I opted out of blogging about the recent riots on the streets of Britain. Who needs another mouthy blogger chucking around half-formed and ill-informed opinion about what goes on in the minds of disenfranchised youth? But via the Transition Newsletter I came to Laura Penny’s Penny Red blog and her post Panic on the streets of London which articulates sensible stuff on power:
Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”
“Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”
Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere ‘’’
There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now…
…Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all.
Looking around Penny Red I followed a link to Another Angry Woman‘s post Fuck the lot of them. Not for those of you averse to the odd expletive. She’s talking about the dismantling of the NHS:
And so we feel powerless. Those of us who care feel betrayed by our government, betrayed by those who are supposedly on our side. We did what we could, but it was not enough.
Imagine if we had tried. Imagine if the message had got out and the people had mobilised. Rioting in the streets, and every single person whose life has ever been touched by the NHS standing outside Parliament, daring the fuckers to vote the wrong way. Imagine if the fuckers voted the wrong way, then.
Imagine if we did without the fuckers entirely. Democracy is rule of the people. Democracy is power. Democracy is not trusting some crooked bastard who throws your letters into the shredder to somehow represent your interests. We could have saved the NHS. There’s a remote possibility we still can.
And we’re back to power and riots. Power’s at the heart of activism. Many of us choose to organise by very specific models of power (power with). Fundamentally it’s about trying to ensure power is used for social and ecological justice, whether you lobby someone else to do so, or take it back direct-action style and make the world more just yourselves. But riots? Not our scene, right? But what are we doing that has the equivalent force? What are we doing to ensure we can’t be ignored? Of course there are loads of example of inspiring direct action every day of the week. But what are we doing on a scale that can’t be ignored and can take effect quickly enough to deal with the increasingly urgent need for change?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since getting back from the Peace News Summer Gathering and having a semi-joking conversation about training 15,000 people here in the UK in nonviolent civil disobedience – our version of the riot. So now, without the joking – fancy giving it a go? Get in touch…..