Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Or Does It Explode?": London Communities of Color Rebel Against the State and Its Oppressive Policies and Treatment in England


Naomi Klein tells the whole truth about the weeklong London street rebellions and what they really mean--politically and otherwise...


Daylight Robbery, Meet Nighttime Robbery
by Naomi Klein
August 16, 2011
The Nation

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens, or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.

Back then the people on cable news thought looting was highly political. They said this is what happens when a regime has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people. After watching for so long as Saddam and his sons helped themselves to whatever and whomever they wanted, many regular Iraqis felt they had earned the right to take a few things for themselves. But London isn’t Baghdad, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is hardly Saddam, so surely there is nothing to learn there.

How about a democratic example then? Argentina, circa 2001. The economy was in freefall and thousands of people living in rough neighborhoods (which had been thriving manufacturing zones before the neoliberal era) stormed foreign-owned superstores. They came out pushing shopping carts overflowing with the goods they could no longer afford—clothes, electronics, meat. The government called a “state of siege” to restore order; the people didn’t like that and overthrew the government.

Argentina’s mass looting was called El Saqueo—the sacking. That was politically significant because it was the very same word used to describe what that country’s elites had done by selling off the country’s national assets in flagrantly corrupt privatization deals, hiding their money offshore, then passing on the bill to the people with a brutal austerity package. Argentines understood that the saqueo of the shopping centers would not have happened without the bigger saqueo of the country, and that the real gangsters were the ones in charge.

But England is not Latin America, and its riots are not political, or so we keep hearing. They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn’t theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behavior.

This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G-8 and G-20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuitions, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatizations of public assets and decreasing pensions – mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these “entitlements”? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.

This is the global Saqueo, a time of great taking. Fueled by a pathological sense of entitlement, this looting has all been done with the lights left on, as if there was nothing at all to hide. There are some nagging fears, however. In early July, the Wall Street Journal, citing a new poll, reported that 94 percent of millionaires were afraid of "violence in the streets.” This, it turns out, was a reasonable fear.

Of course London’s riots weren’t a political protest. But the people committing nighttime robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious.

The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered—a union job, a good affordable education—being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.

David Cameron’s response to the riots is to make this locking-out literal: evictions from public housing, threats to cut off communication tools and outrageous jail terms (five months to a woman for receiving a stolen pair of shorts). The message is once again being sent: disappear, and do it quietly.

At last year’s G-20 “austerity summit” in Toronto, the protests turned into riots and multiple cop cars burned. It was nothing by London 2011 standards, but it was still shocking to us Canadians. The big controversy then was that the government had spent $675 million on summit “security” (yet they still couldn’t seem to put out those fires). At the time, many of us pointed out that the pricey new arsenal that the police had acquired—water cannons, sound cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets—wasn’t just meant for the protesters in the streets. Its long-term use would be to discipline the poor, who in the new era of austerity would have dangerously little to lose.

This is what David Cameron got wrong: you can't cut police budgets at the same time as you cut everything else. Because when you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance—whether organized protests or spontaneous looting.

And that’s not politics. It’s physics.


"Most of all, it once again exposes the trickery and deceit of those who aspire to be our leaders. Not a single black 'leader' has spoken out in defence of the youths. Not one," Hal Austin writes in the August 9 CounterPunch. Austin is a Barbadian, living in London and a leading journalist and social commentator from the black community."


What the inevitable explosion in the London neighborhood of Tottenham dramatically truly signals and signifies is that the current Western world's attempts to bury alive its black, brown, red, and yellow communities throughout the United States and Europe will not succeed given a massive counter response on the part of its oppressed and exploited citizens. So don't worry 'bout a thing folks 'cause WE'RE NEXT...All praises to the valiant people of Tottenham and all the many other Tottenhams throughout England and the European continent..."What happens to a dream deferred?" Langston Hughes asked not so many decades ago. "Does it sag like a heavy load?/Or Does It Explode?" Well we already know the answer to that one, don't we?--and yes it's gonna happen again right smack dab in the middle of this ever rotting empire --because it has to. The signs are everywhere..."Hey Mr. President are you listening?"...yeah...right...


When Is a "Riot" a Revolt?
Friday 12 August 2011
by Carl Finamore, Truthout | News Analysis

Several days of unprecedented revolt by the most impoverished minority populated neighborhoods of London has shaken the normally staid and reserved British aristocracy. Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his Italian vacation in sunny Tuscany to return to the red-orange glare of a burning city. The prime minister was not the only one inconvenienced.

In an effort to mobilize 16,000 police officers concentrated in London alone, England's soccer-addicted fans saw their August 10 match against the Netherlands in Wembley stadium canceled.

So it appears, this week at least, after years of ignoring glaring inequality and injustice, it is safe to say that all of England took notice of the crowded south London neighborhood of Tottenham and to similar minority communities in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol where an explosive, fiery social consciousness has been rekindled.

