After work today I went to the student protest. Been itching to get there all day – 20 minutes from the office, and the helicopters buzzing outside the window like wasps, and the constant, hypnotic stream of tweets on #demo2010 and #dayx3. The horse charges covered by the BBC news (though I can only find this one-line mention of it online, now); the baton-beating of a journalist that went unreported on the rolling TV news. And the debate, another stream of words passing hypnotically by. I couldn’t not, at the end of the day, grab my iPhone and go.
I arrived not long before the vote was counted, a few minutes before the news spread that the measures to raise the cap on student fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year had passed by 21 votes. My small corner of the protest was pretty calm, all told, because I was kept outside Westminster Abbey along with a crowd of a couple of hundred newcomers on the outside of the kettle, with a double line of mounted cops and riot police with short shields between us and the massed students filling Parliament Square.
Twitter was light years ahead of the mainstream media. I passed more than one journalist on the outside of the cordon who didn’t have a clue what was going on, and the fact that I had a phone in my hand made me a magnet for people wanting to find out what was happening inside the boundary.
They talked to me, and I talked to others, and though most didn’t want to give their names all were happy to talk. This is some of what was said.
A woman whose 16-year-old son was still in the kettle:
I was here with a friend earlier and we were in the crowd when the horses charged. We just ran away.
I’m so proud of my son. I agree that it’s wrong to raise the fees like this. I supported him coming here – I came myself – but the police were getting so heavy handed in there and I’m scared for him.
I have a daughter who’s applying now to do film studies and you have to wonder what they’d think of that, the Lib Dems. It’s not what they value. But then with the cuts to science, you wonder what they do value, whether they value anything at all.
A man dressed in motorcycle leathers, who wouldn’t take off his helmet after he came out of the demo:
They were using Section 60 and searching everyone. They wouldn’t let anyone out without filming them or taking photographs. It’s not legal to do that. They have no right, but they wouldn’t let people out otherwise. They trapped us in there and now they won’t let people out. It’s not right.
Overheard, from a group of 15- and 16-year-old girls, giggling as they stamped their feet to keep warm:
We need a better chant. It’s so cold. “Freeze the fees, not our feet!” “Should we stay or should we go?”
A police medic, between politely directing lost cyclists and concerned tourists to various destinations via routes that didn’t go through the riot directly behind him:
It’s a long day. We’ve been on the go most of us since about 7am – I was running with the march when it started this morning. I’ve been all over. I spent a couple of hours with someone who was injured, a protestor – hit on the head with a bottle or something like that. People throwing things, it’s bound to happen. I did stop for a Twix and a cup of tea at one point, but I reckon we will be here a while yet. It’s not going to be a nice night.
Overheard, another policeman, talking to a student:
That’s nice of you, but I’m not meant to eat Nik Naks while I’m on duty.
Joey, a 17-year-old girl who’s studying for her A-levels:
I’m waiting for some friends who are still in the kettle. We ran into a boy, he said he was 15 and he’d come here with a group of older students, like 20 or something, but they’d gone off or he’d been separated and he couldn’t find them. He seemed, like, really immature and unsure and we said he could stay with us but in the chaos we got pushed one way and then we couldn’t find him. I hope he’s OK.
Sandra, a retired mum of two students who are studying elsewhere in the country:
It won’t affect me personally, or my kids, but it’s still wrong to expect young people to start life with such a huge debt around their necks. Of course fewer students are going to go to university. No one wants to be in debt the rest of their lives – that’s why the government wants to cut the deficit, after all. But this isn’t the way to go about it. It won’t even help.
Jodie, 14, who cares for her mother, who is scared her disability benefits will be cut due to the coalition changes to the system:
If I can’t get the EMA I can’t go to college. That’s all. I’ll have to work, because mum can’t support both of us on her benefits. So that’s it for me. That’s it. It’s over.
A student from Nottingham, who had missed his coach home because of the difficulty leaving the demo:
Of course it’s been cold and hard, but it’s been well worth it. It won’t stop here – it can’t stop here. It’s not over. You never forget the first time someone breaks your heart. Nick Clegg is done. We have to keep fighting. But this is not good news for anyone.
There’s another post in the works, a more thoughtful one, about the decision the coalition has just made and why I feel it’s so horribly misguided; my feelings on that are inextricably bound up with and informed by the fact that I was one of the very first batch of 16-year-olds to get the EMA, on a pilot scheme in Birmingham, and without that fact there’s no way in the world I’d be in London, a journalist, typing this. I wouldn’t have A-levels. And that changes how I write about it. So that post is for later.