Life on Wheels Week 72: From Tory HQ, “This is just the start!”

Reporting on yesterday's protest against the coalition government's assault on free education and the public sector, Ceasefire contributor Jody McIntyre, who was on the roof of Tory HQ, recounts the anger, the exhilaration and the new found belief in the power of protest.

Jody Mcintyre's Life on Wheels, Politics - Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 19:30 - 2 Comments

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By Jody McIntyre

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.

Jody at the protest

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.

[The complete ‘Life on wheels’ archive is available at http://jodymcintyre.wordpress.com]

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2 Comments

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Corin Faife
Nov 11, 2010 21:17

Good write up, sounds pretty exhilarating from the eyewitness report…wish I could have been there myself!

Phil Taylor » Blog Archive » Jody McIntyre is not telling the whole story
Dec 14, 2010 17:06

[…] of stairs of the 30 Millbank building during the student riots of 10th November. His account, here, also makes it sound like he is quite happy to be at the sharp end of these demos; always at the […]

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