Week 72 – Tory Party HQ

I was always optimistic. Reading the newspapers’ estimates of 20,000 students registered for the march the evening before, I thought to myself; I haven’t “registered”, no-one I know has “registered”… this was going to be huge. If you told me on that evening that I would end up on the roof of the governing party’s headquarters, however, I would have laughed.

The sun was shining on the morning of November 10th, and our blood was boiling. If the government thought they could slash our education and destroy our futures without a response, they would soon have another thought coming.

Me and Finlay, my younger brother, who could be losing his EMA under the education cuts, drove into central London around an hour and a half before the demonstration was due to begin. Everywhere we looked, people were gathering; some were walking towards the University of London Union, some were walking towards the London School of Economics, some were walking towards the official meeting point at Horse Guards’ Avenue off Whitehall, but everyone was ready.

As we parked up, and began walking back down the Strand, we saw a crowd emerging from Aldwych; around 2000 students had set off from LSE. However, they were only marching down one side of the road, and we were in a militant mood. Me and Finlay crossed over, into the oncoming traffic, and within seconds the whole crowd had followed.

We passed Trafalger Square, and half way down Whitehall found ourselves approaching the main bulk of the demonstration, which had assembled there. It was an endless sea of people, but unfortunately, they had been corralled by police and NUS stewards into one lane of the dual carriageway. Me and Finlay immediately set to work, tearing down the metal barriers which separated the two lanes. Oncoming traffic drivers looked on in wonder.

The task of removing the barriers proved an easy one. Persuading people to move onto both sides of the road, however, was impossible. It was a full half an hour of standing still; the police had seemingly blocked the march at the front, and we needed a spark of an inspiration.

About the same time that I looked up to see my brother and a friend of mine standing on top of a bus stop, I turned around and saw that a huge group had come from the back of the crowd had surged onto the other side of the road that I was still standing on. Now, the gaps in the barriers proved invaluable, as an endless flow of people began coming through. We were moving again.

We heard loud music coming from the centre of the crowd, but as we located the moving bicycle it was emanating from, it became clear that this music was leading a crowd of it’s own. Finlay looked pleased; “Those are my friends from school!” he told me.

We joined the music crew, which was weaving it’s way forward through the crowd. We were approaching the Treasury on our right; “That’s our first target,” I told my brother.

The people with the music system must have had the same thought. All of a sudden, the bicycle burst out of the crowd, rushing through the pair of armed police guarding the private road of the Treasury. A group of 200 followed, including me in my wheelchair, and Finlay pushing at full speed. A dubstep tune came on, and the chanting began; “Fuck Cameron! Fuck Cameron! Fuck Cameron! Fuck Cameron!” Not the Treasury’s proudest day.

We had just penetrated the belly of the beast, with ease, and I couldn’t quite believe it. Little did I know, it was just the beginning of events.

We continued down the sixty stone steps at the other end of the Treasury road without so much as a pause for breath. We were on the rampage.

Ten minutes later, we were outside the Business and Skills centre, where Vince Cable likes to work when he’s not out wasting people’s time in his constituency. The building was occupied on the day the Browne Review was released, so here the police were ready for us. We flooded into the courtyard, but the riot cops were called within minutes. As batons began to swing, me and Finlay stood our ground on the front line. I stood up on my wheelchair, but attempts to re-take the courtyard soon fizzled out as a riot van was brought in. The sound system had been savaged by the police, but at the same moment, as we turned back out into the street, another magically appeared, and our journey continued.

We headed back towards the Houses of Parliament, inside which “our” politicians sat cocooned in the bubble they refer to as “Prime Minister’s questions”. It would have been the ideal third target, but unfortunately, the moderate NUS block were in the way, standing around waving pink placards, and not doing a great deal. The numbers, however, were undeniably impressive. By now, 50,000 students and staff were on the streets.

We turned right, onto Millbank. I met up with Kareem, who had postponed a studio session to join the action. “Where are we headed now?” he asked me. I wasn’t quite sure. And then I remembered.

“The Tory Party HQ!”

The energy was rising. We were walking, jogging, running. We were ready. And then we saw it.

To the right, a huge courtyard was packed with thousands of students, with thousands more still pouring in. In front of us, a huge glass building towered; it was the Conservative Party’s Headquarters, and it was under attack. The crowd was so tightly packed that even with the wheelchair, it was a huge effort to force our way through. Around half way we gave up. The crowd was swaying. “They’re smashing the windows…”

Me and Finlay looked at each other. We knew that we had to make it to the front. Kareem started pushing the wheelchair again, and Finlay cleared a path in front of us.

Two rows from the front of the crowd, I saw a close friend, Jonte. He grabbed my arm. “This is so tight, we are going to break the police line any moment now.” Me and Finlay went for one last push, and forced our way to the front. Five riot police stood in front of me, and they looked terrified. Their under-staffing is something that I now see as seriously suspicious. Perhaps the Metropolitan Police are keen to avoid the cuts the rest of us will suffer. “You want to go through?” one policeman asked me. “I want everyone to go through,” I replied. Red smoke billowed from flares, and shattered glass hung from what remained of the windows. The noise from the crowd was deafening. I could see that some students were already inside the headquarters.

