This isn't just a student protest. It's a children's crusade

Those too young to vote, yet with their futures at stake, have organically come together to be heard

Student protests
'The word spread through Twitter and Facebook; rumours passed around classrooms and meeting halls: get to Westminster, show them your anger.' Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It's cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman's Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. "Finally the tables are starting to turn," they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. "Finally the tables are starting to turn."

Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we're being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.

"We followed the crowd," she says. So did we all. There are no leaders here: the thousands of schoolchildren and young people who streamed into Whitehall three hours ago in protest at the government's attacks on further and higher education were working completely off script. A wordless cry went up somewhere in the crowd and they were off, moving as one, with no instructions, towards parliament.

But just because there are no leaders here doesn't mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. "Our votes don't count," says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading "Burn Eton".

"We can't even vote yet," says Leyla, 14. "So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can't even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]".

I ask her who she thinks is in charge. Her friend, a young boy in a hoodie, grins at me, gesturing to the front of the kettle, where children are screaming "shame on you" and throwing themselves under the police batons. "Us," he says.

This is a leaderless protest with no agenda but justice: it is a new children's crusade, epic and tragic. More fires are lit as the children try to keep warm: they are burning placards and pages from their school planners. A sign saying "Dumbledore would not stand for this shit!" goes up in flames.

This is also an organic movement: unlike previous demos, there are no socialist organisers leading the way, no party flags to rally behind. The word spread through Twitter and Facebook; rumours passed around classrooms and meeting halls: get to Westminster, show them your anger.

Suddenly, there is a rush from the front and the sound of yelling police as hundreds of protesters run back from the lines, frightened. "Don't throw anything!" implores a young, bearded protester with a megaphone. "Protect your friends – don't give them the excuse!" But no one is listening. Sticks are being thrown: the mood is enraged as people see their friends struck back or struck down. "Tory scum!" they yell. "I wish they weren't breaking things," says Leyla, "but this is what happens when they ruin people's futures."


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  • Rice123

    24 November 2010 6:16PM

    Increased fee is not high .

    These kids must be have things like Xbox ,Wii etc , along with running cost it is about 400 per year.

    If they save these type of money they could easily pay their fees.
    I am not sure what they are complaining about.

  • AntiEverything

    24 November 2010 6:18PM

    Sorry but your campaign is being led by a small group of agitators.

    You're campaigning in effect to continue the unfair system as it is and the "anti cuts" agenda, if it were successful, condemns future generations to huge fiscal burdens. It's selfish, often ill judged and driven by the ideologically clueless left.

    This whole mess has been created by one of the most damaging social experiments we have ever witnessed in this country - top down, target driven, forget the quality just look at the numbers nonsense. It has meant an industry of averageness has been developed along with a bunch of deluded students who think, wrongly, that business will fall over themselves to employ sociology grads. They won't.

    Want to get angry? Where the hell have you been for the last 13 years as the government has squandered every last penny and then some? Where the hell have you been when the FE colleges, after spending millions on plans, were told the new towers of education were no longer going to be built?

    Hypocrites.

  • roachclip

    24 November 2010 6:18PM

    A question - Why was an empty police van, with no policemen anywhere near it, parked in the middle of Whitehall when the students were marching down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to where the police were waiting for them at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall.

    You don't suppose do you that the police wanted the students to vandalise the van to give them an excuse to kettle the march in Whitehall?

  • juncopartner

    24 November 2010 6:19PM

    Rice123

    Apart from the fees amount to around 9 000 pounds per year.

    Plus interest.

    Plus living fees and accommodation.

    Plus a reduction in the quality of teaching

  • FCNaylor

    24 November 2010 6:21PM

    My 16 year old school girl daughter has been penned in by police in the freezing cold and forbidden from returning home for four hours after she protested entirely peacefully. The only lesson that teaches is that the Metropolitan Police has a distinct lack of respect for civil liberties.

  • norgate

    24 November 2010 6:22PM

    "Plus living fees and accommodation"

    They wouldn't be hibernating if they didn't go to university, they'd still have living expenses.

  • NeverMindTheBollocks

    24 November 2010 6:23PM

    Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police...

    I am relieved and grateful, as many people who live and work in Westminister are, that the police are out to ensure that these protesters do not turn violent this time.

    "We followed the crowd," she says. So did we all.

    That says it all.

  • edwardrice

    24 November 2010 6:23PM

    AntiEverything

    Where the hell have you been for the last 13 years as the government has squandered every last penny and then some?

