singing, drum 'n' bass and thousands of feet treading the main streets through central London.

But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere soon changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in. There was confusion – why were they cornering and blocking innocent people? It was then that some violence broke out, with flares lit and flares thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. Meanwhile the protesters, astonishingly, resumed the positive nature, with music playing and small groups sat playing cards and chatting.

On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get into Parliament Square but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fightback began.

There were around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays. This was abandoned after police caught wind and covered the area. Instead the group resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement.

It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – 'break these walls between us', and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off.

The response from the demonstrators at the Met's retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory. It was an event that will not soon be forgotten by those onlookers and participants who saw the police preparing to run down a line of school and college kids.

Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.

Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone.

Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning school children provide an insight into the attitude the London police have.

One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place. If he had fallen, he could have been seriously inured.

But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing and talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, defending Julian Assange, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or climbed up traffic lights to see the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.

There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.

Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, calling me a 'fat bastard'. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.

Our divided group left at around 7pm to catch the minibus, shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.

Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the Con Dem government.

Josiah Mortimer is part of the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance – go to

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Article information

Mon 13 Dec 2010, 11:23 GMT
Issue No. 2231
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