News Watching so many students turn out today for something which they believed in warmed the heart and filled me with nostalgia. I was studying in the early to mid-nineties, and a certain amount of apathy had set in regarding causes which people could support. During my time at leads the only protests I had seen were for the ‘Reclaim the streets’ campaign, but this was based within the community and divorced from either university.

So when I was heading the through the University one day and saw an advert for a march I knew I wanted to get involved. And just to show how long it is since I was a student, then it was against the abolition of grants in favour of student loans. There were introduced in my first year as a grant top up – and in a fit of total sadism, the Conservatives had decided to reduce the grants gradually and increase the loans so we could see the money getting smaller on the cheques.

But that wasn’t my only reason to march. Somehow, the student union had organized for the roads on the route of the march to be closed for the duration. Here was an only opportunity to walk from my campus, in the sticks, to the centre of town down the main through route inward. It felt like revenge in a way for all the time I’d tried to cross the same road during pub crawls and almost been demolished by a passing car. Now we would be holding up that same traffic.

I had imagined that for something so close to student hearts (and pockets) the turnout would have been a bit greater. Watching film footage of protests during the sixties and seventies there were thousands of duffel coats and scarves. On this march there about two hundred. If ever there was a demonstration of the aforementioned apathy. As we headed off from the campus we must have looked like we were going on an outing.

Because of the lack of numbers I remember it being a very self conscious experience. Without the mass, each individual could be seen with daylight between. I wonder now if there are some photos of me in that strange tie-die shirt and blue jacket which will be pulled out if my plans for world domination ever come to fruition. I hadn’t been able to talk anyone else into going, so I didn’t know anyone so there wasn’t anyone to engage. So I just enjoyed the walk.

As time went on, and the chanting got louder as people heading into town anyway decided to join the group I noticed that most of the banners were specially printed with the ‘Socialist Worker’ logo at the top; and that in fact there were representatives from there handing out copies to passers by. Suddenly the protest felt hijacked – I was (and still am) a Liberal Democrat. I’m no socialist and I certainly didn’t agree with their brand of socialism. Now I was politically self-conscious. I began to question the motives of some of the other people marching.

There were two journalists from the Leeds Student newspaper covering the event. They were freshers, this looked like their first job and they too were intimidated. I hadn’t seen them interview many people. I wanted it on record somewhere that I didn’t like the Socialist Worker being about and that I wasn’t one of them. So I approached them and began spouting. Looking back now, I don’t think I’ve ever been so political. And as the two of them attempted to record my meanderings I was increasingly becoming carried away – and also surprisingly knowledgeable (listening to Radio 5 had stood me in good stead). I have a vague memory of pointing at the banners and of the two of them nodding. Nothing I said was printed in the ensuing report (not important) but it was good to get it off my chest.

The march ended in Leeds City Centre, on The Headrow outside the Art Gallery. A crown had already gathered (were the hell had you all been for the past forty-five minutes). The head of the National Union of Students was giving an impassioned talk above a giant Socialist Worker banner. And that’s when I took my leave. I’d done the protest thing and been disappointed. The fact that grants were abolished anyway and now tuition fees are going to be introduce demonstrates how useful my work had been. We should all learn I suppose. The government will only ever listen to the people when it suits them …

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