Reports have claimed that the event in London on the 21st of November was plagued by rain, uncertainty, and a few bad eggs. But is the national press giving a fair portrayal of this year’s student protest?
Despite fears of kettling by the police and other negative recurrences from the protest two years ago, many articles published in the mainstream press seem to suggest that Demo2012 was just a little bit… dull. Although the NUS claimed an expected turnout of 10,000, it was a reported 3-4000 students who attended in comparison to over 50,000 at the protest two years ago.
NUS President Liam Burns was allegedly pelted with eggs, fruit, and chants such as “NUS shame on you, where the fuck have you brought us to” at the conclusion of the march during his address on stage at Kennington Park. The rest of the day was marred by foul weather, a poor turnout, and the belief by many that the NUS had failed to fight the trebling of university fees.
SUSU’s Welfare Officer Charlotte Britton played a key role in organising the group of Swansea students who travelled to London to protest alongside their fellow students and gave her thoughts on the overall result of the day.
“I think the demo went really well yesterday. It was a shame about the weather, as near the end everyone was very wet and cold, but there is nothing that can replace that feeling of coming together for a common cause – it’s important for the movement, and personally I found it very inspiring.
“I think the demo achieved one of its biggest aims – creating more activists. A lot of the students on the Swansea bus today were new faces to me and the SU, which is really positive. I think it also rejuvenated a lot of SU officers. Being surrounded by a sea of people who believe what you believe makes it seem a lot more achievable. That and of course, we’ve let the public and the government know that we’re not OK with the status quo, which is really necessary.
“All of the Swansea students who came were absolutely fab, I’m very proud of them!”
Ben Franklin, a third year student of Classical Civilisation, was one of the Swansea students who travelled to London on the 21st. He was highly positive about the result of the protest.
“I think it went well!” he said. “Peaceful yet loud, we got our message across. Hopefully it will do well in two senses. Firstly, let the government realise the protest of 2010 wasn’t a one off, and we will keep having our say until something is changed. But also hopefully it will have made other students sit up and notice, those who are perhaps ignorant of the situation, which will mean more support next time and more interest around universities.”
Despite the interruption during his speech at Kennington Park, NUS President Liam Burns was still positive about the event and the impact it has had for students around the UK.
“Yesterday was a great success, and it was fantastic to have more than 10,000 students, parents, young people, academics, trade unionists and supporters join us to stand up for astrong education system which benefits not only the economy but families and communities across this country.
“It was particularly great to see all the people for whom this was their first demonstration – I hope that the rain has not put them off coming along to future events, and that they continue to be involved in NUS campaigns.
“It was of course a frustrating distraction to have a very small minority express their long-standing opposition to NUS at our rally in the way that they did.
“We had a great line up of diverse speakers and activists and, as well as being sorry for the rain, I am sorry that people at the rally might not have been able to hear them talking about the issues hitting young people and students due to the shouting and disruption caused a dozen or so people.”
Comments from those who didn’t attend the march were mixed in their views of the event. Some appeared to have been unaware that the protest was taking place; others didn’t want to attend, either for political or personal reasons; and some had been unable to make it on the day.
Third year English student Charlie Ajomale, 21, had been mostly unaware of Demo2012 and said that she was not made to feel as though it was something she should be involved in.
“I was aware of some of the information regarding the NUS demo as I received emails and saw some information on facebook. However I didn’t take an active interest in it as I didn’t feel the necessity of it.
“If approached in person I would have taken more of an interest and felt as though this was something that was going to have an impact on me and my fellow students.”
BSC Health and Social Care student Ruthie Oldham, 20, was supportive of the students who marched through London, despite having being unable to attend the protest herself, but thought that there had been a serious change in atmosphere since 2010.
“I think it’s good it was voted for [by Swansea University Students’ Union] because we’re part of NUS and students who wanted to participate should be able to go along,” she said.
“I don’t think the feeling was the same this time though. Last time there was a sudden change and a lot of anger and uproar about it; there was something quite specific people were marching about. This time it’s the two years of poor relations between government and students: fees have gone up, but employment prospects have gone down.
“It’s not anger the same way, more a combination of apathy towards government and demoralisation, as it seems as though we’ve constantly been ignored. If I’d been free that day I would have gone and marched. Last time I remember that the buzz was amazing but the aftermath was disappointing.
“On the day we felt like we were part of something huge and could actually make a difference, only for the news to focus on the few people who acted disgracefully, and us to be ignored. The point of the march yesterday was students showing we’re still a strong force, but as a march last time didn’t work, I’m not sure why they [the NUS] think this time it would.
“I’m very much in support of the cause, just not totally convinced about the organisation of the march by NUS.”
By Roisin O’Connor
What do you think of Demo2012: was it a positive or negative result for the student population in Britain? Comment in the space below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.