The mainstream media’s accounts of what happened in manchester on wednesday 24th november have been laughably inaccurate. The 3000-strong peaceful demonstration is a work of pure fiction. What follows is my personal account of what really took place.
The meeting at university place, Manchester University campus, at midday drew a huge crowd of both students and non-students. At this point it seemed very typically of a student demonstration, amusing placards and banners where being waved around, club organisers where handing out flyers and dairy milk had even decided to come down and supply people with free chocolates, out of solidarity? I think not. But there was also a very different energy in the crowd. Things have changed since milbank and you could sense it in the air. Flyers detailing how to mask up where being distributed and many more people than usual had taken this advice.
By half twelve the march was under way and after merging with Manchester Metropolitan’s meeting point at all-saints park the numbers where much closer to 6000 than 3000. The police and Student union stewards had decided that the march would be more effective if directed toward a leisure centre in castlefield rather than the Town hall as had been planned. After successfully diverting the march they continued to block off the side streets that would lead to the town hall. May I add that the entire police presence seemed to be densely packed around the small black bloc at the front right of the march. Each time there looked to be a chance to break police lines we tried, and after 3 failed attempts, one of which involving a cop getting wrapped up in a banner, much to his distress, We managed to break through, at this point the march split in half, one group continued into castlefield and the other headed for the town hall.
Around 1000 people approached the first entrance of the town hall, where 2 security guards and an elderly lady waited on the stairs. Some pushing and shoving between a few would-be occupiers and the security staff began, whilst others tried to help the elderly woman down the stays without getting caught up in any trouble. When we realised this door was going to be inaccessible we moved to the next. This had been barricaded heavily from the inside and within seconds of arriving police flooded the alcove and pushed back the protesters. A sit-down protest and much chanting took place, as the police began to kettle. A break away group of around 3-400 people realised that a kettle is not a nice place to be and instead decided to head for the main shopping area of Manchester. Here a banner was held in front of a Barclays bank reading ‘Fight corporate greed, Make them Pay’. A very minor action but never-the-less a nice little anti-capitalist sentiment. This group then made its way back toward the town hall along the tram lines, disrupting business as usual.
At this point I thought the day was finished and so decided to return to the universities to see if anything had happened down there. After a brief rest cops started flooding back down oxford road, closely followed by the main body of the march. This is where things got interesting. The whole university campus was on lock down in fear of occupations, and so after a brief venture around the campus, with only one occupation (http://roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com/) taking place, we decided to occupy oxford road itself (a very busy central road in manchester). Sound-systems and high spirits managed to draw a few more students into the crowd before the cops managed to push us off the road.
A few more sporadic attempts at occupations occurred but the cops had left another section of oxford road clear, so we took that instead. This time, with night falling, as the cops approached to try and remove us, we started to march away from the city centre, bringing traffic to a stand still. The majority of motorists where supportive and a few bus emergency exits where opened from inside and the occupants joined the march. Road work fences and cones, which had initially been just kicked over were built into barricades (the call ‘To the Barricades!’ was even made!) and we linked arms to await the cops arrival. This was signalled when 3 mounted officers rode their horses straight into the crowd (peterloo much?), bearing in mind some high-school students, aged no more than 13 or 14, where still on the march. The demonstration was cleared off the road however before the cops could move their vans and horses to allow for traffic to resume, We had decided to march back towards the city centre. By now numbers had dwindled to around 2 or 3 hundred and the cops managed, finally, to kettle the main group.
It was at this point that I left, and how long this kettle remained in effect for I have no idea, but the whole atmosphere of the day had been incredible. The energy and autonomy of the crowds was unreal, just when it looked like the cops had control, groups would break away, crowds would disperse and reconvene. No one was in control of this march, not the police, not the stewards, not the swp and definitely not the ‘violent minority’. As a result of the polices lack of control they became very aggressive. There general belligerence and the use of mounted officers lead to a very distinct anti-police sentiment in everyone I spoke to or was within ear-shot of. Anti-police chants replaced the anti-cuts chants and many people left, I hope, with a more realistic idea of the function of the police force.
In the wake of this anti-authoritarian, autonomous demonstration it will be interesting to see the direction the anti-cuts movement in manchester takes in the near future.