    As some of the students protesters are only 14 I'll make a guess a large number were still in nappies when NL first formed a government. But you didn't read the article, did you. Back of the class for you!

    Anyhow, well done students!

  • wotever

    24 November 2010 6:24PM

    The Tories will be pleased.

    Get the the goons in uniform to attack the kids, even though both groups are subject to Clegg and Cameron's cuts.
    Meanwhile the bankers sit smug and laughing, knowing they will not be forced to pay for their reckless incompetence.

    Divide and rule.

  • tonystoke

    24 November 2010 6:24PM

    Sorry but your campaign is being led by a small group of agitators.

    Ahh, the old `agent provocateur' line. Its been used down the ages, I vaguely remember hearing it during the anti-Vietnam demos in the late sixties.
    It was bollocks then, and its bollocks now.

    Why can't you neo-cons realise that sometimes political decisions are just wrong, and the people protesting about them may just be right?

  • Staff

    NatalieHanman

    24 November 2010 6:24PM

    @roachclip

    A question - Why was an empty police van, with no policemen anywhere near it, parked in the middle of Whitehall when the students were marching down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to where the police were waiting for them at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall.

    We've got someone looking into this and (hopefully) writing about it for tomorrow morning.

    By the way, Laurie Penny is still at the protest so won't be joining this thread for a while.

  • juncopartner

    24 November 2010 6:24PM

    norgate

    Well, no they'd probably still be living at home with their parents; besides most good universities are based in expensive areas. Therefore the accommodation costs are much higher than they might otherwise be

  • NeverMindTheBollocks

    24 November 2010 6:25PM

    roachclip

    You don't suppose do you that the police wanted the students to vandalise the van to give them an excuse to kettle the march in Whitehall?

    Good point!

    When I was a student, my mates and I simply couldn't help ourselves whenever we saw an empty police van. We had no self-control and had to vandalise it.

  • 4danglier

    24 November 2010 6:26PM

    Please don't present this as simply a children's crusade. The gov.'s plans are, in reality, an idealogical reform of Britain's HE system.
    They have not been debated, nor discussed publicly.
    These "cuts" go far above the 20% or so inflicted on other departments.
    People, and apparently the press, do not realise the consequences of making students cover the cost of 100% of their course fees (apart from a few notable exceptions like medicine and engineering).

    HE then becomes a commodity, to be purchased like a coat or a car.

    Would you give poor people grants to help them buy a car? Me neither.

    These reforms will clear out a lot of intelligent poor people, leaving their places for thick rich people.

  • Truthseeker2

    24 November 2010 6:26PM

    Did you know that the Tories will this year spend more money on foreign aid than on our universities?

    Funny how the lefties do not complain about that.

    I would solve the problem by abandonning foreign aid and using the money to fund universities. However only the more able should go to university. That way the costs to those who go will be as small as possible.

    I would then make any non-academic type company that employs x number of foreign workers, take on y number of apprenticeships each year. It is a disgrace how Labour let the apprenticeship system collapse in this country. All the companies were able to , nay encouraged to import foreigners on the cheap, and had absolutely no incentive to train UK born apprentices.

    Finally Labour does not realise that the economy does not need everyone to go to uni. If anything it needs more people to go into trades. Their 50% univeristy target was always a dud, a blinkered ideologically inspired dud.

  • UFOs

    24 November 2010 6:27PM

    If people from Wat Tyler to the Peterloo Martyrs had not taken to the streets wed still be serfs with no votes no rights

  • ngogbog

    24 November 2010 6:31PM

    Labour ruined the future of these children by creating a massive structural deficit.
    This deficit was caused by their wars, their lavishing of benefits upon migrants, their neo-liberal agenda to drive down wages, and of course their expanding the university sector to such a degree that funding was scarce even in the "good times".

  • DrDel

    24 November 2010 6:32PM

    The Tories are politicizing and entire generation and these protests will have a huge future impact. The government is losing control and is starting to look scared. the students are winning and they need to carry on and increase the intensity of the protest. Cameron and Clegg are scared.

  • edwardrice

    24 November 2010 6:32PM

    Truthseeker2

    It is a disgrace how Labour let the apprenticeship system collapse in this country.

    I think you'll find that began with Thatcher.

  • maliceinwonderland

    24 November 2010 6:32PM

    The Trolls are out in force, they're getting scared

    Good - keep it up students, you've got them rattled - fight for the future you want and deserve

    You need to plan a weekend march so that we ex-students and people who value education can come out and support you :-)

    Education is a right, not a privilege

  • 4danglier

    24 November 2010 6:33PM

    Question: when the police "kettle" a demo, do they kettle people in, or kettle people out. Could be undemocratic.

