Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Calling.

I don't live in London anymore .... I was thinking of the song...

From Jeff Hobb's account of the Peasant's Revolt

"The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 is one of the most dramatic events of English history. What began as a local revolt in Essex quickly spread across much of the south east of England, while some of the peasants took their grievances direct to the young King, Richard II, in London.

The revolt began in Essex when locals in Brentwood reacted to an over-zealous poll-tax collector. From Brentwood, resistance to tax collectors spread to neighbouring villages, while across counties such as Kent, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Norfolk, armed bands of villagers and townsmen also rose up and attacked manors and religious houses.

It was the rebels of Essex and Kent who marched on London. By 12th June, the Essex men were camped at Mile End, in fields just beyond Aldgate, and on the following day the Kentish men arrived at Blackheath. Incredibly, neither the government nor the city of London authorities seem to have been prepared, although the king was moved from Windsor to the Tower of London. During the next few days, the different bands of rebels from Essex and Kent were joined by some of London's poor, and they set about attacking political targets in the city. They burned down the Savoy Palace, which was the home of John of Gaunt - Richard II's uncle, and probably the most powerful magnate in the realm. They set fire to the Treasurer's Highbury Manor, opened prisons and destroyed legal records."

They went on to burn Chiswick, Clapham and Twickenham.

I am not on any 'side'. I am not 'for' the riots. I am simply remembering that riots have been around for as long as the rich tax the poor and, in doing so make them poorer.

The Church and State as main agents of taxation has changed slightly, it is now State and Corporations, but the effect is the same, give a person nothing to lose and they become dangerous..... and desperate.

Now, this is, of course, only one side of the story.

There are plenty of people who lived and live in poverty who would never harm another, or another's property. They have an inbuilt 'moral' guidance system that disallows them to damage others in their frustration. The Church, for all it's hypocrisy, probably helped somewhat to curtain destructive instincts within society.

What happen's though when the highest authority in the land robs neighbouring countries, i.e. Iraq, Lybia, of their oil in a blatent show of "the end justifies the means'?

What happen's when the corruption of politicians and police is front page news?

What happens when their is no genuine 'feedback' from the public to those in power as democracy is turned into a Reality Gameshow?

Well, I think that any guiding moral compass gets chucked out of the window. The idea that the poor should be the Salt of the Earth and maintain moral standards higher than those in authority will obviously be seen as a mug's game by some. Anger is bound to rise.

The stuff stolen in the riots is poor compensation for the dignity, emancipation, freedom that those involved feel they have had stolen from them, but, for a hour or two in the frenzied heat of crowd hysteria, they were empowered.

Might does never make it right, and the end never justifies the means, but when those in power set such a poor example it seems somewhat ridiculous for them to get on their moral high horses and take no blame whatsoever for the anger and frustration.

Time to look at both sides of the (growing) divide I think.



  1. This is exactly what I saw in the LA Riots in 1992. A legitimate social protest/reaction to the unjust verdict in the Rodney King beating trial became a flashpoint for long-standing grievances of various communities.

    A riot is a 5-yr-old lashing out at forces he cannot comprehend or feels powerless to address and therefore thrashes about in a destructive manner because "breaking out"/opening a door in a closed room is the underlying motivation.It is misplaced and misdirected anger and hopelessness.

    Not justifying or excusing but I certainly examined it, having been engulfed in it and a student of my city's sociology. It is the underlying stressors, motivations and causes that need to be examined. Otherwise, things get papered over/"fixed"/buried and those forces will again break through at another flashpoint. I am not making excuses for thuggery.

    The same forces that the Clash sang about in London's Burning, White Riot and London Calling; indeed, the same forces that gave rise to punk have come back 30 years later; mass unemployment, little financial hope, closed paths everywhere.

    From an email I got from a Welsh friend, they said many people see this as "the Mob organizing its foot soldiers and dupes to intimidate the police"; I don't know enough about what's going on to understand the whole story; maybe you can comment on this for us on this side of the Pond?

  2. As I read the tweets from friends in London, they are NOT seeing these riots as a "legitimate social protest/reaction" nor as the down-trodden being "empowered". My friends, who are NOT among the wealthy nor among the ruling class, see these riots as a bunch of thugs and hoodlums harming other poor, struggling, down-trodden citizens. These rioters are not burning the home of John of Gaunt. They are destroying small businesses owned by local people, harming their neighbors, trashing their own homes. I'm not disagreeing with the statement that the divide between very rich/powerful and the rest of us is growing and polarizing our world. But based on the reports from people living through the burning and looting and now the clean-up - I see nothing justifiable or excusable about these rioters.

  3. @ahuva:

    I am not expressing it well. I saw the exact same thing; legitimate social protest hijacked by thugs for their own purposes. Some of my video clips show the black community arguing the very same point: "This is not protest and will get us nothing but grief; stop hurting your own cause and people!"

    But the thugs did not listen. It was terrible. Opportunists twisted legitimate grievances and thereby undermined any rational call for justice, burying the honest and lawful protests and the whole point of them (about real justice for crimes)beneath terrifying thuggery to their own communities.

    Hence my question to soror about this opinion from my Welsh friend, which seemed to say the same thing; some kind of underground turf war between gangs and the police or factions of gangs. I'm very interested in that, as a parallel to the situation in Los Angeles in 92.

  4. @ahuva: you may not know or remember: The Rodney King verdict was a whitewash for police thuggery/brutality. The protests started peacefully and non-violently, which I thought was a parallel to the "cause" that started this in London; a police verdict...

