A sampling of responses to last weeks massive British student protests, focusing on questions of violence, resistance, tactics, and ethics…
For years, the young have been dismissed as apathetic. What has happened to make tens of thousands of them pour on to the streets in the bitter cold – not once, but again and again; not just in London, but in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds? What has sparked the re-emergence of student occupations in lecture theatres across the country? What is it about the coalition government and its policies that has ignited so much anger?
What I saw a month ago at Millbank was a generation of very young, very angry, very disenfranchised people realising that not doing as you’re told, contrary to everything we’ve been informed, is actually a very effective way of making your voice heard when the parliamentary process has let you down.What I saw two weeks ago in the Whitehall kettle was those same young people learning that if you choose to step out of line you will be mercilessly held back and down by officers of the law who are quite prepared to batter kids into a bloody mess if they deem it necessary. What I saw today was something different, something bigger: no less than the democratic apparatus of the state breaking down entirely.
What I find interesting with this, with wikileaks, and going right back to older underground video news outlets like undercurrents, is that it does feel a bit as if the tools traditionally only available to the state for things like surveillance, evidence gathering, coordination and dissemination are being democratised.
Attempts to portray the protests as “riots” provoked by a frenzied few are a clichéd evasion of the real issues at stake here. Anyone who has participated in these demonstrations knows that each one has been a massive and powerful expression of revulsion for the government’s plans, an uncompromising rejection of the cuts and the neoliberal priorities they represent. It takes some nerve for a government that is destroying our education system (while waging war in Afghanistan, investing in new nuclear weapons and using “anti-terror” laws to persecute large swathes of its own population) to treat the tens of thousands of students and lecturers defending it as if they were guilty of collusion in violence.
Most students I have met are not overly enthusiastic about preaching vandalism, though they recognise it was Millbank that escalated this movement. However morally confusing that first day of action was, it found a new way of forcing the government to seriously weigh in potential student activism as a cost of it’s policies. Many feel the peaceful Iraq war demonstration achieved so little in such numbers because of its passive obedience.
If the direct action we defend has any content at all, it must mean we supported, and support, concrete attempts to stop the law being passed, up to, including, and beyond the invasion of parliament – and we are in support of people trying as hard as possible to do that. And it is a fiction that the police could have tolerated that, or that preventing it could ever have been done gently. If it could have been, we wouldn’t have really been trying. If the police hadn’t been at parliament square last night, and if they hadn’t been prepared to act brutally, parliament would have been stormed, and legislation to triple top-up fees and abolish EMA would not have been passed. The brutality of the police is not incidental to the nature of the state, it is essential to it.