    Observation: gosh what a lot of trolls out this evening!

  • AntiEverything

    24 November 2010 6:33PM

    Edwardrice

    I'm addressing the author. Can't you read? Back of the food line for you.

    For the record barely any children were at the rather small and pathetic demo today.

  • NeverMindTheBollocks

    24 November 2010 6:34PM

    UFOs

    If people from Wat Tyler to the Peterloo Martyrs had not taken to the streets wed still be serfs with no votes no rights

    And what can we conclude from the "taking to the streets" by Mosley and others like him and his ilk?

    "Taking to the streets" does not automatically make protests right.

  • Bluejil

    24 November 2010 6:36PM

    Laurie, a nice article.

    It is very true, they were all children and none have a political agenda as yet. They don't vote, they don't care who is left or right. It is interesting that the youngest among us are the only ones standing up to fight, they have nothing to lose because they have already lost it all, most of all their innocence in believing they had an opportunity to a world class education like so many of their peers in other countries.

    These kids must be have things like Xbox ,Wii etc , along with running cost it is about 400 per year.

    Not true at all. Some kids do, a lot of kids do not. Some kids buy them second hand at pawn shops or off friends that have had them for years, it isn't unusual for a gaming system to make the rounds.

    Most people have a computer in the home because students as young as Year 6, can't do schoolwork without one. We have one child living away from home to do an apprenticeship after first gaining his qualifications, two years, he can't do the apprenticeship without a lap top, which just broke and he spent his downtime at the shop trying to get it fixed.

    A lot of kids are working and in pubs, stock rooms, hair salons, at lower than minimum wage and at 14. Some are carers for ill parents and grandparents. Some work damn hard night and day to get somewhere, so this kind of bitter talk from a comfortable person is nothing more than ignorance. England isn't some fucking fairytale of glee land, it's hard work to live on this island, no matter what age you are. The young, without a voice or a vote are tired of it, those of us reaching middle age may be too tired to fight.

  • TheGreatRonRafferty

    24 November 2010 6:36PM

    The country can afford hundreds of billions for the string-pullers in the City.

    But when it comes to the very lifeblood of the country - its young folk, apparently all the money has gone!

    No it hasn't, as the offered Irish bailout proved.

  • DrDel

    24 November 2010 6:37PM

    4danglier
    24 November 2010 6:33PM.

    Observation: gosh what a lot of trolls out this evening!

    They are too mean to pay for Murdoch's new pay wall, or to show concern for the next generation's future.

    Go students. The Tory trolls are scared and their noise is evidence that they are rattled. Increase the intensity of the protest and the government will start to unfold as the Libdem backbenchers start to peel off.

  • Contributor

    RedMutley

    24 November 2010 6:37PM

    NeverMindTheBollocks said:

    Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police...

    I am relieved and grateful, as many people who live and work in Westminister are, that the police are out to ensure that these protesters do not turn violent this time.

    "We followed the crowd," she says. So did we all.

    That says it all.

    We alll know what a pathetic joke Johnny Rotten has become - but there is still no small amount of irony in someone using a name taken from a Sex Pistols album saying how grateful he/she is towards the nice policemen for 'saving' him/her from the horrid students and school children. Wouldn't 'KeepingUpAppearances' or 'HyacinthBucket' be a more appropriate name? Just a thought.

  • clivej

    24 November 2010 6:38PM

    Well done, kids. Your futures have been bought and sold for the sake of bailing out a few hundred bankers, who are getting all ready to screw us all all over again. Thank you for standing up against this financial piracy. Make your aims explicitly political. Don't stop until this unholy coalition resigns.

  • Cairncross

    24 November 2010 6:38PM

    Sad to see so mainly mindless, pro-Establishment voices on a Guardian thread.

    These kids do not have the right to vote. This is the only way they can make themselves heard.

    Ministers could have imposed a graduate tax on everyone who has ever been to university. Instead, they chose to pick on powerless children who could not vote against them.

    Not one member of the Con-Dem coalition has offered to pay back the cost of their own Oxbridge tuition fees. And their cronies in the media seem to have brainwashed an awful lot of foolish people (see above) into thinking that things were better in the 1930s, when Oxbridge only accepted pupils recommended by the headmasters of the Great Public Schools. After all, they had very good Latin and Greek in those days, even if their IT skills were f*cking awful. No "dumbing down" then.

    Violence against property is entirely justified in this instance.

