8.12.2011

"riots are the voice of the unheard." the u.k. still isn't listening.

Riots are the voice of the unheard.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

A comrade and friend posted this on Facebook:
I just watched BBC coverage of [Edward] Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, blaming the social unrest in England on "poor parenting" and a breakdown in family values. He said he stood shoulder to shoulder with Tory Prime Minister David Cameron--the man who is laying waste to the remnants of the social safety net in the UK--in his quest to hunt down and punish the so-called "perpetrators". I am well and truly sickened.
Miliband says the UK hasn't done enough "to tackle inequality and not paid enough attention to morality". He gives lip service to equality, but his emphasis on so-called morality is a giveaway: Miliband claims the culprit is the "me first culture".

He's right, if by "me first," he means the banking industry first, the stock traders first, multinational corporations first, stock markets first, and everyone else, fuck you, sink or swim.

Brett Wilkins of Moral Low Ground adroitly sums it up.
London Uprising Rooted in Economic Inequality and Racism

The London uprising of 2011 may have caught most of the world by surprise, but those who live closest to the epicenters of the chaos could have seen it coming from a mile away. While not as pronounced as in much of the United States, economic inequality and racism are the root causes of the violence in Britain.

“The government doesn’t realize what they’re doing to us,” one young Londoner from Haringey lamented to the Guardian after budget cuts resulted in the closure of eight youth centers, a move which led to an increase in gang membership and crime. “There’s going to be a riot.”

And riots there are, not just in London, but also in Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool, with hundreds of arrests and millions of pounds in property damage occurring as the uprising enters its fourth day.

“These kids have basically been abandoned – not even just the kids, whole communities have been abandoned by the rest of society,” Bristly Pioneer, a Hackney resident and anarchist activist told al-Jazeera. “I can’t say I’m surprised this is happening. It’s been building for years.”

And for years, well-to-do Britons and the government that represents their interests at the expense of the working-class and poor have largely ignored the problem.

To see just how out of touch many upper-class Britons are with the kids in the streets of Tottenham,Wood Green, Enfield, Brixton and many other London neighborhoods, listen to the remarks of Neil Clifford, CEO of the Kurt Geiger shoe chain: “I think we probably either should have a massive influx of police or the support of the army to deal with this,” he told the Guardian while sipping cappuccino. Not an influx of economic assistance for those who desperately need it but who instead got massive government spending cuts. Not an influx of compassion and outreach for the mainly poor, mainly people of color who make up a good portion of London’s economic underclass. No, many upper-class Britons would answer this desperate cry for help (for that is what these “riots” are) with more repression– more of the same police who are a big part of the problem to begin with. . . .

British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, cut short a lavish Italian vacation, returning to the grim realities of austerity-wracked Britain and the resultant upheaval caused by his government’s war on the poor. But instead of acknowledging the roles economic inequality and police racism play in the current violence, Cameron did the easy thing and blamed the victims. “This is criminality pure and simple,” he declared as London burned. “And it has to be confronted and defeated.”

What really need to be confronted and defeated are the forces that drive disenfranchised youth into the streets. But there’s little chance of that happening under the current – or any – ruling regime in class-bound Britain.

While the international media repeatedly play images of burning buildings and shattered windows – which are “ratings gold” in industry parlance, they ignore the burning injustice and shattered dreams of a whole generation of British youth. The majority of these disenfranchised citizens are not rioting for kicks or for criminal purposes, as some would have you believe, they are rioting for justice. We in this country would do well to learn from the lessons of London, lest we wish to witness similar scenes on our own streets.
Read more and see some pertinent videos here.


6 comments:

Nitangae said...

Some hope - I am not sure that the UK isn't listening. Even the Liberal Democrats in the coalition have been turning against the right-wing on this, and have been mentioning poverty. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/aug/13/england-riots-coalition-response

Also, if I may make a partial defence of Miliband: by mentioning morality as well as poverty, he showed solidarity with the victims of the riots, who were also generally poor, or at least not wealthy, and whose neighbourhoods have been destroyed by the riots. And it is vital that he has been making regular reference to poverty and the cuts as well, thus keeping this aspect in the public view (I cannot imagine that the Liberal Democrats would be breaking with the coalition on this unless they thought they had to). I think it is enitrely possible to entertain both ideas at once - that the riots were a disaster that caused terrible hardship generally to not very wealthy or even poor people, and that the riots were driven by poverty, alienation, neo-liberal reforms and police abuse.

And the connection to the dishonest bankers and Newscorp is widely made (My own, probably not very original thought: How is the scene of the young men robbing another young man who they are pretending to help any worse than a major journalist tapping the cell-phone of the victim of a sex-crime while pushing moral panics supposedly on behalf of victims of sex-crime? The young man with the broken jaw seems to be recovering quite well, but I would be surprised if the parents of the murder victims ever recover completely from that betrayal)

Nitangae said...

Laura, just to add another Guardian article, and the following quote.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/13/london-riots-edmiliband

"Emotions remain raw a week on from the riots that scarred their community. "It is a disaster," says Irene Allen, a mother-of-six and grandmother-of-16. "Tottenham was just coming up. We were doing so well. It grieves my heart to see what happened to this place.""

None of this really disagrees with you, of course, but I think that it suggests (allowing that we cannot believe everything that we read even in the Guardian) that Milibank is not doing too bad a job. Mentioning the stupid brutality of the riots gives some voice to poor people whose communities were destroyed - first by the banks, then by the neoiberal cuts, and then by the riots. With some luck and lots of hard work, the rioters of today will be the protesters of tomorrow (although I expect the police would have been miraculously much faster to the draw if the crowds had been smashing up, or even non-violently waving signs around, a major bank in the City)

laura k said...

Thanks for your perspective, Nitangae. I'm less optimistic than you regarding whether or not govt is really listening.

There's a theory that govt will impose austerity until there's a riot, then restore a smattering of programs, just enough to placate, to appear that things are loosening up, when in reality most of the austerity measures are in place.

I agree that it's important to show solidarity with the victims of riots, but the riots were touched off by racist police violence - police murder. Those are the everyday victims - still unheard.

I don't see how mentioning morality voices sympathy for the victims. In my view, talking of morality keeps the solution personal, individual, ancedotal, rather than societal and systemic. Morality is a way to blame the devastated communities themselves: if they were more upstanding and moral, they wouldn't be behaving this way.

If Cameron and Miliband were truly interested in morality, they would see to the work of rebuilding a more livable society, because forcing people to live under austerity conditions while CEOs are still getting multi-million dollar payoffs is immoral.

laura k said...

I think it is enitrely possible to entertain both ideas at once - that the riots were a disaster that caused terrible hardship generally to not very wealthy or even poor people, and that the riots were driven by poverty, alienation, neo-liberal reforms and police abuse.

No question there. An uprising like this always hits closer to home, which, sadly, causes right-wingers to tut-tut about the stupid lower classes destroying their own communities. As you say, I'm sure if the rioters had targeted the City [UK financial district, for those who may not know], the response would have been swift and much more brutal.

Nitangae said...

Hi, Laura (although I still think of you as L-Girl :-)).

I will respond to you in greater detail a bit later, I hope. In the meantime, here are two links.

Mostly I think they suggest that UK politicians, in Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have been listening. In this case, Milibank links the bankers directly to rioters.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/15/cameron-miliband-riots-unity-crumbles

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/14/young-british-rioters-political-actions

As they say in South Korea before a protest - T'ujaeng! (Struggle!투쟁)

laura k said...

Nitangae, you are welcome to call me L-girl. She is still me. :)

Thanks very much for the links. I'm glad to hear Miliband is making that connection.

Over the weekend, I read this, also in the Guardian. (I couldn't post it from work, I was waiting to do so this morning.)

I agree with you that there is some hope here. It's good at least to hear Nick Clegg and others make the connection between the horrendous cutbacks and the riots, and reject the Tory knee-jerk plan to turf families whose members were involved in rioting from public housing.

Which path will prevail, we don't yet know.