It was supposed to be a “day of rage” as students protested against increases in university tuition fees that are going to triple to as much as 9,000 pounds ($14,360) a year -- and the financial system which they see as responsible for robbing them of their future.
As it happened, around 8,000 protestors turned up, matched by 4,000 police officers in what the protestors saw as heavy-handed policing but which in fact led to no more than around 20 arrests for public order offenses.
The protest, which came a year after demonstrations against tuition fees resulted in violent clashes between protestors and police who used mounted officers to charge at demonstrators, was for the most part peaceful.
But there were a few moments in which the atmosphere was tense, as demonstrators were prevented from taking their planned route from the West End of London down Fleet Street and past the UK’s High Court, the Royal Courts of Justice, toward the City of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral, where they had planned to join with the ongoing Occupy London Stock Exchange protest encampment.
Protestors accused the police of “kettling” them -- a controversial tactic where riot police surround a protest and contain demonstrators in a human ring of steel and riot gear. What followed was around a 10-minute standoff with protestors chanting slogans such as “Let us through” and “Shame on You.”
However, having made their point, the protest began to move down the police-approved route down a side street that brought them up alongside St Paul’s but in a space from which and into police could control access.
Other moments included the sighting of riot police which were met with boos by the protestors although two girls took a different approach, chanting toward the police officers: “We think you’re hot now take those helmets off.” Far more common was the chant, “It’ll be your jobs next.”
There were also those who looked intent on either causing trouble or who merely expected it, wearing black scarves to cover their faces and black-hooded tops to provide additional protection frojm police officers trying to ascertain their identity.
However, for the most part the demonstration was good-natured and peaceful, the day of rage appearing more a day of mild annoyance. There was annoyance among the protestors at the way they were being treated. Annoyance at the way the police had warned they would use plastic bullets as a last resort if things turned ugly. And annoyance at being prevented from meeting up with the London Stock Exchange protestors.
And by the time the protest reached its destination of London Metropolitan University, it was unclear which way the protest would go. For the most part, the mood among protestors was calm, but the presence of mounted police, police with dogs, riot vans and police officers surrounding the protest rally, was to say the least unsettling, particularly when the police officers were also wearing balaclavas under their helmets hiding all but their eyes.
When the police did begin to move in, they did so slowly and they created a single exit for the protestors to leave through. They protestors did so in significant numbers, no one wanting to be trapped inside a man-made cage for several hours. As time wore on, more and more left fearing the possibility of conflict. Several used loudspeakers to tell their fellow demonstrators not to give the police an excuse to use force.
In the end there was a hard core of around 100 who took to dancing around a sound system. The rest left in small groups. The police slowly and carefully began to reduce their numbers in response.