NUS Demo 2012: the inside story

Nouse travels to the front line of the London student protests, bringing you all the action and excitement throughout the day

With coaches scheduled to leave at 5am, students attending the Demo gathered outside the YUSU Student Centre in the early hours of November 21, waiting to be signed in by YUSU President Kallum Taylor.

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On the hour, the convoy of five double-decker coaches arrived, ready to take an estimated 300 York students down to the Capital.

Once on the coaches, YUSU officers distributed information leaflets and wristbands to students.

Included in the leaflets were four recommended chants for protesters to sing whilst marching, a topic that had been the subject of controversy two days before after NUS Vice President for Union Development Vikki Baars circulated an email suggesting protest chants that referred to David Cameron as a “wanker”, and called for Liberal Democrats and Tories to be burnt on a bonfire.

YUSU condemned the chants the next day, saying, “Those kind of chants undermine every ounce of hard work that YUSU, and other SUs across the country have put into making a positive occasion out of a serious Demo. By all means chant away, and get in the mood, but do it creatively. Swear words and personal digs will just alienate and intimidate onlookers.”

However, the recommended chants on the YUSU leaflet included the phrase “**** off”, in an adapted version of the lyrics to the Carly Rae Jepson song, Call Me, Maybe.

Following their distribution, Taylor apologised for the chant in the leaflets, during an early morning interview with Nouse on board coach number four.

After slight traffic delays, the coach convoy entered London at approximately 11am, arriving at the march start point in Temple Place around 11.30am, where several groups of London university students had already assembled.

York Samba band were accompanying the York protesters, and attracted attention from many surrounding students as they started to play, accompanying the chants from gathered protesters.

Video: York Samba band strikes up a beat

The York contingent of the march were one of the largest groups, with students ranging from first years to YUSU sabbatical officers Taylor, Academic Officer Graeme Osborn, and Welfare Officer Bob Hughes

Video: York’s front line in the march

The march began to move shortly before midday, heading towards the Thames Embankment, with various chants and songs including the popular slogan “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”, as well as “Yorkshire, Yorkshire, white rose, white rose” from the York University contingent.

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By 1pm the march had closed in on the Houses of Parliament, with a significantly increased police presence including riot vans and helicopters.

Video: March approaches Houses of Parliament

As the main body of the 10,000-strong group neared the Houses, an outbreak of violence occurred in a small scuffle between several hooded protesters, masked with bandannas and wearing red square badges, and two police officers.

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A leaflet distributed by this masked group bore the slogan “Educate. Escalate. Destroy”, with the literature inside saying “We must utterly reject any idea that the NUS is an institution with student interests at its heart”. The leaflet advocated “wildcat strikes” and recommended protesters “exercise [their] destructive creativity”.

The march halted below Big Ben for approximately 20 minutes, with several protesters forming a wall of placards across the entrance to Westminster Bridge, part of the NUS planned route.

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However, with NUS ushers urging marchers to carry on moving over the bridge, the protesters eventually resumed progress.

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Once over the bridge, the march continued on towards Elephant and Castle, the chants and songs getting louder, and stopping only briefly while several protesters joined a man in costume folk dancing.

Video: protesters dance by Westminster bridge

At around 2pm the weather took a turn for the worse, with heavier rain and the march slowing to a crawl, leading to a more subdued atmosphere. At this point, the main body of the march was along Lambeth Road, with a much lighter police presence of an officer flanking the protest column on each side approximately every 50 metres.

Kennington Park, the final destination on the NUS planned route, was filled with protestors by 3pm, where many gathered around a small stage that had been erected.

A series of speakers then addressed the crowd, including NUS Vice President for Further Education Toni Pearce, author Owen Jones, and NUS Chair Liam Burns.

However, amidst applause and cheers, Burns was met with boos and jeers from some members of the crowd, including masked protesters wearing red badges and shouting through megaphones the chant, “NUS shame on you, where the fuck you brought us to?” Some projectiles including eggs were thrown at Burns during his speech.

Video: Liam Burns heckled at NUS Demo 2012

While Burns was speaking, a group of around 20 protesters surged forward and pushed down the metal barriers in front of the stage.

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After scuffles with members of the security staff, several protesters wearing red badges ran up and mounted the platform, while Burns swiftly exited. They proceeded to chant anti-NUS slogans and told the crowd to go back and occupy Westminster.

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By 3.30pm, the crowd in Kennington park had mostly dissipated, and York students returned to the five coaches waiting on the street outside the park.

Upon their return around 10pm, attendees to the protest were treated to pizza at the Lounge, courtesy of Taylor.




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