Thursday, 25 November 2010
Huge Brighton & Hove Students Demonstration Against Fees
It was one of the most exhilarating demonstrations that I can remember in Brighton. Just the energy and enthusiasm were amazing, as was the determination to fight to prevent higher education being hived off to the children of the rich. ‘Nick Cleg, Shame on you, Shame on You for Turning Blue’ was one of the innovative slogans that cried out.
The rally was in the park near BHASVIC, Brighton & Hove 6th Form College and already when I got there at quarter to two there were hundreds of students gathered. Unlike most demonstrations I've been on, which wait interminably in the hope that someone else will turn up, this march began on the dot of 2 down Dyke Road to the centre of Brighton. Our local Events policeman come intelligence operative, Sgt. MacDonald suggested that maybe as an older demonstrator, I could keep the kids from stepping into the road. Purely in a fatherly role he explained, not as a policeman!
It was a novel experience parking at the side of the park to unload the PA and banners. Students gathered around and like vultures descended on the banners, stripping the bus within minutes.
I and a few others from the Socialist Party arrived in the Unemployed Centre’s distinctive red minibus. We had made a detour to the Centre to pick up a few dozen more placards. Ironically, this time last week, organisers had considered calling off the march as they were afraid no one was going to turn up! They needn’t have worried. As a veteran of more Brighton demonstrations than hot dinners this was the second largest demonstration I’d witnessed after the one on the day war broke out against Iraq.
Initial police estimates of one thousand were rapidly increased to three thousand, but I would suggest that between four and five thousand would be more accurate. As the march made its way along the route, young kids joined all the time. I wasn’t on most of the march and I meet it as it came down North Street from the Clocktower, as I took the minibus with the PA into town in order that it could be set up in Victoria Gardens opposite the Art College in Grand Parade. And to think when I was Vice-President of the Brighton Polytechnic Student Union from 1977-79 this was one of the most active colleges in terms of student militancy. Now school students were demonstrating outside as the students inside went on with their work undisturbed (though reports have come in of a student occupation of an annexe tonight).
The Unemployed Centre banner flew high throughout the demo being carried by school students. At Grand Parade itself as thousands milled around comrades gave me the mike in order to try and gain some political control back of the demonstration. But it was far too late for that. But I nonetheless seized the chance to bring comradely greetings from one generation to another. Ad libbing as I went along I reminisced that when I was a student union officer 33 years ago in this very building we paid no fees and our fight was for a full student grant and no tuition fees for overseas students (who were then being charged discriminatory fees by the Labour government).
We live in a society which can wage wars without limit but cannot wage a war against poverty and hunger. That is what the fight against fees is about.
I praised the students who had invaded Tory Party HQ and Millbank a few weeks ago and mentioned that nothing made me more proud than the fact that my own daughter had been arrested and finished off by saying that when I looked out on the demonstration I could see that we of an older generation are now passing on the baton for free education and decent public services to a younger generation and we need not have any fears that they will pick it up.
Above are a few pictures and a link to the rest as well as video clips from a memorable day.
PS: As darkness fell the Police turned nasty and in particular inside the Housing Benefit offices they attacked the youngsters. Latest reports suggest that about 10 school students were arrested, most 15 and 16 but one aged 13! And the occupation is still going strong at Pavilion Parade, a small wing building of the main Art College. However they have occupied a teaching room whereas we always, as a matter of course, occupied the Administration block when we went into occupation! And late last night on TV news we saw one lecturer Bob Brecher at Pavilion Parade complaining that the Police were refusing to let him into the building to teach!