Bristol has been at the heart of radical movements in the UK for centuries. Historically it has been known as a location whose populous would act, often in riots, when they were pushed too far by the ruling class. The Bristol Bridge and Queens Square played host to large-scale riots in 1793 and 1831 respectively. The 1831 riot is one of the most famous in the lead up to the 1832 Reform Act, one of the first major steps to universal suffrage.
The riot is usually cast by mainstream historians as a raging drunken mob. However, there is clear evidence that the rioters carefully targeted symbols of the establishment, burning down three prisons, looting the customs house in Queens Square and attempting to destroy both the council houses and the cathedral. For the past five years the Bristol Radical History Group has been opening up the local history of ordinary people. If you are lucky, you can catch one of their radical history tours, which lead you through the various struggles Bristolians have engaged in.
The recent pro-local, anti-Tesco riots in Stokes Croft again demonstrate the simmering anti-establishment feelings that lie close to the surface in Bristol’s political culture. However this episode, largely provoked by the police, should not be viewed in isolation from the dense network of community-focused radical groups and institutions active in the city. Nor should Stokes Croft take sole ownership as the only radical hotspot in the urban jigsaw puzzle of ‘radical villages’ that make Bristol such an interesting place to live and visit. A range of social, environmental and political projects give areas such as Montpelier, St Werburghs, St Pauls, Easton, Southville and Bishopston an inspiring spirit.
To start with, a large chunk of the city’s radical culture is characterised by its fascination with music and art. The city bubbles at the forefront of Britain’s artistic radical talent. Indeed, just as the mainstream music giants envelop dubstep, a sound mined out of the Afro-Caribbean dub and reggae influences, the city has already moved on to new uncharted musical territory. The same feeling goes for graffiti, for even though Bristol is known throughout the liberal classes for the works of Banksy, it is the likes of 3Dom, Sepr, Rowdy, Andy Council and the collective known as St Just mob, whose vibrant paintings reclaim the streets with bright and political murals.
This graffiti gives Bristol a chameleon skin that is constantly in flux. There is an age old battle over visual space, where corporate symbols, rolled out by the council for quick cash, are constantly subvertised. It is a continuous cause of satisfaction that billboards that were once celebrating Coca Cola’s 125th birthday or Vans new urban shoe now host a range of well thought out political messages. Indeed, in some parts of the city, notably Stokes Croft, artistic ‘vandalism’ is so set in that the council is helpless against the tide of creative talent. Here you can wander around and see graffiti artists freely take turns at painting the boarded up derelict buildings, bringing to life an area that could so easily look run down if left to the council alone.
The people of Easton
Our radical tour should start in Easton, an area that has been denied the investment set aside for improvements in the white middle class areas of Redland, Clifton and Hotwells. This village is dotted with community-owned projects and typified by the plaque on the wall of the Easton Community Centre which reads ‘This stone was laid by “the people” of Easton’. This centre is no usual community centre and often plays host to anarchist fundraisers, cross-socialist conferences or refugee events. Every Sunday, the community gathers for a food handout with a twist, Bristol Foodcycle, a community initiative that reclaims food that supermarkets throw away and cooks up tasty meals in an effort to bring people together around healthy eating.
The area is also home to a community sports venture, The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. This group strives to build social ties between the diverse ethnic backgrounds in the locality. Walking down Chelsea Road, you reach the community permaculture project of East Side Roots . This project has transformed Stapleton Road railway station from a seldom used suburban railway link into a community hub where people can grow food, share gardening skills and most importantly talk and build community links. Along with its sister project at the Trinity Centre , on the other side of Easton, East Side Roots provides vital volunteer work and meeting space for disempowered refugee populations in projects also coordinated by Bristol Refugee Rights.
Down St Marks Road, you reach the anarchist social centre on Robertson Rd, the Kebele Community Co-op . The centre aims to provide a living example of the anarchist ideals of collective decision-making, non-hierarchical structures, cooperation and mutual aid, and direct action. It hosts a number of activist groups and collectives covering issues ranging from squatting to immigration, animal rights, permaculture and bike workshops.
On foot from Easton, you can reach the largely Jamaican community of St Pauls . This is the location of the UK’s first riots in the 1980s, where locals attempted to raise their voice against police oppression and the social injustices exacted by Thatcher’s government. Now it is the host of the St Pauls carnival, a yearly expression of Bristol’s vibrant and multicultural community. On Portland Square, St Pauls, is the squatted social centre The Factory . This is one of the most famous squats in Bristol, offering space for activist meetings, film nights and community meals.
From here, it is only a five minute walk to the now-famous Stokes Croft , an area in a constant struggle against corporate developers and the inevitable gentrification. Even so, there is a high density of social centres and radical shops. At the start of the road you will find the Freeshop , a long-squatted building that attempts to question the dominance of consumerism by giving its products away for free. Next up is Hamiliton House, a building that has recently seen a large transformation and now gives space to both The Canteen and Coexist . This was once abandoned and coveted by only street drinkers, but now it hosts a buzzing bar and socialising space for the city’s progressively minded. It also acts as a decent venue for events such as the successful Anarchist Bookfair.
Further up is the workers’ co-op that is Cafe Kino . This serves delicious, ethically sourced vegan and vegetarian food and is the meeting point for many radical groups. Away from the main road is one of the most interesting spaces Bristol has to offer.
The Cube, a collectively-run radical cinema, is a great place to go for documentaries and discussions on climate justice, food sovereignty and other global issues. It has also been running a cinema space over in Haiti, in an effort to build community and provide entertainment to a population under constant social stress.
In its entirety, Bristol is an incredible place to live. It acts as a stronghold for activists and social projects. At the same time, it provides a cultural outlet for one of the country’s most diverse artistic communities. Home to a great many radical thinkers, artists and activists, it is no wonder Bristol is considered the nation’s most accessible melting pot for radical activism.
www.brh.org.uk (Bristol Radical History Group)
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram