Thousands of students, including many from East London, protested against tuition fees, cuts and debt in education in a march through the capital that culminated in nearly a dozen arrests.
11 protestors had been arrested by the end of the day, all are still in police custody awaiting questioning. Currently no protestor has been charged.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which organised the march, estimates around 10,000 students participated, some travelling overnight from as far as Scotland.
The march began at Malet Street at noon and ended at 4:00pm outside the Houses of Parliament, where speeches were heard from politicians including Caroline Lucas and Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
Fiona Edwards, an organiser of the Student Assembly Against Austerity, said:
“[It’s] great, because while quite a few MPs betrayed us in 2010, we can see support from across the House of Commons.”
The National Union of Students withdrew their support for the demonstration earlier this month, citing safety concerns as the main reason.
NUS President Toni Pearce said in a statement: “The reality we are confronted with is that this demonstration presents an unacceptable level of risk, is not accessible and does not meet the minimum expectations our members would expect for an action that carries NUS support.”
“NUS has a policy to support free education and we will continue to lobby and campaign for this, but no action we take should be put above the ability for all our members to be safe.”
Many students and activists who spoke to ELL at the demonstration called the decision “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
Poppy Turner and Sarah Chapleo are both 20-year-old students from Queen Mary, University of London. Turner said: “I’m here because unlike the Government, I don’t think we should be paying for education. The current political system isn’t working and we need to think outside the box.”
Chapelo said: “The turnout here has been great but there should be more demonstrations. There has been an epidemic of apathy since the last round of big marches didn’t achieve much. The momentum from today needs to continue.”
The march was largely peaceful in the first few hours. Chants of “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” could be heard over the sound of drums.
UKIP education spokesman Paul Nuttall made his support for the demonstration known, but was brushed off in a tweet by NCAFC:
UKIP appear to have put out a statement in support of #freeeducation. To be clear: we don’t want your support, or any racists’ support.
— Against Fees & Cuts (@NCAFC_UK) November 19, 2014
Reports of paint and eggs being thrown at buildings, the NUS headquarters being vandalised and police barriers being torn down began to surface as the march arrived at Parliament Square. Vice-President of NUS UK, Joe Vinson, who was “disgusted” at the vandalism, said: “Support free education or not, I don’t really care – but don’t vandalise a building funded by student unions themselves and more importantly one that will now have to be cleaned by the workers you intimidated, the workers you so desperately claim to represent, the workers who also have no control over the politics of the NUS.”
“Being a vandal doesn’t make you left-wing, it doesn’t make you revolutionary and it certainly doesn’t make you the saviour of student activism. It makes you a criminal.”
There were reports of police violence throughout the day. A Vine video by London journalist Vinnie O’Dowd of a marcher being pushed to the ground outside Victoria Station by two police officers went viral. The video was captioned “Protester gets bashed by police”.
The man’s friends told Guardian reporter Matthew Taylor that he was a Turkish Kurd studying at Birkbeck University in London. One of them said: “He hadn’t done anything at all – we are all just here to protest. It was really violent: he looked like he was unconscious for a while.”
Two more “days of action” are due to take place on December 3 and 6. The first will see students holding occupations, demonstrations and walkouts on their campuses. The second hopes to see lecturers, teachers, trade unions, anti-austerity campaigns, families and local communities joining students in local demonstrations across the country.