    However, it took only 7 hours for these social protests to be taken over by thugs. Our Police Chief, Daryl Gates, was in an internal power struggle with the mayor's office over corruption. He deliberately announced his departure to Los Vegas a day before the King verdict. He basically said in public a dozen or more times, "Let's see how you do with no cops in this city."

    At the same time, there was a escalating war between the Crips, the Bloods and the Latino street gangs for control of the city's black market and turf. The Korean Mafia was also muscling in in a major way for the first time.

    The majority of the first "riots" were a widespread strikes at the Korean business community; what many in LA saw as underground turf war. Most of the early burnings were of Korean businesses and in Koreatown.

    When it became apparent that the police had been ordered to "stand by" by Gates to teach the mayor a lesson, the majority of thugs saw that as a green card and the riots escalated beyond the boundaries of LA/Koreatown and into other cities around the basin, just as it has in the UK.

    After the first 30 hrs when people watched the city go rampant, the casual looters and opportunists came in for the second wave. The riots had a chance to calm down after that first 30 hrs but when Gates blackmailed the city, he enabled those who might be restrained by even a little law presence and the whole thing spiraled up again.

    There were many causes and conditions reacting in the riots. I am not defending thuggery; only offering my observations of an event I lived first-hand and studied, like everyone in my city, for weeks and months afterword to understand or cope with the insanity that broke out in my city.

  5. @ahuva: and yes, they destroyed the neighborhoods basically of the rest of us poor/low income people. Our grocery stores, our local markets, our laundromats and dental offices and nail salons; our "$1 stores" and all the local shops. I might have had some understanding if they'd gone for the police buildings, or the huge banking sector in Beverly Hills or the real targets; not support, but understanding.

    What I saw/lived told me there was no reason and broke my long-held faith in the basic goodness and sense of justice in human nature. It has taken me over 17 years to try to get over that.

  6. I've spent the majority of my life in the areas in London where violence has been erupting, and I'm the same generation as the majority of the rioters.

    The violence in London today has been coming for a long time; remember the student riots in London last year? They're a symptom of the lack of regard for other people that was commonplace while I was growing up. People are angry; they were told they'd have jobs, and told they'd get the support they needed to buy property, start families and raise children. It's a generation of kids who were told they could be anything, and have had the rug pulled out from under them.

    There's no justification for the violence, but I sympathise with the emotions behind it. Even seeing it as an act of thuggery, there's triggers that underpin these peoples' actions. I wish they could channel it more productively, but no-one taught them how.

  7. I don't think anyone is trying to justify the violence as social protest but that anger and hate has maybe a cause beyond pure criminality..... there's surely no one answer.

    @Miso ... I don't know enough to answer that question about gangs. Previous major riots, Brixton and Handsworth had little to do with them, and more to do with civil unrest.

  8. Here´s a link to a blogpost from Laurie Penny (24, journalist, author, feminist, reprobate) who lives right in it. I was written today and has already LOTS of comments.
    Panic on the streets of London

  9. From being within the riots locality, I so far have not met a single person in Birmingham that said this was for the good. We or rather most of the residents have said this is needless and blatant excuse to rob, burn and plunder, and we are dismayed.

    Woke up today to find all the retail business parks looted! Rumours of gangs going around just mugging people on the streets of the city.

    The repair work is going to cost. Insurance and taxes will be raised to pay for it all. I along with other taxpayers will be made to pay for it.

    I understand sometimes riots happen like ruled over by tyranny or over-taxation. Yes the low to average earner is being taxed beyond their means in the UK. While the rich are being looked after by our Prime Minister as they are on the same earning level as him, his family and friends or above. Rich looking after the rich. But still these riots are not merited.

  10. @ Bradd... I have to agree, violence never has a justification, I believe. The continual and habitual use of violence by our Governments, however, has to send out the wrong messsage to everyone, world-wide.

  11. Soror; I agree... As early as the french revolution. If we push ppl too close to the edge its going to be nasty. I just wish the "right" ppl were the target here...

  12. @Mera. Yes, saying it is just criminality is oversimplifying. Marginalisation is the number one tactic of those that don't want to discuss the reasons Why.

  13. @Bradd: it is a difficult event to think or speak about, especially in the midst of it.

    I assure you that my comments and observations do not in any way condone these actions. I am not "on the side" of anyone. I do not believe in such violence, having witnessed and experienced it first-hand.

    My comments are from the perspective and study of the most awful, life-threatening, chaotic and destructive event I have personally experienced in my own life, including two major earthquakes.

    Like many of my other Angelenos, I studied, sought answers and thought about that event for many years afterwards. As a student of sociology, it is not my place to support any tribal faction but to understand the processes that lead to events.

    What I am commenting, and what has been observed about such events throughout human history, is that the base underlying social tensions and pressures will explode into action, as we are seeing; as I have seen before. I don't think it's necessary to continually state my abhorrence of these types of actions in order to explore, understand and look for a reason that this event happened in order to understand how it may be kept from happening again.

    I'm getting a wee bit irritated at people thinking I have anything but loathing and condemnation for these events just because I think it's goddamned important that we figure out why this has happened. To dismiss it as "suddenly a bunch of hooligans ran rampant" is shortsighted, ignorant and the most dangerous thinking you could possibly have. Why didn't it happen last week? Or the year before, or last month? That is the question I am studying and it's proper and normal sociological investigation.