Two days until Day X. Two days to convince the MPs to vote against the coalition’s plan to hike up the fees and alienate a generation of students. Everything we’ve all done over the past month or two boils down to this, in a way.

I say “in a way” because of course the campaign of protesting and occupations will continue after this, over education, tax and other issues, but this feels like it’ll be a focal point, like the battle at Helm’s Deep.

We’ve taken an age to get out of the Shire (get to London in huge numbers to protest), gone through dangerous journeys in treacherous conditions (erm, it snowed a bit), Gandalf has fallen (OK, my mate who got me into activism was arrested* and is currently banned from Westminster – he probably wasn’t that important to most of you), and now we prepare in our thousands to face off with the orcs (this one should be obvious) again, in an attempt to protect the One Ring of affordable education.

The fate of the world higher education will now be decided.

There are two or three coaches (depending on funding for a third) leaving Oxford on Thursday morning; we’ll get to Russell Square in time to join the march to Parliament. The main Facebook event page calls for us to “shut down London” – I’m perfectly OK with smaller actions springing up around the city initially, but IMHO our best way of getting through to the MPs in the Houses of Commons is to all converge there for a non-violent protest. If this is the plan anyway, then… good. Splitting up into small groups will divide police attention but it is also likely to turn the public against us, and if the public are against us, then the MPs will have more reason to push the policy through.

Instead, imagine 15,000+ protesters at Parliament, shouting in unison, without ceasing, drowning out the speakers in Commons. It would be a compelling scene, but as soon as one fuckwit chucks a fire extinguisher, that’s what the media will focus on, and suddenly we’ll be a rabble of thugs.

Stop throwing shit.

* – on suspicion of violence at Millbank. He didn’t even attend the protests. Go figure. Then go get your scarf. Bloody FITs…


London, December 4th

UKUncut protesters gather outside Top Shop

At 10.55am, noting the large police and security presence, I walked into Top Shop’s flagship store in Oxford Circus. After a few minutes of pretending to be interested in expensive jeans and shirts made in sweatshops, I heard the whistles. People converged just inside the store, shouting “pay your tax!” and banging saucepans, while minor scuffles broke out as journalists were (wo)manhandled by security – Laurie Penny was carried out by four guards.

A purse in Top Shop with "special offer" sticker

For twenty minutes or so, some of us sat down in the middle of the shop, while others stood on the fringes, sticking “special offer” stickers on hats and handbags. Then we decided to continue our protest outside, and left voluntarily. Once again, the response on the street was excellent; I spoke to one guy at length, who took several leaflets for his friends, and when we started moving towards BHS, people were appearing out of nowhere to take my last remaining leaflets.

Protesters move on to BHS and pack the street

The protest at BHS was pretty short-lived, partly due to the store being difficult to blockade, and partly because we heard that Top Shop was attempting to open again.

Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point, and slipped off down the tube as the group went back to Top Shop, but from the flood of Twitter updates and the various news articles and videos that I digested on Sunday, it looks like an extremely successful day across the country.

Of course, while the protesters were peaceful, the police were forceful as usual, pushing a female protester for doing no more than standing her ground and shouting.

Loads of links to news coverage and videos over at Liberal Conspiracy.

YouTube – video from ReelNews featuring an excellent and passionate speech from Aaron Peters, a UCL occupier

The following was written by a good friend in response to Cllr Mitchell’s blog post on the 04/12/10,

A message to protesting school, college, and sixth form students.

Firstly, it is well worth taking note of what Cllr Mitchell says.  Whilst debates with councillors, MPs, will not persuade them they will be a great opportunity for those of you involved and will keep attention focussed on our cause.  Further, they may well serve to persuade some of the students who have yet to make up their minds if you argue your case with the same skill you have been doing.  The other things he suggests might also be of interest but don’t expect the Youth Parliament or anything else he mentions to achieve much, the reason he wants you to do these things is precisely because they won’t work.

In rebuttal of what he says, I’d like to begin by completely rejecting his characterisation of occupation as trespass.  Whilst legally in some cases this may be the case, the point of occupation is usually to take over PUBLIC buildings and make them open for use by everyone, all the while drawing attention to the issues you are there to protest.  So the Rad Cam occupation aimed to provide an open library for all, not just uni students, and a space for discussion and debate on the cuts amongst other things.  Occupations work.  They disrupt the workings of the university, council, factory which you occupy, gain media attention, and give a space for free and open discussion which is so crucial to making a strong case for anything.

I’d also like to state, hopefully unnecessarily, that walking out of school to protest is not truancy.  Striking is a peaceful, recognised and legitimate form of effective protest.  Long may it continue!

Although obviously gaining an education is also important, after all the right to free education is what most of us started to protest about! But to defeat the cuts more is needed.  The Cllr argues against radical tactics because they work.  Throughout history it can be shown that the way to win is to fight for your cause with mass action, resistance and solidarity.  Civil disobedience and unrest will have to be used (women’s suffrage, US civil rights movement, poll tax riots) and should not be feared as tactics.  No person of sound mind now argues that the suffragettes were dangerous, violent criminals because they fought for a just cause.  Of course there is no need to resort to violence; I don’t believe anyone should be attacked or hurt in this struggle and we must show that we are better than the police.  With radical mass action by students, workers and unions we can win.

Finally, the Cllr seems very concerned about you falling under the spell of a militant left that is apparently corrupting you.  This is utter nonsense, I urge you to continue acting as a democratic group, taking advice if you need it.  None of the things you have done so far have been organised by some militant left conspiracy.  You have organised them, and organised them brilliantly, Cllr Mitchell is not giving you the credit you deserve!

Sorry for the essay! Simon.

Police brutality, covert tactics

Another shocking story has emerged about police brutality in Tuesday’s kettle on Trafalgar Square. A 15-year old girl, trying to escape the kettle, was beaten with a baton and then made to lie in agony for two hours before police were eventually persuaded to release her. Meanwhile, in City Hall, an unnamed Tory Assembly Member has called for the protests to be banned entirely.

The Guardian reports that even when they aren’t beating, kettling or trying to ban us, the police are still going undercover to watch us – even more reason to cover our faces with scarves.

How to avoid being kettled

There are a few excellent articles on how to stay safe. They’re quite long, but well worth reading. The Bristol Hum gives advice on just about every aspect, taking a lot from Wombles.org.uk, which has a TL;DR section that I’ll reproduce here:

Don’t be tempted to stand there and fight – get out to where you can still cause some damage or disruption without the police around.

Keep moving around, as a group and individually. Fill gaps. Never stand still.

Crowd divisions and the formation of police lines must be nipped in the bud.

Don’t be intimidated.

Do everything in small teams, prepare in advance.

Think defensively. Protect each other and escape routes.

Always face outwards.

Link arms as often as possible, form barriers, use your body.

Move quickly and calmly, never giving the police time to react.

This weekend

UKUncut’s national day of action against tax avoidance is tomorrow; I’ll be in London for a demo at Top Shop, which kicks off at 11.02am There are similar protests organised across the country. If you’re in Oxford, meet at 12.15pm at Carfax. There would have been another protest in London tomorrow, this time at the Lib Dem party conference, but they’ve cancelled it, just like Vince Cable back in October. Yellow bellies.

Then on Sunday, there appears to be general anti-cuts action in several cities, including over 1,000 listed as attending an event in Bristol, but I can’t find anything for Oxford.

No blog posting for me tomorrow as I’ll be in London, but check my twitter feed for updates, and I’ll get another post together on Sunday.

Image from Oxford Mail

I have a meeting with 3 students representing the 80. They demand an apology. I tell them why I won’t. Not exactly a meeting of minds.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word for Keith Mitchell. In fact, he seems intent on continuing to slag off the students, this time for intelligence rather than dress sense. Having said that, perhaps the fact that he met many of their questions with silence means that it was his own intelligence that he was doubting.

In the most well-dressed protest I’ve ever been on, the rabble of 80 (or was it 40?) gathered outside County Hall on Thursday evening. While the representatives met with our antagonist, the rest of us made our voices heard, inventing slogans and trying to figure out how to fit a the verses below to the Blue Danube. The sixth line proved particularly difficult, but I enjoyed the renewed vigour that the chanting always gained for the seventh.

This is a song, for Keith, you tw*t
We saw you before, well now, we’re back
You said we were so, so badly dressed
Well look at us now, in Sunday’s best

Take back your remarks, and then we’ll go
Back to our schools and our homes
Or better resign, or retire
And save your staff from getting fired.

The result? Well, we’re not ugly, but that was his only concession. (Are we still badly-dressed, then?)

Since then, our beloved councillor has responded to an email from a parent, who had expressed much the same concerns as I did that afternoon. Mrs. Sietske Boekes asked: “Doesn’t this count as incitement to violence? And shouldn’t it be reported to the police? At the very least, I think he – and all the councillors –  needs to know how shocked parents are at the violence and unpleasantness of his language.”

Among Keith Mitchell’s duties are “community leadership” and “strategic communications”. So which points has he decided reflect the best communication strategy in this instance? Here are some excerpts, which he depicts as “information of which you [Mrs. Boekes] may be unaware”

“Several wore balaclavas or scarves to hide their faces” – with police covertly gathering intelligence, is it any wonder?

“Many carried wooden staves with posters attached to them” – a protester? Carrying a PLACARD?! Gosh!

“The students were not dressed in their finest clothes;  they were scruffy.” – our councillor, of course, owns only suits, and would not dream of wearing jeans.

“a significant number of intruders… appeared to be out of control.” – from what I saw from inside the building (rather than hiding in an office), almost all intruders were calm, collaboratively planning their occupation. They certainly weren’t running around causing damage.

“I am wholly opposed to the sort of behaviour we saw from Scargill’s miners, the Poll Tax riots and the more recent Millbank riots in which criminal damage was perpetrated and which I witnessed at close hand” – technically an opinion, but at least (presumably!) true. Even so, since the County Hall occupation bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Millbank riot, hardly relevant.

“I am seeking to avoid violence in all forms including the sort of mass trespass of which Cheney and Cherwell children were guilty on Tuesday.” – this is like saying “I avoid cheese of all forms, including strawberries”. In other words, misleading and stupid. Trespass is not a violent crime.

I could go on. Keith Mitchell seems set in his ways to say the least. If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, maybe it’s time to get a new dog.

As I posted last night, I was part of the “ugly, badly-dressed student rabble” that briefly occupied Oxford County Hall on Tuesday. A fantastic counter-protest has been organised by Cheney school, with 104 attendees at the moment, planning to make a statement by turning up in formal wear.

Despite the retorts that have descended on Keith Mitchell from all corners, he remains resolute in his slanderous tirade, and was this morning quoted on BBC News as saying: “This is a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on.”

Infection? Stamped on?! What a paragon of free speech this man is. Let’s all go out and stamp on anyone who disagrees with us and has the courage to speak up about it.

144 students were arrested in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday night, after being held in a kettle in freezing conditions for eight hours. This was, of course, after the Benny Hill style cat-and-mouse game played by protesters in a commendable effort to avoid police lines.

Most were arrested for a breach of the peace, with some sixth-formers experiencing their second kettle in less than a week after being held last week.

The students were prevented from leaving, and eventually arrested despite assurances to the contrary (see quote below), regardless of whether they had actually done anything wrong. It’s no wonder that a few frustrated students turn to mild violence (throwing plastic bottles from ground level is unlikely to hurt anyone) in the face of such unwarranted, pre-emptive and immoral oppression from police.

Is this what democracy looks like?

Quote from Though Cowards Flinch:

Ashley, who was inside the demo last night, said “The police took me from the kettle with another person to be searched and questioned in front of cameras. They told us that if we gave our details we would be released but after giving my name, address and date of birth I was arrested.”

She added, “These arrests are nonsense. It was just an excuse for the Met to find out my name, take my figure prints and look at my phone to see how these demos are organised.”

Another protester, whose friend was trapped in the kettle in the snow for three hours before being arrested, said “I think what’s confusing the cops is how this is organised. They can’t seem to work out how these protests are happening and how to stop them and that’s why they feel the need to collect as much information on everyone as they can”