This is a guest post by Andrew Pryde, a sixth form student from Oxfordshire. You can follow him on Twitter here
On Thursday the 9th of December I made the journey from my sleepy Oxfordshire village to ULU, London, to join the Day X protest. What woke me, a studious even ‘nerdy’ sixth former, from the slumber of my comfortable middle class existence? Why, when I will not directly be effected by the £9,000 a year tuition fees, did I care enough to take to the streets of London? Because I felt cheated, betrayed even, by the political system our country calls a democracy. I, like the rest of my generation, or even the entire country, has been let down by a system supposed to act in our best interests.
I was too young to vote in the elections so I decided to try and have some small influence on the course of our country’s future. In my overwhelmingly Conservative constituency I had the youthful audacity to think that by campaigning—leafleting and posting posters—
I could influence the outcome of the election. I couldn’t as it turns out, however, it’s not my failure to influence the outcome that irks me—even given that I’m hopeful I brought at least a few people out to vote Liberal Democrat, whose votes in a proportionally representative system would have meant something. It’s the fact that I did it at all—in the pouring rain—that bothers me. I helped, and so did many others who believed in the liberal cause, with the grass roots political activities of a party that has subsequently abandoned my generation in the pursuit of personal power.
I was sold an ideology by the Liberal Democrats. Their principles of fairness, free education and nuclear reduction resonated with me. So much so that I was willing to get out of my metaphorical armchair and do something about it. However, I was lied to. I was led to act on false pretences; we all were. Normally misrepresentation of such a magnitude as that seen in the Liberal Democrats electoral campaign would lead to a trading standards investigation if it were a corporation concerned. Here, however, it leads to a political party entering into a government with no mandate and abandoning its principles.
Last Thursday was a watershed. Not because of what the protestors or even the police did but because of what the government did. They vandalised our education system in a far more costly manner than any army of protestors could hope to do to Parliament Square. They demonstrated that the government, the entire political ruling class, has lost touch with the reality of the lives of those they supposedly represent.
This is where UKUncut comes in. When the public become disenfranchised from the political system, when they feel that there is an injustice occurring, they grumble. However, this inactive response to injustice can be rectified, this maelstrom of disgruntled grumblers can be turned into an army for justice and equality. My generation are willing to fight for what they believe in, they’ve proved that in the last month of student protests, and they are ready to be mobilised. It’s now time to mobilise the rest of society because tax avoidance affects all of us.
The biggest factor that deters many 6th formers and college students from attending these marches in my experience is the cost of travel to London. What better to combat this than by mobilising people in their own communities? What better that to annul their worries about large periods spent missing vital education than organising short targeted protests on weekends? We have a historic opportunity to make a change to the way power is structured in this country, the world even. The people for too long have been at the behest of a ruling political class who are out of touch with its people. How can 18 millionaire ministers understand what it is to be a working or middle class student, public servant or worker? By mobilising the people of this country, not just the students and sixth-formers, but everyone UKUncut has a chance to change the world for good.
Small leaderless highly targeted actions are the way forward. We still need vast numbers of people to come out on the streets of our capital, to strike and to take part in civil disobedience but this won’t be enough. We can see in the media portrayal and in public perceptions of Thursday’s protest that these protests can be marginalised and categorised as despicable violent and thuggish events. These perceptions are of course unfair and unfounded because these people were not there. They were not crushed bodily against walls by advancing lines of riot police who were indiscriminately striking out into a crowd of protesters whose hands were raised above their heads in surrender and who were shouting “peaceful protest” until their throats could no longer stand the strain. They didn’t feel the fear and anger as advancing lines of mounted police threatened to crush their friends. What the public and the media can identify with, however, is peaceful direct action on every high street in this country. They can immediately see the injustice of the super rich evading taxes that their grandparents pay on their pensions, that the lowest paid workers in our country pay without option. They can get behind our cause.
So here’s my rallying cry. Go home from the streets of London with hope in your hearts because you can change the future. Take the anger you feel at the injustices you’ve seen, the pain of the bruises you may have received at the hands of your own police force, and turn it into action in your community. It takes fewer than 10 people sat in front of a shop doorway with a placard and leaflets to get our message across. We may have lost the battle on Thursday but we are winning the war. A poet read one of his pieces before we set off from ULU on Thursday. He said: “for a long time now, over the skies of this silver land, the Gods of conscience have been sleeping”. It is our job now to wake this country, to turn the wrath of its people towards inequity and to stop the tax-dodging rich and their ideologue counterparts in government from bringing down our country.