Photo: Tom Swain
Millbank. 10.11.10. A baptism of fire for the Tories, for the students, for the NUS, and for me. Experts call it ‘flash-bulb memory’: the scenes of that day forever painted perfectly, vividly, in my mind, triggered by the extremes of emotion. We’d marched dutifully through the streets, marvelled at our size, met the more esoteric elements – like the pensioners’ group and the off-duty policeman – and listened to enthusiastic speeches. But it wasn’t enough.
It could never have been enough. More than a decade of frustration under Labour, seeing fees introduced, and tripled, while a cronyist NUS that had previously starred half the cabinet did nothing. Lacking a decent left opposition, so did the students. In came the Tories, with their Orange Book free-market Lib Dem allies, and swiftly announced the harshest austerity measures this country had ever seen.
But still nobody did anything. The TUC delayed calling a national demonstration until March the following year. The disabled, poor and vulnerably housed, with nobody to speak up for them, still hadn’t had their voices heard. Until at last, the government went too far, forgetting they were attacking a group notorious for activism – the students.
We were furious. Furious not just for ourselves but for everybody cut down by the Tory-led government. We knew they were attacking those with no voice. Well, we had a voice, and we were going to make it heard. Come November, we ran along the streets enraged. We smashed into the Tory HQ, we ripped out their pot-plants and burnt their sofas. Reporters asked me ‘Do you think the violence is justified?’ Who cares, I answered, if it’s justified – it’s inevitable.
Students didn’t ask me that. They screamed as they were batoned, and they bled freely from their heads. And they pushed back wave after wave of heavily armed police trying to reinforce those trapped between us and Millbank.
The atmosphere was incredible – fury, but most of all the possibility of fury, the meeting of so many who found that they hadn’t been the only ones shouting at the TV. I remember paraphrasing Dylan to a friend. Today, I said, you could light a cigarette on a parking meter.
The NUS panicked, and condemned it as the work of ‘anarchists’, forgetting that anarchists can be students too. Later, pictures showed how few of us were masked or carried black flags. But they didn’t support a student demonstration again.
Ministers appeared on the television, saying they would not listen to us. We didn’t care. They had to listen to us, and they knew it. And so they did the most damaging thing they could possibly do: they brought the vote forward.
Although we marched again several times, although on the day of the vote our fury at Millbank was even greater, when the vote passed through by that tiny margin, the margin that the abstaining Lib-Dems could have destroyed – that looked like the end of our movement, in truth.
I had my head bashed in that day by police who charged us when I had my back to them. I spent the evening in hospital, bleeding from the head and vomiting. The next day, I wrote my account of what happened. It ended:
‘I hear Bob Brecher has suggested the police were ordered to scare protesters into not coming back. I’m coming back. They have no idea how strong they’ve entrenched hatred in me, hatred for their actions, their facelessness, their carelessness, their inhumanity … We’re all coming back.’
But I was wrong. After that day, the energy in the protests subsided. The hate was there, true enough. But as the government so cynically calculated, they’d taken the hope out of our movement. They’d make us question the worth of protest.
The anti-EMA protests were a brief flicker of hope, but no 10.11.10. And I write this on 30 January, the day after the large anti-education cuts demos in London and Manchester.
It was dispiriting. A friend of mine remarked on the wide age range there. It’s only wide, I explained to him, because all the young people aren’t here, so they no longer make up the majority. The chants were half-hearted, the dancing to the dubstep sound systems self-conscious. I could swear the police were laughing at us. There weren’t speakers there to keep up our energy. Perhaps they felt there’s nothing to say.
The weakness in our movement last year was that although the students were militant, they had no support except verbally from a few MPs (I’m thinking mainly the human dynamo that is John McDonnell), individual trade union leaders, and of course the organised far left activists such as the SWP.
This doesn’t seem fair. When protesters broke into Millbank, they released a statement that said: ‘We stand against the cuts, in solidarity with all the poor, elderly, disabled and working people affected. We are against all cuts and the marketisation of education. We are occupying the roof of Tory HQ to show we are against the Tory system of attacking the poor and helping the rich. This is only the beginning.’
So who’s standing with us students? As the wind of hope goes out of our movement, where are the unions picking it up? Where are the strikes and blockades, where is the Labour leadership?
This article was supposed to be about the strengths and weaknesses of the student movement. But the student movement could not have been more brilliant. The weakness is that of others, not falling in step to mobilise.
We students can’t carry this movement by ourselves.
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn