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Moment that mattered: Student protestors take over Millbank

“I just walked straight in. I entered Millbank with a group of about 40 people – we went into the foyer, had a bit of a shout and waved our banners and placards and things. Later, when it became clear the police weren’t going to let anybody else in, I made sure that everybody got out together and that I was the last person to leave the building.

There weren’t many riot police there, perhaps for political reasons, but those who were there were quite antagonistic from the start and I think that contributed to the tension. There were people up on the balconies, probably Tory workers, who were yelling at us, swearing and goading us. There was very little security inside and it was easy walking up to the roof. Jody McIntyre was able to get out of his wheelchair and drag himself all the way up the stairs because the lift wasn’t working.

Nobody thinks throwing the fire extinguisher was a good idea, even the person that did it. It was a moment of madness and I hope the young man’s treated with an understanding that he was caught up in the moment – he’s only 17 or something. Young people are so vilified in society – they just wear hoodies and play loud music – and they have no opportunity to have any say over anything. For once they were able to express themselves and feel part of something bigger.

We were protesting a clear attack on the higher education system. This protest wasn’t only about the economic
questions, even though people are against the raising of fees and the slashing of Education Maintenance Allowance. We asked bigger questions – ‘What is education for?’ ‘What kind of education do we want?’ ‘Does education only benefit the individual or all of society?’

The 10th of November wasn’t fairly reported. The BBC is the media arm of the state and it’s not the first time they’ve unfairly reported things. They’ve consistently focused on this issue of violence and consistently ignored our explanation of what we think is and isn’t violent. We compare its use of the term ‘violence’ to the violence of the police and that of the government towards our education, smashing up our education. If you’re going to do this to the working classes, the poorest in society, what do you expect them to do?

Protests and riots happen because people are deeply affected by the material conditions they’re facing and often it’s the only way of fighting back. I’ve received lots of emails and letters from people saying the protests gave them faith
in the future, that they were inspired by us students.”

Clare Solomon is President of the University of London Union and an organiser of the recent student protests.

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