By Rebecca Chambers
‘Shame on you, shame on you! We deserve a future too!’
This is just one of the chants that dominated Monday afternoon’s student protest, organised as part of the ‘Take Back Manchester’ week by the Student’s Assembly Against Austerity. Marching from the Northern Quarter’s Oldham Street to the gated-off entrance of the Conservative Party Conference the students carried red boxes labelled ‘Keep the Grants’ and ‘Free Education’, referring specifically to George Osborne’s plans to scrap student maintenance grants and replace them with yet another loan.
From the outset the group of around 50 students drew a lot of attention. Journalists milling around Piccadilly hoping to catch photos of any possible altercations between Conservative delegates and protestors. Scandal-worthy enough to grace the front page of the following day’s Daily Mail were quickly distracted by the parade of red boxes and ‘Free Education Now!’ placards heading their way. Soon the activists were being followed on their route by cameras asking for interviews and surrounded by onlookers either cheering in solidarity or clicking away on their smartphone trying to get a good shot for their Snapchat story.
As the march progressed and the students reached the site of the Tory conference, the volume rose and shouts of ‘No ifs! No buts! No education cuts!’ were now more powerful than ever in the face of their opposition. NUS Vice Presidents Shakira Martin and Shelly Asquith were both active members of the group, keeping the chants constant and the crowd passionate as well as calling out the gaggle of Conservative delegates stood on a platform over the conference gates laughing and sneering at protestors.
By now almost all of the demonstrators waiting by the conference gates were joining the students, including a group of activists from Disabled People Against Cuts. It was a perfect display of unity on the left that the majority of the British press and certainly every high-ranking Conservative would swear until their dying day doesn’t exist.
It couldn’t be said that the students resorted to the egg-pelting or spitting tactics that have dominated the papers throughout the week of action, instead choosing to chant for their cause, lie pointedly in the street underneath the ‘boxes of debt’ and some were even dancing in the streets (albeit in the path of any Tories trying to make their way through the crowd unnoticed). More than this, the very clear effort made by everyone involved in being creative enough to spend time painting boxes red and making placards and banners then embarking on the trek from the furthest flung corners of Fallowfield was touching.
If there is anything to be taken from the afternoon’s events it is that it has never been more obvious that in our universities there is a consensus for change to the current political system. That the attacks on the young imposed by this government and the racist scapegoating of our country’s press will not be tolerated. That, and this is perhaps the most important point of all, the drive to protest and remain active in the politics of hope prevails amongst Manchester students, and that’s not something that’s going away any time soon.
Becky is a second year History student who is interested in politics and works as a bartender part time, you can follow her on Twitter.
(Photography by Fiona Edwards.)