Tag Archives: demonstration

Two sides of the same coin*

8 Dec

The coin is spinning. Randomly some patterns of the two sides show within a blink of eyes, but they cannot be clearly seen.

Speaking of student demonstrations, images of France in 1968 and Beijing in 1989 frequently come up, although they are more likely to be mentioned as riots, for violence is the keyword.

The demonstration in London on 24 November shares with previous student movements those violent factors.

But like a spinning coin, what makes it bear a mixed impression is the other looming yet recognisable side – the carnivalesque atmosphere.

A carnival of resistance

Posters can be found at many places around University of London Union (ULU), the starting point of the demonstration.

With a catchy bright yellow banner, they read, “ULU brings you a carnival of resistance.”

Colourful masks and a clown, which are also on posters, suggest that the demonstration is supposed to be cheerful.

The demonstration follows the prototype described on the posters, as students start to gather with excitement and joy on their faces.

They greet and talk to each other with smiles even if they have never seen each other before. The same event puts them together as friends.

The atmosphere is heated up by pop music and strong drumbeats. Students are nodding heads and waving their hands according to the rhythm.

Apparently they have not forgotten the resistance part of the carnival. As they gather, they start to show their anger by shouting slogans.

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” They shout, briefly in words and loudly in voice.

The pattern of violence looms, yet the spinning coin quickly blurs it by bringing some string music.

An old man stands besides the crowd, playing the violin and tapping his foot with the rhythm.

Ed Emery, who is 65 years old, is now in his first year of PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The sound generated by students sometimes overwhelms that of Ed’s strings, but the old man seems far from being upset about that fact.

“I play my tone while students are shouting their tone,” He says with a serene smile. “It all comes together.”

“I support the students. I want to help them to prevent the government from destroying the university.” Ed is blunt about his stance on the education cuts issue, reminding people of the fact that he himself is a student as well.

If the story ends here, this glance of the demonstration seems to be a nice party where everyone enjoys their indulgence factors.

Violence, the other side of the coin

"Edward Scissorhands"

As the spinning coin slows down, both sides of it can be seen more clearly.

The march to Trafalgar Square is still surrounded by a carnivalesque atmosphere.

How often can you see Edward Scissorhands on the street? The curly and a bit messy hair, the pale face, the scarlet lips, the neat shirt, and of course the scissorhands, are always ready to arouse some screams.

People who follow protesters have the chance to meet the famous character from Tim Burton’s movie, on the street.

The switch then comes as the carnivalesque exterior starts to fade away when students are blocked by the police in Whitehall.

Tension rises quickly at the confronting line, as the police intend to halt the wave while students want to break through.

The unstable balance is not broken until the trigger comes, when some students smash the glass of a bus shelter.

Chaos is aroused as students let off their anger by swinging an abandoned police van and throwing sticks and bottles…

A student with his face veiled jumps onto the top of the van and hail his fellows beneath like a newly crowned king…

The image of the demonstration is blurred again, with anarchy rising and helicopters roaring, together with music still playing and students dancing.

The coin is still spinning. Even though it has slowed down and patterns of both sides are better shown, it is still spinning.

Carnival or violence? It is hard to tell the true face of the demonstration. Both faces are merged together.

Both of the sides can be clearly seen only when the spinning stops, but will it?

*The previous version was posted on 25 November.


Student demonstration: Violin and violence

25 Nov

It is not carnival. This was the impression in my mind when I came back from the student protest on education cuts. Although it is supposed to be one, with violin.

Yet it did look like a carnival when everything was still peaceful and quite well organised. It could have been a regular demonstration, without violence.

The students demonstration in London yesterday turned to be violent in the end despite the carnival atmosphere engendered at its early stage.

Old man, violin…and students, slogans

Students shout their slogans while Ed Emery plays his tone at the back

When I spotted Ed yesterday, he was playing his violin, smiling and stepping the ground  by the pace of his tone. It was outside the Birkbeck College on the Malet Street.

It was also the place where students involved in the protest were supposed to gather. Soon there were a lot of students warming up themselves for the demonstration, by shouting their slogans.

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” They shout. This is just one of those provocative slogans that students have composed to let off their angry against the government’s plan to rise the tuition fee of home students and to cut the budget for higher education.

Simple and easy, loud and noisy. Students even brought them with loudspeakers to amplify their already burning rage.

Just besides the ready-to-erupt volcano made by students, Ed Emery, the PhD student at SOAS was enjoying another type of sound at the corner of a stairway besides the entrance of a modern looked building.

“I am 65 years old now.” Ed later told me, on his way leaving the spot where students were standing a few minutes ago.

“It all comes together”

If you are a person that loves to see contradictions, this scene contains so many contradictory factors that may nail your eyesight.

Massive students, most of whom are in their 20s and even younger, uses their endless vigor to burst the angry atmosphere as well as the decibel.

"It all comes together"

On the other hand, Ed the 65-year-old person with gray hair and wrinkle, stands alone holding a violin and playing happily.

The sound generated by students  sometimes overwhelmed that from Ed’s strings, but the old man was far from upset about that.

“I play my tone while students are  shouting their tone,” Ed paused and said by raising his voice a little to let me hear, “It all comes together.”

Being a local person from London, Ed is now in his first year of PhD at SOAS, majoring in Arabic and Jewish medieval music.

“I support the students. I want to help them to prevent the government from destroying the university.” Ed told me his stance on the education cuts issue and the reason why he chose the very spot.

Until then I realized that technically he himself was a student as well. Apart from factors such as his identity as a Londoner and his music-related major, he was actually supporting his own group in a celebrating way.

Indeed Ed was standing alone, but he was not lonely. The carnivalesque air was heated up jointly by the students – they were upset due to the cuts but they intended to have some fun as well.

Reminder of the New Year Parade

Like the vogue on New Year Parade

If the story ends here, it will be a fair portrait of a big and nice party where everyone is enjoying their moments and delivering the emotions. Yet it may interest journalists less, even it is truly vogue.

Except for slogans, the demonstration at the early age resembled the New Year Parade quite a lot, with people dressing up, smiling, playing drums and enjoying the music.

"Edward Scissorhands"

It is carnival, it is moving vogue, even only for that specific day.

How often can you see Edward Scissorhands on the street? The curly and a bit messy hairstyle, the pale face, the scarlet lips, the neat shirt, and of course, the scissorhands. If you came yesterday, the famous movie character was right besides you.

From vogue to rogue

When you are in rage and want to find some place to let your inner steam off, you will always try to find an adversary, and that is also where things always go rogue.

The carnivalesque exterior started to fade away when students were blocked by the police at Whitehall, near the parliament building.

The tension rose quickly at the confronting line of students and the police, as the police intended to halt the massive student wave yet students wanted to march on. Both verbal and physical contacts were detectable.

At the front line of police-student confrontation

Students attacked an abandoned police van (and some say it was abandoned deliberately) and tried to swing and turn it down. Later a face-veiled person jumped onto the van, making him the focus of many pictures taken by the media.

Two bus shelters in that area was destroyed with glasses smashed.  It was difficult for you to ignore the fear from inside for violence when you were just ten metres away from one of the bus shelters.

Students standing on the damaged bus shelter

Fireworks and colour smokes were set on by demonstrators, which were only hints that reminded me of the festive stage of this demonstration earlier.

With people jumping onto the van, sitting on the top of the two damaged bus shelters, helicopters roaring in the sky and police setting up a cordon, it was really like a battle field.

Seeing violence prevailing, I really missed Ed’s serene smiles, and his violin.

But I am not sure about the true face of this demonstration – the violin or the violence. Or maybe they are just two sides of the same coin.

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