An Open Letter to Students

My fellow students,


Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.



Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)


  1. Because of so many people, we only made it to just past big ben by 2/2:30pm when the demo had, in theory, finished. So when we got through the crowds we headed off to eat something before getting the coach back to uni. Just before we left though, our SU president was getting calls as there were 2 of our students who had been involved in the riots and apparently talked to the press. I was actually surprised when I heard the news, I thought it had all finished hours before!

    Even though it is ridiculous and doesn’t make students/the youth look good, at least it made the news and made the public aware of the demo. The fact is that if educated people are going crazy now, what’s gonna happen with those who want to study but can’t afford to be educated? We are going to end up with a very frustrated and angry public, which will lead to a new wave of anger at the government, along with the increasing unemployment of young people. This is even without mentioning the class divide…. in the long run we are looking toward national revolutionary feeling;

    I suppose we can only wait to see what happens….


  2. I understand why people riot. They just want to be heard. They just want justice. In the bay area we’re dealing with the Oscar Grant movement, and Oakland moves in and out of riots like it’s their everyday conscious. Nobody really takes the peaceful marches seriously here, and they have every right to. Oakland’s been crapped on by police every single day and dammit, when those kids have been abused and ridiculed by cops taking advantage of their jobs, driving up their quotas to make a paycheck, acting like they have all the power in the world, and most of all, “SHOOTING A MAN IN HANDCUFFS”

    They have every right to take it out on the city. It’s their one opening to ban together and say, “This is America, and this isn’t what I payed an airplane ticket for. I’m here to be heard.”

    Maybe the government won’t take them seriously, but the media is looking for these juicy stories to run with. So they’ll be heard. Why are they burning down a city? Why are they happily being arrested?

    Because somewhere down the road everyone stopped listening.


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