Tottenham itself, where events first ignited over the police killing of an unarmed black youth, is a genuinely multi-cultural mix of mostly British-born African-Caribbean along with Turkish, Portuguese, Albanian, Kurdish and Somali peoples reportedly speaking 300 different languages.

It claims to be the most diverse community in all of Europe, but there is no doubt that most share in common the intense poverty and the abuse and neglect by the rich and powerful that is all too familiar.

During this past week, these different languages came together to speak with one voice: look at us; we deserve to be treated fairly.

London's current revolt is quite different than the massive protests in other European capitals and even distinguished from those in the Middle East.

The poor of Tottenham, however, do share much with their brethren in the black and minority communities of North America. Neither have powerful advocates that are independent of the political establishment.

London's Revolt Forecasts America's Future?

Traditional community and labor organizations in both Britain and the United States purporting to represent the working class have utterly failed these communities and allowed both Downing Street and Wall Street to impose their most austere policies on those least represented among us.

"Most of all, it once again exposes the trickery and deceit of those who aspire to be our leaders. Not a single black 'leader' has spoken out in defence of the youths. Not one," Hal Austin writes in the August 9 CounterPunch. Austin is a Barbadian, living in London and a leading journalist and social commentator from the black community.

Cannot the same be said in America where, for example, prominent national voices mobilizing the oppressed communities to demand jobs are noticeably absent?

Of course, the British government peddles a different story about events in Tottenham. Most are echoed by the establishment press.

A typical response came from GlobalPost's London correspondent, Michael Goldfarb, who was quoted on the PBS "NewsHour" web site as derisively dismissing the social problems of Tottenham by commenting that "the tension around [the police killing of the black youth] got out of hand very quickly, but it was clear almost from the beginning that this was plain old looting" by mainly unemployed youth with nothing to do on hot summer nights, he said.

To the extent that this crude and vulgar opinion is shared by many in Britain, it only serves to confirm the truth: Tottenham residents are isolated politically and socially from the rest of British society and particularly from the rest of the working class.

Fundamentally, their isolated existence explains the different form the rebellion took; more akin to a chaotic riot in many people's eyes as opposed to the far-better organized massive upheavals in Madrid, Athens and Cairo that united majority sections of their population and that, thereby, more easily won sympathy and admiration throughout the world.

It is important to recall that these same massive actions ultimately achieved major support from significant and massive social organizations that helped define the powerful and effective character of their protests.

Culpability for the desperate acts in Tottenham is shared by organizations of the working class that have so profoundly failed to embrace these communities and offer them the same shared benefits of organization and same shared status as brothers and sisters.

Their organizational and political inclusion early on, I believe, would have significantly altered and strengthened, how Tottenham residents reacted these last few days.

Divided and Disorganized

Attempts during the era of the triumphant civil rights movement to politically and socially unite the black community in the United States were met with government-inspired assassinations and police terrorism, as documented by revelations contained in the US government's COINTELPRO papers.

As a result, beginning in the 1970s, criminal gangs began replacing FBI-targeted militant organizations like Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Leadership Conference, Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets, and numerous other effective social and political organizations in the communities of the oppressed.

This had a debilitating effect after several decades, and results today in reactions to police brutality and poverty being often marked by scattered individual acts of frustration and anger. Protests are sometimes laced with anti-social behavior previously adopted as survival techniques.

For example, while ostensible political targets such as police cars and offices were burned in both Tottenham and Cairo, their was also, in the former case, the indiscriminate burning of buildings and some personal accounts of victimizations that come from pent-up rage.

There were other examples of criminal activity and even conflicts between gangs in the oppressed community of Tottenham that were also reported. Again, these are a result of decades of disorganization in the oppressed communities.

These are not excuses, neither are they defenses. It is an explanation that contains the answer for its resolution: new organizations must be forged that unite the community around common social goals and aspirations.

The proliferation of criminal gangs and the utter lack of a coherent, credible and socially class-conscious leadership is but another reflection of political and social separation from the majority of working people.

But this reality and the impact it has on distorting the communities' response should not in any way diminish the powerful and profound social nature of the Tottenham revolt, one deserving of our full support.

The 1965 Watt's rebellion in Los Angeles was similarly attacked in its day as a criminal enterprise, but history has now properly recorded it as a true revolt against poverty and discrimination. History will also record Tottenham on this honor roll.

The rich and powerful benefit from divisions and rivalries in the oppressed communities, both in Britain and in the United States. Arguably, these same forces promote criminalization as a way of preventing the kind of social unity that could become a powerful political force.

A politically cohesive and united Tottenham is the frightening specter that certainly haunts the wealthy elite in Britain, even more than the current very dramatic random acts of outrage.

As for their richer cousins in the United States, the wealthy elite here are only too well aware of the smoldering embers of discontent that have been stoked by the same draconian reductions in jobs and social services that have been adopted in Britain.

These issues affect the majority of Americans and, hopefully, we learn from Tottenham that a united response is the best response with no community or section of working people left alone to fend for themselves.

Carl Finamore is Machinist Local 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO.