It's not from the reporters and well-heeled media pundits where you can find insight into the London riots, but from the people they are obliged to interview, argue Joe Glenton and Jo Gough.
Three days of rioting have left many with the frustration of not living in London, and those in London with the frustration that London transport makes getting to flashpoints near impossible. This is the same frustration many activists felt when the Egyptian brothers and sisters felled Mubarak and comrades were there in the square in Cairo to see it done. It’s the frustration of missing something big.
The riots in London tell us things, even through the laughable reportage. The riots tell us that people are angry. The mainstream media is desperately trying to ignore the roots of this anger (this would mean they would have to be addressed), but thankfully they are still obliged to interview. It is here where analysis of the riots can be found. Archive interviews show Nick Clegg and youth in Tottenham predicting riots due to the cuts. Today, the most coherent voices from the commentators have been those of Darcus Howe, writer and broadcaster, and of one Dr. Clifford Stott writing for the Independent.
Mr. Howe’s interview began with the BBC anchor asking, ‘are you shocked by what you’ve seen?’ he responded with ‘no not at all’ and proceeded to explain that none of this was new and none of this had been impossible to predict. From then on the anchor woman was visibly channelling Ben Brown of McIntyre fame.
Tottenham has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country and services are being cut. That is before the excessive stop-and-search tactics against young blacks are even addressed. Among these harassed young people was Mr. Howe’s own grandson who, he explained, had been stopped so many times he could not count them. Howe refuted the ‘rioting’ tag, calling it an ‘insurrection of the people’ and compared it to the events in Syria. What is being seen here is not the ‘yobbery’ of establishment wet-dreams. Yes, looting has taken place, but this is an aside focused on to intentionally detract from the broader understanding of what is going on. People are on the streets in response to seething resentment, sparked by the police killing Michael Duggan, a man alleged to have had a gun in a sock.
The issue at hand, which remains to be properly analyzed in public forums, is the Why question, so critical, obligatorily asked by the media, but rebutted before people can get their answers out. This absence of a Why discourse is as apparent in this situation as it is in the question of why we are hated in the Middle East, why alienated young men plotted and carried out a series of attacks in London a few years ago, why the students revolted last year… Why are people rioting? If, as Dr. Stott argues, riots cannot be understood as an explosion of mob irrationality, then there is a set of rational drivers behind this. Further, Stott points out that the whole chain of events is pitched to us as if the people involved had appeared from outside our society. Take a step backwards, turn off the TV and it seems clearer; these people are not only a part of our society but are, like their actions, a product of its structure.
The key is to understand it and to understand why it is happening. The goods taken, it appears are clothing, jewelry and electrical items. Stott points out that these are increasingly unattainable by the impoverished and costly items can be sold on. Again a rationale emerges. People are poor, they are angry about it and they are driven to take what they need by that same impoverishment. The vandalism and robbery now being focused on is mainly against profit making companies, businesses who are increasing the cost of their goods whilst people cannot afford their weekly food shop, let alone the goods they are meant to aspire to have.
Yes, buildings have been set alight and small businesses hit. But this violence pales in comparison to what our government is doing abroad in unjust wars, daily, and killing thousands of innocents. Over a million in Iraq alone. So lets get this clear, the real violence is state violence. Four million children are growing up in poverty, there is no help to stay at college, university is too expensive, and oh, by the way, there are no jobs to go into and no youth services to stop you becoming a poverty-stricken adult. The cost of living is increasing, jobs and benefits are being slashed and the public sector is under threat.
If Mr. Howe was correct that this is an insurrection, then it follows that it is the task of revolutionaries to engage with it. The fight back needs to be organised and politically focused. We need to point out that rather then taking goods from local shops, the energy which is resonating ought to be directed upwards to our millionaire government and rich, old, white businessmen in suits who are the architects of people’s miseries. There is an energy here which should not be wasted.
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.