Wednesday, 10 August 2011

this is england, this is us

All over Twitter and Facebook people are posting Clash videos in response to the London "riots" that spread out to become the UK "riots." They might be posting them on Google Plus too but I keep forgetting to go there.

There has been much written about property damage, criminality, randomness and thuggery.
This was the first thing I read that made any sense at all: Riot Thoughts by Will Wiles.

And here is the second thing: Crime Without Causes by Nick Harkaway.

Both these articles look at what remains a constant in England and what has changed since the Clash first sang London Calling.

Will Wiles addresses the issue of the corporatization of public space. Torontonians - think Dundas Square. On trips to London, I find the reduction of public space and the freedom to be unobserved is wearing upon the spirit. After a week of "Cashier Number Four" harping at me everywhere I go, I desire nothing more than a remote mountain top where I can scream epithets unheard and unwatched.

I have a great memory of a Friday during the Days of Action when the Days of Action Coalition threatened to shut down Toronto. We didn't of course but the threat was enough to keep many commuters off the road. We rode from the Hillside TTC barns to Queen's Park, at one point down the MIDDLE of College Street. It was exhilarating to take back the streets for a few hours.

As much as I love the convenience of buying things on a Sunday, I miss the commercial-free days of my youth when we could see our environment and each other independent of our economic roles. Each Sunday our Mums and Dads seemed different and our city was a playground. We reproduced ourselves, our ids came out to play.

But it is a very repressed id indeed that needs to burn down the corner shop. Or do I mean oppressed?

Some on Twitter have made disparaging comparisons to the Arab Spring along the lines of The Arab Spring protesters are fighting for freedom and the "London Rioters" are fighting for plasma TVs.

Here is a thing: The dictators the Arab Spring protestors rise up against never claimed powerlessness. In our part of the world, since the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney years, we have been told by successive governments that they are powerless in the face of market forces to shape society through policy and programs. So why are we surprised when protest is directed at symbols of the market?

Here is a thing: Since that era, governments have worked to diminish the ways people gather to express dissatisfaction and organize around issues of oppression and disenfranchisement (unions, community organizations, etc.). So why are we surprised that protest in Western countries often takes a form that seems individual and random?

Here is a thing: These three countries (US/UK/Canada) are notorious for resistance to taking good care of the planet. In Canada, our government will not agree to even LABEL asbestos a hazardous substance and insists that economic benefits of extracting oil from tar sands justifies the harm to people, wildlife and the environment. So why are we surprised when protesters show the same amount of respect for their neighbourhoods?

Here is a thing: The banking crisis exposed an ethos of plunder and greed among the leaders of the industry. These are the "leaders" that our political leaders tell us we must trust with "rationalizing" our decisions about social policy. It turns out that these people were, at best, acting with complete disregard for the common good in favour of their own benefit and, at worst, were engaged in criminal activity. With very few exceptions, these people were never punished for this behaviour. In fact, many were rewarded with taxpayer money and saw their own personal wealth increase while individuals, communities and whole countries were facing financial ruin because of their actions. So why are we surprised when protesters show the same amount of respect for their neighbours?

Here is a thing: The US and the UK have a long history of trying to resolve conflict with violence. Canada has recently given up its role as peacekeeper, often justifying this by saying that peacekeeping is impossible in a world where there is no peace to keep!?!?!

On April 20, 1999 two teenage boys went on a violent rampage at Columbine High School and killed 13 people and themselves. Then-president Bill Clinton said, "We do know that we must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons" (CBS, 1999).

The summer before, on August 20, 1998, the US military destroyed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan and bombed al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for bomb attacks on its embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The Clinton administration claimed that the al-Shifa plant had ties with al-Qaeda. Questions remain about the connection between al-Shifa and al-Qaeda and various sources claim the destruction of the plant and subsequent loss of medications resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths.m .,

Do as I say, not as I do.

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