This is an art blog, but sometimes things happen where even art doesn’t offer a cure, so if you come for the art please and by all means feel free to skip my incoherent sofa politics. I just feel like I owe this to all the people who enquired about my well-being. Normal posting will resume shortly.
Most of you know I live in London. Some of you know I live in Hackney. All of you know what’s been going on here. We had a rough week. Some people here, however, have rough lives.
There are the ones, often from immigrant families, who are trying to make a living in desperate times who – already enduring racial abuse and disintegration – had their local shops destroyed, their brothers killed, their teeth knocked out – often while defending the streets when authorities were absent.
The others are those trapped in a very discouraging benefit spiral – often for generations, with parents absent, local youth centres boarded up due to lack of funding, school being closed for summer holidays. It’s warm, nights are long, TV programme shit, the drugs don’t work and it seemed to some that “smashing up shit, fuck yeah!” seemed to provide a sense of purpose.
In this city, both of the above groups, who were already suffering, lost even more in less than a week. The former their livelihoods and their flats, the latter their chance of being taken seriously in society.
What happened is extremely upsetting, very difficult to grasp and the causes way more complex than the symptoms.
Was this retribution for Mark Duggan? No, sadly, his case was forgotten relatively soon once the peaceful vigil was overrun.
Was it political? Not really, you don’t smash up charity shops and pet shops if you want to make a political statement. You go after the banks and big corporations. Yes, some police stations were set on fire, but attacking the police is not proving a political point, it’s just really dumb, particularly when they were needed on Monday evening.
Is it justifiable? Absolutly not. Innocent families were made homeless, people were killed.
Can I UNDERSTAND it? Absolutely. With every cell of my body, with every synapses in my brain and I will try to show why for this IS about poverty, it IS about injustice, it IS about inequality but not in a purely materialistic sense.
This isn’t an exact repeat of Brixton 1981, if anything, it’s actually a whole lot worse now because to racial disadvantage came a lot of social disadvantages over the decades and it’s simply arrogant of a society to believe people won’t really realise they’re not actually well off in life as long as they’re being fed with benefits. “Give ‘em housing, give ‘em some money, shut ‘em up when they demand more”, is, if anything, the best recipe for creating more problems.
The attitude that history simply repeats itself and that we should just celebrate the accidental heroes of the riots – who, don’t get me wrong, have risked their lives to safeguard others like me living above and behind them when there was no-one around – distracts from the actual problem and gives “us” a feeling of being different than “those” who rioted and looted which is highly counter-productive and also not true.
The politicians who are shouting the loudest about how it’s justified to lock up the “scum of England” and the “thugs” for half a year at a time for stealing water bottles from Lidl in order to “fix this society”, are probably the ones with some of the worst track record during the expenses scandal and that’s not really leading the society by example. Particularly not when confusing giving justice with setting judicial precedents.
I do understand that it’s more difficult for someone living in leafy Notting Hill to understand what exactly goes on on a daily basis in an estate up here but we’ve all got to try as we actually all live really close together – something that hipsterification and gentrification and the ghettoification it brings with it won’t be able to overshadow. I can see the Swiss Re tower from here. Even on a cloudy day.
If the police sits back and gathers film evidence material for “swift and hard justice” in the aftermath and create a psychologically extremely tense atmosphere by turning their sirens on but don’t advance in some messed up form of psychological mob warfare while the rioters rioted and the looters looted (PLEASE, not all rioters actually looted and not all looters rioted – the looters are a very diverse bunch of people…) then there is something really, really wrong with the way a society reacts to unrests.
In the past few days, a lot of social theorists have come forward, trying to explain the whys and offering answers to the whatnows, and ironically enough, some of the best statements I heard that came close to addressing the complexity of the situation came from one of the last places I would ever listen to and I feel a perverse unease even mentioning it, yes, the church (I’ll just assume they’re good at writing empathically, though) and, of course, young teenagers who are now probably forced to spend the rest of their summer holidays thinking about “what they’ve done” and writing papers about the riots. Read any of those essays and you get a better summary of what happened and why than any newspaper of any couleur has come up with.
Without doubt, the ones who are going to cash in now are the ones who’ll offer the simplest answers. The EDL has already abused the fact that hundreds cleared the destroyed streets in a momentum of communal self-defence as populist propaganda and makes it seem like the UK’s at war “defending itself against a foreign invasion” (to be honest, even the self-acclaimed “Marxists” came to their aid by insulting the “broom hipsters” who took time off to help others for actually making the problem worse by creating a dangerous “Blitz spirit”).
Considering the fact that the e-petition to stop benefits for all rioters (I’m not going to link to it) has received so much backing from the public that it will be discussed in the Commons, the newspaper comments sections read worse than the most shocking YouTube slurs with people calling for the death penalty for looters etc., it is now more important than ever to demonstrate against the blind hatred of the far right, adding insult to injury particularly during their planned march through Tower Hamlets that’s REALLY had enough grief in these past few days. If you’re in London on September 3, I would like to invite you to join the counter-demo against the EDL march.
In the meantime, we can make at least an effort in helping our communities out and thanking those who protected us with their lives – in my case the Turkish and Kurdish small business owners. There is a multitude of events planned in all areas of town and obviously also in Birmingham, Manchester and all over the country, so please do attend these. Check your borough’s website about what has been organised and where and how you can donate for those who have lost their homes and incomes.
For the London region, the best place to donate is Tottenham Green Leisure Centre up here in N15 (train to Seven Sisters). They can be reached via 020 8489 5322.
Currently clothes or food are not needed anymore, but phone chargers, pots & pans, sanitary products, toiletries and baby products.
All over the country, professional builders and architects are offering their services for free or at a discount. If you’re a shop owner who needs help or want to take part, go here.
For the Dalston region, I would like to encourage you to support these events both taking place tomorrow, August 13:
I’ll be adding more links to this entry as they become relevant.
And moving forward, let’s not forget to sometimes laugh at the unlaughable, a very distinct English trait, just for 10 seconds..
I would like to conclude this article with the comic genius that reached us from Libya early Wednesday:
”Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Khalid Ka’im has called on world governments to take action over the unrest in the UK. David Cameron has lost legitimacy and “must go”, Libya’s official news agency Jana reports. Libya “demands that the international community not stand with arms folded in the face of this gross aggression against the rights of the British people, who are demanding its right to rule its country”, the report said.”