Barometer of struggle

School students are taking the lead in the struggle against the war. School strikes are breaking out everywhere - London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Liverpool. Mark Fischer reports on the March 19 protest outside parliament

By the time I had reached the growing knot of people gathered around Bas and the two policemen who had frog-marched him to the middle of parliament square, his mood had begun to change. Initially, he brushed past me as he was led away - an ashen-faced and clearly very frightened 15-year-old lad. He was accused of throwing something at a policeman, as school student demonstrators confronted them in one of a series of clashes. I actually witnessed the incident and can testify that the offending object - a small bread roll (cheese and tomato ketchup, I would surmise from the gory 'road-kill' pattern it left on the side of the angry officer's face) - was not thrown by him. As the search of Bas began, groups of other school students, political activists, camera crews, bar room and even professional lawyers began to congregate around to offer helpful advice: "Don't tell 'em nuffin, Bas. They got no right." "Why you searching 'im? Why don't you go catch some crooks?" "Officer, you are not legally entitled to ask these questions." "Why don't you mind your own business, miss?" "Actually, I am 'minding my own business' - I'm a partner in a firm of solicitors." This practical solidarity worked its magic on Bas and his confidence increased in inverse proportion to mounting surly frustration from the policemen. Eventually, they decided to call it a day after he squirmed theatrically as one officer commenced a pat-down search of his trousers, shouting out: "Oh, there's fuckin' laws against that!" For more than four hours, up to 500 school and college students showed exactly the same sort of disrespectful attitude to their elders and 'betters' as young Bas. To be at this protest, many had bravely defied teacher-imposed bans and parental threats. Once there, they showed they were less than awed by the occupants of the august body across the road from them, catcalling and giving the finger to a group of besuited honourable members who wandered out onto a balcony to watch the fun. They chanted ("They go to war, we break the law!"), they taunted the boys in blue ("Shame, shame, shame!"), fought running skirmishes with them and managed to partially or completely block the roads in front of parliament on at least half a dozen occasions that I saw. Wonderfully inspiring stuff. The police quickly worked out that this was not a restful day in the sun for them - and responded in the expected manner. They were violent, energetically laying into uniformed school students clearly still in their mid-teens. They sneered - "Why don't you kiddies get back to fucking school?" They were obstructive, arrogant "¦ and extremely educational. You can guarantee that the filth will have taught hundreds of new young activists some stark lessons about their oppressive role in society. These young protesters showed a refreshing openness to ideas, with all political stalls and paper-sellers doing brisk trade. Leaflets, stickers, papers and badges were snapped up and Parliament Green was dotted with small groups or individuals relaxing in the sun and devouring the Weekly Worker, Socialist Worker, The Socialist or some other revolutionary publication. I did note some papers and leaflets converted into paper-hats to shelter from the brilliant spring sun - but far more were taken away to be studied on tubes and trains as these courageous young comrades made their way home. As you would expect, they still have a lot to learn. At the moment though, given their energy, dynamism and willingness to take a stand, youth clearly also have a lot to teach.