I had not originally intended to go on today’s demonstration. But when the police announced they might use rubber bullets I decided I would as a protest against the further erosion of our democratic right to protest and to demonstrate and to increase the fear about the dangers of taking part.
The moment I arrived at the demonstration’s start the heavy police presence was obvious. The Anarchist block looked intimidating in their black clothes, many with masked faces.
Certainly at least 10,000 people. Good humoured. Lots of chants about ‘stick your rubber bullets up your *****, and ‘take off your riot gear’. An excellent drum group. The usual presence of Marxist and Troyskist groups. Peace News was handed out free as was the newspaper on the St Paul’s Occupy protestors. No smashed windows though some office blocks seem to have had their ground floor windows boarded up as a precution. Although the route seemed strange it was lined with thousands of onlookers on the pavement, in shops and offices and on walkways, especially in the section round the Museum of London. Many waved and clapped in support.
The completely over the top police presence was not only intimidating, but potentially likely to cause trouble. As we reached the end I became anxious about what might happen because more and more police had helmets on and carried riot shields. Very few black and women officers.
It was clear that at various points there was no consistent set of instructions to every police group. At one point the unit in the stretch of the march I was on was told to put on their riot helmets. Five minutes later they were told to take them off. It was clear that the sergeant in charge had no idea why. Just as they took their helmets off we passed another group putting on their helmets!
At the end all exits were completely cordoned off. It felt as if we were being kettled. I asked to be let through the cordon so I could go. I was told I could not at that point but should go further along. When I did the officer I and others spoke to said we should go towards the tube station. As he did a group arrived having been told near the station they were not allowed through and had been sent in our direction. The officer then said that it had all been sorted out and we were to go to the station. When we arrived we were told we could not get through. Being on my own I was able to persuade a constable to let me through.
Lots of media photographers. A lot of demonstrators also took photos including off officers and I did not see anyone being prevented from doing so. Some officers handed out a booklet showing the route and explaining the tactics being used. ‘Welcome to London – the Metropolitan Police Service hopes that you have a safe day. The police are here to help you have a peaceful demonstration.’
About half way along the march I was interviewed by Yahoo UK News. Some of what I said that be seen on http://uk.news.yahoo.com/yahoo--exclusive-video--student-protesters-march-in-london.html.
Since the August riots there has been much talk of preventing demonstrators from covering their faces. Yet several officers wore balaclavas hiding most of their faces. School children were being threatened at their schools with disciplinary action if they took time off school to attend the demo. Ironic that the evening news should report that even the Head Teachers Unions have agreed to go on strike on 30 November. Two sets of double standards operating?