Attendance was lower than expected at one of last week’s EMA protests, in contrast to the immense support seen at other such events, but neither low numbers nor the constant drizzle of rain dampened the spirit of the protesters.
“We’re just a country, we don’t have any natural resources, the only thing we have is an educated youth and the Tory government is trying to take that away,” said Elizabeth Hyatt, 23, a campaigner who attended the EMA protest.
These words express the general unrest felt by those who gathered at Trafalgar Square last Wednesday and came together under one message, which was that for any victories to be made by anti-cuts groups, all groups must fight together.
“We’re out here continuing the fight back, and trying to link it to a fight against austerity at large. I’m against all the cuts,” said Emma Davis, 24, who attended the event as a member of the Socialist Worker organisation and paper. “In terms of EMA specifically, this cut is saving education for the few and rich and turning our country back to Draconian times.”
One of the main arguments against this cut is that it will widen the gap between the rich and the poor and exclude those less fortunate from continuing their education. This sentiment was held by many, if not all, present at the event, including Jason Phillips, 25.
The irony of cutting back on what would appear to be a fundamental part of society was not lost on Phillips.
“The government needs an educated working class to do their bidding and their work, and this isn’t going to produce that. Even from the government’s stand point, this doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The sentiment that the cuts simply “don’t make sense” was a recurring theme at the event, echoed by Paul Callanan, 23, national organizer for the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign. “It’s only going to save the government about £500 million, and that’s pocket money compared to what they’ve given bankers,” Callanan said while operating a table for his organization.
This “pocket money,” many believe, could mean the difference between continuing education and dropping out of the system for many students. One student that would have benefited from EMA is fifteen-year-old Rebecca Short, who stood with two other students holding a sign that read “Students and Workers Unite and Fight.” Short, along with her classmates, skipped school to be a part of the protest.
“For me, it would have meant that I wouldn’t have to work while studying, and I could have used it to buy books and lunch while I was at school,” Short said. She added that 77 percent of the children in the borough where she lives would have been eligible for EMA. Despite the determination of the crowd, one has to wonder if all of this protesting will be able to do any good. One bystander remarked that sometimes protesting too much just digs a cause into a deeper hole.
Even though many now think there is no point in protesting, this isn’t the case, said Callanan. “There have already been victories in Scotland and Wales, and if we continue to fight, we can succeed,” he said. Callanan urges students to organize locally, on individual colleges and campuses in order to help the cause and continue to fight. The protests will, indeed, continue, with more rallies planned around the country in the future. The students will not stop until the entire country has heard their battle cry: “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!”