  • Contributor

    RedMutley

    24 November 2010 6:39PM

    "Taking to the streets" does not automatically make protests right.

    Genius. Well done for spotting that. I'm sure no one had ever thought of that before. Some things are Good Things and some things are Bad Things. Brilliant. You ought to take up philosophy.

  • CharleySays

    24 November 2010 6:40PM

    A friend of mine who is a nurse is unable to get her usual bus to the hospital as the middle of town is closed off due to a student protest.

    She and presumably many others now have to pay for a taxi they can ill afford and be late for work or late home to their families.

    Selfish doesn't come into it.

  • lightacandle

    24 November 2010 6:41PM

    A reporter on the radio reporting from one of the protest sites said that a lot of local schoolchildren had joined in and were quite shocked when the police who cordoned them off said they couldn't leave and were worried about getting home for tea - which kind of summed the whole protest up and underlined the unfairness behind this government's policies and those they are disgracefully targetting.

  • mintberrycrunch

    24 November 2010 6:42PM

    Considering that there are children in attendance at these protests its surprising to see how little it dampens the police's enthusiasm to kick off. And to think there are people on another article saying it would be a good idea not only for ex soldiers to be teachers but ex police as well. I feel like going along to one of these protests to shield these kids from those brave riot shield wearing servants of the public. Doesnt seem like anyone else is there to protect them.

  • roachclip

    24 November 2010 6:42PM

    I think the students have done a great job so far but I do think it's time that some of us 'grown-ups' gave them a hand.

    This government is systematically and idealogically destroying everything with any social value we have, they don't have a mandate for what they are doing, and must be stopped.

    Neo-liberal big money is robbing us blind, and the ConDems are facilitating the rip-off..

  • dolphinx

    24 November 2010 6:42PM

    @TheGreatRonRafferty,

    Do not fall into this xenophobic trap............The Irish bailout is a loan...... without securing Irish economic stability.... RBS & Llyods would be in serious trouble.... It should not be forgotten that the UK & ROI economy are highly interdependent and should the irish economy totally collapse the UK could topple like a domino ......

    Just where do the Irish go in times of high unemployment ???? Securing the Irish econmy is in everyones interest.

  • lightacandle

    24 November 2010 6:44PM

    The one good thing to come out of all this is that now thankfully there will be a whole generation who will never vote for another Tory or Lib Dem for the rest of their lives - so their is some hope for the future after all.

  • robbo100

    24 November 2010 6:45PM

    Anti_Everything

    Want to get angry? Where the hell have you been for the last 13 years as the government has squandered every last penny and then some?

    Well, where were the Tory Party? Pledging to match Labour's spending levels, that's where. Strange how they couldn't notice Labour were 'squandering every last penny and then some'. But perhaps the reason lies elsewhere. Didn't see it myself but someone told me that Have I Got News For You was showing footage of George Osborne in 2005 praising the 'Irish economic miracle'! What happened to that miracle then? Did Gordon Brown ruin that as well? It is as plain as the nose on your face that the blame lies with the bankers and the economic system and it is the ordinary people who are being made to pay for their criminal and reckless greed.

  • cbarr

    24 November 2010 6:46PM

    Well when market democracy fails in the most abject of ways in the most visible of fashions inevitably people get a little bit peeved. All of the coalitions plans that where not outlined in manifesto can be kicked into the long grass by the lords. If we had a functioning political system they would of being health care reform the most deep since the inception of the NHS and massive overhauls of education would all be thrown to committee probably till the next parliament and someone actually sought some mandate. That no party wanted to talk of cuts before the election means people voted ill informed of the choices they where making and what choices they thought they where making being reneged on is the icing on top of a very unhealthy cake. Market democracy only works as a fig leaf if it appears to function it has failed in this most base of trials as a result it should be pulled down.

  • gabriel100

    24 November 2010 6:47PM

    You don't suppose do you that the police wanted the students to vandalise the van to give them an excuse to kettle the march in Whitehall?

    100% confident that is not the case. If a Police Vehicle is crashed or damaged, then the Officer who booked it out can look forward to centuries of paperwork explaining why. Can't be too blase with taxpayer funded vehicles, you know.

    They would likely have kettled the march anyway - after the last event.

    In any case, the Police do not need to manufacture excuses in order to be allowed to do their jobs properly.

    You would be better off criticising the oafs who did vandalise it.

    We all know it is violent, shady, undemocratic hanger-on groups like SWP promoting the violent / vandalisim aspect anyway. All they are good for.

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