Now, don't get me wrong, direct action can be brilliant and is often a vital tool in drawing media attention to causes which would otherwise be ignored. A stunning recent example of this was the Vodafone Protests which brought a previously ignored issue into the public eye.
However, what happened at Millbank on Wednesday was disgraceful. Innocent businesses had their offices destroyed, ordinary office workers were terrified out of their wits, at least eight people had to go to hopsital due to their injuries and there are reports about of a young man having suffered brain damage after being hit by a brick (
But, instead of the violence let's imagine this had happened instead. Towards the end of the protests NUS stewards lead students into the lobby of Millbank Tower where they stage a sit-in, completely blocking the lobby and the courtyard whilst other students lock arms and form a symbolic wall around the entrance, waving placards denouncing the increases in tuition fees. A few yards up the road the rest of the protesters listen to speeches before dispersing peacefully. The sit-in continues for several hours, drawing mass media attention as sutdents continue their sit-in until late at night. The evening news is dominated by coverage of the thousands of students in and around Millbank while Newsnight goes ahead as planned with it's debate over the increase in tuition fees.
A lovely picture isn't it? Obviously it was never going to happen, there were too many people in the crowd out to cause trouble and it would have been impossible for so few NUS stewards to maintain discipline amongst such a large crowd. But if it had been pulled off imagine the positive attention it would have drawn to the cause instead of the dozens of negative editorials, opinion-pieces and letters to the editor that we have seen instead.
Gandhi showed that the powerful of peaceful protest could liberate a nation of hundreds of millions of people - I'm sure we can achieve the far simpler goal of stopping tuition fees with the same methods.