I woke up to find that it had snowed at last, or should that be inevitably? It looked very pretty, but was definitely more than a little chilly, despite the bright sunshine.
Today was the second round of student protests, and I arrived at University Place at 12 midday on the dot. En route from Grosvenor Street I saw an awful lot of police, including several vans and a number of mounted police, which only increased in presence the nearer I got to University Place. The crowd by the tin can was somewhat sparser than last week, and the mood was a bit different too: a lot quieter, and not so eager or excited. The organisers tried to get people geared up with the chant “You say cutback, we say fightback!” plus there was a little bit of rapping, and a spirited new chant: “He’s got the EMA in his hands, and he wants the fucking lot!” The police seemed friendly enough, some were smiling and talking to students. I spotted some of the schoolkids from last week, who seemed wary but still dedicated. There were some excitable sixth formers who, bored with waiting for the march to start (this seemed to be an issue last week too) and, spotting some fellow sixth formers, began to chuck snowballs. The other sixth formers soon reciprocated, and it wasn’t long before the sporadic chants were accompanied by speedy and ferociously accurate volleys of snowballs: I detected at least one future England bowler in the ranks. Soon, the university students were joining in, and then, at last, it was time to march.
As we headed out onto Oxford Road, we almost immediately marched into a car that had stopped, unable to move now that a seething mass of protesters were heading towards, around, and past it. The youngish (20’s, 30’s) occupants wound the windows down and waved cheerily at us as we walked past. Some of us waved back. Shortly after this, I overheard an initially friendly, then increasingly cagey, discussion between one of the students and one of the police concerning a statement made by the GMP chief, concerning use of “reasonable force.”
The mounted police by Kilburn building watched us pass, and the bridge linking both sides of the Business School across Booth Street East and Booth Street West was full of people, some leaning out of windows, watching and taking pictures. As we approached MMU, I overheard a couple of the students discussing what could only be described as a new interpretation or meaning for the phrase ‘Riot Girl’: Apparently The Daily Mail had printed a picture of a girl rioting at one of the marches, and ran a ‘ladies don’t riot’ type story with it. Dear me, how quaint…
As we passed All Saints park, I came to be standing next to some very giggly male sixth formers, who had a large cardboard placard, written in Arabic. As we walked along, one of them giggled “Did you see her face?” and did a very good impression of someone’s jaw hitting the floor. “What’s on that sign?” I asked them, curious, and they showed me but I couldn’t read it. One of them very gravely translated it into English: It was very rude, and involved called Nick Clegg a prostitute, amongst other things. I lost track of them not long after this, and fell in in front of a couple of boys solemnly and intelligently discussing media manipulation and newspaper bias, proving that media studies, formally taught or otherwise, is rarely a waste of time. We arrived at the BBC not long after this, where more people were on the pavements taking pictures and so on. One of the quainter aspects of marching, I’ve decided, is the waiting at the traffic lights. It makes sense, given the traffic has to as well, but it does feel vaguely surreal: Like being part of a moving mass of people makes you a big lorry or something.
It was as we approached the BBC that I spotted my favourite placard of the day: “Save Defence Against The Dark Arts”. People in offices watched as we continued down Oxford Road, some friendly, some curious.
I’ve had to get my A-Z out to map the rest of the route I think we took, and I think I’ve got it right. If I’ve got it wrong, I think it’s only a few streets out, and I apologise in advance. If I discover from other people who were there that I am wrong, I will correct the streets accordingly.
We went along Peter Street, near Saint Peter’s Square, then along Mount Street, with mounted police at our backs as we came to Albert Square. Some of the protesters at the back weren’t happy about having mounted police right behind them, and someone made a few comments about horses, presumably not thinking that it isn’t the horses in charge, but the riders. I suppose if I’d had someone charge me on horseback, I’d be annoyed as well, but I grew up on the Cheshire border on a street with fields of horses very nearby: I like horses and I don’t have any bad experiences of them, so aside from being a bit nervous as to what might happen if the police decided to exercise a less relaxed form of crowd control, I didn’t feel anything much.
We passed by the Christmas markets in Albert Square, then we were onto Cross Street and heading for Corporation Street, an enthusiastic chant of “Tory Scum!” went up, along with “Our Street, Our Street!” and “You say cutback, we say fightback!” and so on. Because this is an area where tourists and posh people tend to graze, our presence was met by aghast glances and appalled stares in the main. Well, it was near Selfridges after all… A small and rather optimistic section of the crowd attempted to get some of the fur coated, aghast middle-aged on side by calling out “It’s your children’s future too!” and a brief but spirited chant of “Join us! Join us!” went up. Needless to say, the invitation was not taken up, and many probably went home to leave “Disgusted of Nether Alderley” type comments on todays reports instead…
As we approached URBIS (or rather, what was Urbis, and what is soon to be the new football museum) I spotted a number of protesters up at the front who were waving large red flags with the communist hammer and sickle design. They seemed to be welcoming us to Cathedral Gardens, where we were shunted up a small hill onto a largeish bank of grass for the speeches.
I left at this point, as I had to get to work and didn’t fancy the speeches much, so I once again missed what happened next.
The Manchester Evening News has reported tonight that 5 people were arrested, two for public order offences, two for assaulting police officers, and one for breach of the peace. This all appears to have occurred post Cathedral Gardens, either on the return journey to Oxford Road, or on Oxford Road itself. They give the number attending the march as 1,500, which would make it half the attendance of last weeks march, which sounds about right.
I also have it on very good authority (ie – not from the MEN) that the Roscoe Building occupation now numbers considerably more than last night, as 400 people got in and many have “stayed to help out”.