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Let’s make a distinction between the spark that set the riots off and the fuel that made that spark into a fire and then a bonfire.
There’s a petrol-on-the-road environment in the UK, caused by years of police harassment and brutality against what the government would term the ‘underclass’, what I would say are the socially excluded.
The police have often acted as if they are above the law and a number of high profile cases have highlighted this fact, the shooting of Mark Duggan being the most recent. There is a growing sense that there is no justice for the socially excluded, particularly when it comes to police brutality.
I remember seeing an interview on YouTube with a couple of rioters. One of them said, ‘I’ve been waiting years for this because I need to fight back.’
The fuel is what then piled on top of that spark and allowed it to burn. This comes from generations of poverty, hopelessness, and the daily numbness of long-term unemployment. People with lots of good ideas but no way to action them.
I can see how easy it would be to be drawn into an environment where hustling and looting seems like a viable option. I believe in principled nonviolence, but along the way, if my mate had got shot by the police and I felt that there was no justice, I would have thought it a good idea to burn a police car rather than go through a fruitless accountability process.
I am older and wiser now. I am not judging though – I wouldn’t dare do that, because when I was 16 I was angry too and I didn’t have the head that I have now.
I would like to see a shift to nonviolent strategies – for example, mass blockading. We must use collective security and nonviolence as our guiding principles and leave the violence to the police and film them when they do it. The power of numbers becomes more effective with nonviolence because even your nan could support that!
The spark at Marsh Farm was a few years of constant aggro between the kids and the police, which led to an explosion over a particular incident of police brutality. About 50 kids responded by burning two cars.
I went down to the front of the estate and asked them what was going on. I told them to go as the police would be here soon. They said, ‘Mate, that’s what we want!’
So the spark was the same. The difference is that it has got a lot worse today, because the gap between the haves and the have‑nots has widened.
The decent thing to do is to listen: to take these voices seriously instead of using weapons of mass distraction, which is what the mainstream media has been doing. They want to distract from the root cause – they want to say, ‘This isn’t a voice from the voiceless, this is just pure criminality.’ We can’t let this voice be suppressed again because when it comes back next time it will come back even louder. This suppression will also amplify the feeling of no justice.
Look at the convictions. One which stood out for me was Steven Craven from Salford. He got 12 months in jail because he had bought a TV that someone had looted in the riots. His local MP Hazel Blears used £1,700 of taxpayers’ money to buy two massive TVs – and nothing has happened to her. The hypocrisy is stunning.
We must identify and empathise with those people who feel that there is no justice.
From 1995 onwards we proved that youth diversion works better than police oppression. We stopped the Marsh Farm riot by putting on a dance just outside Luton. We wanted to divert the energy and say, c’mon, let’s dance, then let’s talk, and then let’s build.
On Marsh Farm we’ve been baking a loaf – and we’ve managed to secure the dough for it. We have one of the biggest community-owned centres in the country, called Futures House, right in the heart of our estate, running as a social enterprise. Any revenue it generates will go back into the community rather than into someone’s pocket.
The yeast to that loaf is the people elements of it, achieved through participatory democracy and hands-on community governance.
There was a motocross club formed, engaging kids who were on ASBOs. They democratically drew up their own set of rules and codes of conduct. There was a written accord that anti-social behaviour outside the club would result in a self-suspension.
That approach not only prevented some of that anti-social behaviour but gave responsibility to the kids. It was so successful in diverting these kids away from the destructive stuff. This cost just £5,000 of government funding.
If you compare it to the costs associated with the penal route, it is far more cost effective and beneficial.
We have faced an amazing array of technical, legal, bureaucratic and cultural obstacles, not to mention powerful vested interests. You’ve got the top-down culture that believes that we are here to be tended to. Ministers and officials talk about ‘capacity building’ as if it’s something they can do for us. I call it ‘capacity releasing’ because it’s in us already. We just need the right environment and freedoms.
Our approach takes the money and gives it directly to the community, giving people the skills they need. You learn by doing.
If you’re cutting grass, go cut some grass – let’s not have another seminar about it where someone is being paid £600 a day to tell me about time management and all the rest of the training modules they waste money on. This is also a powerful way to challenge the dependency mindset that goes along with it.
If I could pass a single law that I would think would make a difference it would be this: ‘If thou can produce locally, thou must produce locally.’ This ‘big is beautiful’ culture needs to be radically overhauled.
In the war there was the campaign to Dig for Victory, where everybody was given the means to grow vegetables. We need something similar: localise for victory, localise for survival, small is beautiful.
This will lead to conflicts with monopolies in the private sector. The government needs to take sides and say sorry to the big providers in favour of local production. I can’t see any government having the courage to confront these issues, though, so it needs to be fought for from the grassroots.
I want the government to free up the resources in a way that’s transparent and in local hands. We need a government that will sit down with us, look at the way this could be done safely and properly, and then step back to let it grow.
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Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
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Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
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The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
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Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
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Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
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Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
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Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali