By Sophie Donszelmann, News Editor
OVER ONE THOUSAND people took part in the “Cops Off Campus” protest on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013. Students and members of the public filled the streets of Bloomsbury to protest police violence against students and to promote the rights of university students and workers nationwide.
The organisation, Defend the Right to Protest, summarised aims under which the movement was organising. “Defend protesters against police violence and criminalisation. Support the right to organise, strike and demonstrate. No to student suspensions. No to injunctions on protests and occupations on campus.”
A press conference was held prior to the protest, which representatives from Birmingham Defend Education, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, University of London Union (ULU), 3Cosas and UNISON among others.
Panelists related personal experiences regarding the actions taken against them and other protestors by “paternalistic university management” and local police authorities. Some of these actions included being arrested, kettled, or suspended from their institutions through acts that were labelled as a “concerted attack on student mobilisations for simply standing up and demanding more democracy.” “Victimised,” “bullied,” “pressured,” “threatened,” “targeted,” and “high level of physical violence” were phrases that were frequently mentioned by all the speakers.
Despite the banner of “Cops Off Campus” the press conference also served as a platform to air the grievances of campus workers. Aided by a translator, a cleaner representing the“3Cosas” campaign spoke of the campaign’s mission: receive pay for sick days, holidays, and pension benefits for outsourced cleaners. The 3Cosas representative noted that their members feel exploited due to the unrealistic amount of work that is expected to be completed in their part-time positions. It was announced that on January 27 through 29 2014, 3Cosas and outsourced workers within the University of London will organise another protest. Members of the cleaners’ campaign later participated in the procession. “We suffer injustice as outsourced cleaners,” a protestor told the Beaver. “Students suffer injustice in the violence and exploitation [sic.] Their struggle is our struggle.”
Prior to Wednesday’s protest, 41 students had already been arrested in demonstrations including ULU President and Press Secretary for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) Michael Chessum, who was charged with failure to notify local authorities of early demonstrations. It is perhaps for this reason that members of the panel were adamant that they were not the organisers of the day’s protest. “All we know is that it starts outside this building.”
After the press conference concluded, the protest began at around midday outside of the ULU building as a large crowd gathered. Representatives from the National Union of Students (NUS) and NCAFC were distributing flyers listing individual’s legal rights in a stop and search process. “You are not immune from police violence,” a NCAFC member said. “They’ll try to get you.”
The procession of over one thousand moved away from the ULU Bloomsbury campus, down South Hampton Row, Kingsway (passing the LSE campus) and terminated in front of the Royal Courts of Justice, where the Mark Duggan inquiry is being held. Riot vans arrived on the Strand, however, police did not exit the vehicles.
The demonstration was largely peaceful. Students walked with signs and the sound of steel drums mixed with chants of “No justice, no peace. Fuck the police.” “Democracy not profits.” “Whose campus? Our campus.” “Cut job losses, money for the bosses.” Sabbatical Officers from the Bristol Students’ Union walked with signs saying “all I want for Christmas is the right to protest.” In an interview with the Beaver, Rachel Wenstone, Vice President of Education for the NUS, said the “behaviour from the police and the criminalisation of students is a worrying trend and it is something we should be opposing hard.” The NUS publicly condemned the violence against students and called for Boris Johnson to launch an inquiry into police behaviour and tactics; a step which the mayor confirmed he would undertake in his speech at LSE two evenings prior.
Much media attention has been given to the small proportion of individuals who, concealing their faces and sporting anarchist flags, acted disruptively. In one instance, an inquiry as to why these individuals chose to cover their faces was met with the response of “well, its cold, mate.” Windows were smashed in Senate House and a garbage can was set on fire; photos of which later emerged on national media.
Despite these instances, the relative lack of disruption to the intent of the demonstrators from both the police and those with destructive agendas, led many to be pleased with the results of the day. “We peacefully protested and had our voices heard,” said one student. “We’ve won.”
Photo courtesy of Dennis Mooney