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Occupy London: Your Experiences

Young participants in the National Demo answered Dazed's call-out for contributors; here they show and tell us why they have had enough

As thousands of students gathered in central London on Wednesday, Dazed reached out to speak to the young people affected by the government cuts, university fee increases and the current financial crisis. The responses have been phenomenal with images captured from young photographers who went down to the National Student Demo. Here we heard from recent graduate, 25-year-old Sophie McKay from London about her experiences from the march.

Sophie McKay:
Now, if I’m entirely honest I’ve never been a big one for student protest. Not because I’m not a particularly politically engaged individual but perhaps because of a tendency to view it all with a healthy dose of wry scepticism. But aside from a journalistic curiosity, as a 25-year-old recent graduate, I went down with a sense of sympathy for the motivations of a lot of the recent protest movement. The combination of declining job possibilities, soaring rent prices and not insignificant student debts is beginning to make fairly basic aspirations for a group of twenty-somethings seem almost impenetrable. We’re a generation with huge unemployment frequently yet to leave home because financial independence has become just that bit harder.

The march itself set off from Bloomsbury travelling through the Strand into the City. The decision to head into the financial district was a good indication of how the student movement has become part of a wider concern about financial issues, not just fees. The atmosphere was festive with good natured chants and music. Around Fetter Lane there was a moment where it looked like things were going to get more heated. The march had slowed down while the police formed a line restricting anyone from passing forward. A group of hooded anarchists from the group Black Bloc attempted to surge forward against them and objects were thrown towards the police line. At this moment the atmosphere became noticeably tenser, police beginning to don riot gear and making as if to charge the crowd on horseback. At which point I briefly questioned the wisdom of coming along without a press pass. After this the police presence was noticeably heavier but the march passed without incident to the rally point at Moorgate.

What was most apparent throughout the protest was the wide number of concerns that people were protesting about. For every placard about The White Paper there were just as many about corporate greed, the Tories or the arts. Fees are certainly still a central issue. I spoke to Johnny, a first year medical student at Cambridge, who explained how he felt that the change to fees was a hindrance to social mobility.

“Everyone says oh you only pay it back when you’re earning over 21,000 everyone pays back the same. But it doesn’t quite work like that. Because if you’re taking on that level of debt you’ve got to be pretty sure you can pay it back and its much easier to take on that burden of debt on the basis that you have a family that can support you, if you fail to get a career that’s particularly high earning. And of course people say well that gets rid of stupid courses like “Jedi Science” or something, but it really means that poor people can’t do “Jedi Science,” he said.

Amongst the talk of fees the other concerns raised ranged from the standard Marxist to the more “blue sky thinking” approach. I heard policy suggestions amongst the grievances. Joe, a fine art student, explained how he felt that changing the electoral system was one idea: “In my opinion they should put a law through, send a postal form to everyone. Get everyone to vote - that’s fair. They’re the minority and they’re in control.” 

The voices and opinions expressed were diverse but frequently what came across was just how politicised many of the protesters had become in the last year. Previous protests had made them feel far more politically engaged against “a system of unfairness”, as it was frequently characterised. Which seems a welcome alternative to the reality TV, consumer driven picture of a generation we’re often given. True, it wasn’t all earnestness: aside from some of the rueful comments I overheard about how “quiet” the march had been I was amused to see a group of protesters taking cocaine at the main rally. The irony of doing so on a march largely about corporate greed in the financial centre wasn’t lost on me. Or maybe it was just a conceptual statement, I can’t be sure.

But overall the day showed that what had started out as a student issue a year ago has become a lot wider. The Occupy movement was referenced time and again; many of the protesters had been there or gathered there at the end of the march. It was cited as an “organic” movement that was still developing. One that could help drive real change to the way our political and financial systems work. 

It’s hard to say whether these optimistic aspirations will be met but it certainly underlies the impact of the Occupy movement and growing protests. It would be unwise to write it off as cliché student-leftism (cocaine socialist or otherwise). No one seemed to feel that protesting was pointless or going away any time soon. Meaning the student movement and occupiers are almost certainly one to watch. The Only Way is St Paul’s anyone?

Photographs by Carl Farrugia, Laramie Shubber, Mari Shibata and Firas Eljechy