I was held at a student protest for five hours
Sophie, 17, was held in Whitehall, London for five hours when police contained students demonstrating against rising tuition fees and cuts to the education budget.
I was one of the students who protested on November 24th 2010 and from 3.00 in the afternoon until 8.00 in the evening I was held, along with many of the other London protesters, in a 'kettle,' an area cordoned off by the police. Most of us had protested totally peacefully and, by the end, we were freezing cold, depressed, dispirited and wanted to go home.
A group of us left school at 11.00 am. Our school was very supportive of us, although they couldn't say so outright. We wrote a letter to the school explaining our position and left during morning break so we wouldn't disrupt other people's lessons. We rallied in the local park and then got the train to central London.
Getting heard without a vote
I'm 17, so I'm not allowed to vote yet, but I had campaigned, hard, for the Liberal Democrats at the last election. I firmly believe Nick Clegg sold us out for power; I don't know how he expects anyone to vote for him again. These cuts are something all young people should care about; even if they won't affect you directly they'll affect your peers and the society you live in.
We reached Trafalgar Square at around midday. At that point it looked like a pretty small turnout and there weren't any clear leaders. I'd been at the protest the previous week and, this time, the crowd were younger too. I think the university students were mostly occupying their own university buildings and I reckon we'd missed the first wave of people walking down towards Parliament, but everyone in the square started to head that way.
We were in Whitehall by about 12.45pm and the way ahead had already been blocked off by the police. It was obvious there were more of them than there had been the week before and quite a few of them were already wearing riot gear. There's been a lot of media coverage about the police van that was vandalised, but at first everyone just walked past it. We weren't aware we were being cordoned in at first, it was only when people at the front started to get pushed back and everyone tried to move in a different direction we noticed we'd been blocked in and couldn't go anywhere.
People were crying. It was horrible; it was freezing and there were no toilets.
It was still quite peaceful. At about 2.00pm people who could prove they were under 16 or people in school uniform were mostly being allowed out. We didn't think we'd be held long and, honestly, the police didn't seem particularly organised: some of them were letting people out and others weren't. There wasn't a pattern. By 3.00pm no one was leaving, even a blind man who, to me, didn't seem to be involved in the protest at all.
There were people at the front trying to break through the police lines by ramming them with fences, and, yes, there was music and some people running around, but mostly everyone was being pretty rational. The police told us they were just trying to bore everyone into not protesting again.
We waited and waited. Kettling does work, when you have no choice about where you move you start to feel very desolate and very depressed. People were crying. It was horrible; it was freezing and there were no toilets. Portaloos were carried in, but we still couldn't get to them, we all just had to wee in a specific corner. The whole area smelled of urine.
Trying to stay warm
We were told to calm down and put out our fires, but we weren't lighting fires as a protest. We were burning our banners to stay warm. Because the placards all had print on them, the smoke was terrible, quite chemical. My friend had an asthma attack and her mum came down with her inhaler, but she wasn't allowed in. A lot of people's parents were waiting for them on the other side of the police lines and even more parents were phoning mobiles. Altogether I was held for five hours, between 3.00pm and 8.00pm, and there were others there for longer than me.
At first, while we were standing there in the freezing cold, I think a lot of people were thinking 'we hate this, never again.' But it's just made us angrier. We're radicalised now. We'll keep on protesting.