It wasn’t long before the next surge came. A Mexican wave of bodies. I fell out of my wheelchair and pushed through two cops. Finlay stood behind me, the wheelchair still in his hands. The crowd continued to push. Below my hands, I could feel the smashed glass. The police were batoning the crowd, desperately trying to defend the Conservatives’ HQ. I tried to pull my way through, but my left leg was still trapped under two policemen. The crowd continued to surge. A demonstrator already inside the building grabbed my arms and pulled me through. I cannot describe the sense of achievement I felt at that moment.

Scores of demonstrators followed. Finlay came running in with the wheelchair a couple of minutes later. Victorious chants rang in the air; “Tory scum! Tory scum!” “When they say cut back, we say fight back!”

But then, the chants changed… “To the stairs! To the stairs!” Two policemen blocking a tiny door were soon brushed aside, and around fifty of us forced our way through before they had a chance to re-seal the entrance.

It was an epic mission to the top. Nine floors; eighteen flights of stairs. Two friends carried my wheelchair, and I walked. We couldn’t give up now.

When we finally made it to the roof, a feeling of calm descended. I looked over the edge; thousands of students, three massive bonfires and masses of passion still occupied the courtyard. The Tory’s HQ was on it’s last legs. And we were on the roof.

This is only the start.

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25 responses to “Week 72 – Tory Party HQ

  1. I wish I had been there, It was truly amazing. There in Spirit if not in person all of the way. We will fight back!

  2. Love it :) the most riveting account I’ve had of the demo!!!

  3. Now that brings back memory of my own student days in the last 60s and early 70s.

  4. Wow.

    Amazing account of the day! Makes me really really wish i was there!

    Jody, your an amazing writer/reporter, you really managed to make me feel like i myself was there! well done and keep up the good work! Maybe see you at another demo!

  5. Annamaria Mac Intyre

    Determination wins the day! Politicians ignore us as long as we let them.

  6. This is a brilliant account of an incredible day.

    “This is only the start.”
    I agree, but we all need to know what’s next, and when it’s coming.
    Guidance is needed for this new groundswell of direct action.

    This is great journalism though!

  7. love it. just love it. Jody your so inspiring to many, keep it up bro truly respect you soo much for it.

  8. It was only a matter of time. They asked for it. Rise up !

  9. Yep. You popped into my head as soon as the images appeared on the news over here last night …

  10. Jody, I first saw you speak in Madison WI, last spring. I’ve been following your blog since then. What I had read on the BBC website about the protests pales in comparison to what you’ve written. Inspiring!

  11. Yes Jody great article bro ! next up 20th November Afghanistan time to GO

    This is only the start …. lol love it.

  12. Ketty Papadima

    Thank you, Jody. You are an inspiration to all of us… Ottawa misses you :)

  13. This is such a great account of the day!! You are a true inspiration Jody. Cant wait for 20th of nov!!! This is just the start!!!

  14. Footage of the event set to some sick dubstep http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUzKh5bX0tg&feature=related
    thought it was fitting to add to your article. peace.

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  16. I was there and your right jody it is the beginning, we need more protests and bigger.

  17. Pingback: Week 74 – Student Protests, Part Two | Life on Wheels

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  20. Amazing account well done, just be very careful what you post on the internet for everyone to see, as Millbank could be classed as aggravated tresspass. Not that I’m against that (: you just don’t wanna get arrested if you don’t have to!

  21. Just showing solidarity here. not many things i can add to the switched on bunch of stuff you have here. People seem to be waking up and understanding that our political corporation only serves the interests of its investors to the detriment of the manipulated masses. Did you ever read a book called “in praise of idleness” by Bertrand Russell? Very interesting read in regards to our conditioned work ethic. anyway, hats off to you, lad keep it up.
    I am currently putting together some leaflets with a breakdown of why the cuts are really happening – to further oppress us in order to perpetuate the status quo. a status quo designed to maintain the current imbalance of wealth. in a world where money is power and thus, the more money you have the more influence you hold, why would those with that influence want change? why would they want equality? anyway, i’m sure you know this but the truth about politics, capitalism and our fallacy of a “democracy” are subjects that people seem to be waking up to. our logic is bamboozled in the media (owned by the rich) through emotional manipulation and over simplification. the more our populace get used to “zippy” “buzzy” information reduced to simplified symbols the harder it is to reason with them. i have spent countless hours explaining this kind of thing to countless people and often people switch off when a complex argument or explanation is put in front of them. hence why our education system is so prescriptive, university is one of the only places (if you have good lecturers or the right influences) people can get an amount of critical thinking capacity, this is why it’s being made more exclusive. anyway, some thoughts, now “out there” my leaflet will break it down, from the birth of freemarket capitalism to now, simplified to a degree but hopefully the right kind of spark.
    anyway, much respect and love.

    X

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  23. What of the fire extinguisher lobbing idiot, what say you of him?

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  25. thought you couldnt walk…. but managed to get up 18 flights of stairs….

    evidently your a liar, and stop using your disabilities to get sympathy for your causes, its under-hand and an insult to those with real problems to be frank.

    water cannons would have worked on you nicely…

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