Home > Comment, Current Affairs, News, Rants > A World Gone Mad: Riots Without Reason? Riots Have Causes And We Must Address These To Avert Future Damage.

A World Gone Mad: Riots Without Reason? Riots Have Causes And We Must Address These To Avert Future Damage.

Riots in Bristol as blazes appear across the city

A burning bin in Stokes Croft, Bristol, set alight by rioters on Monday night.

Is the age of peaceful protest dead? I am of the opinion that it probably is. Hundreds of thousands marched to protest Blair’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003; over 50,000 students, lecturers and university staff marched last November in London to protest the tripling of tuition fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA); on the 30th June this year, the Unions, including the NUT, UHC, UNISON, and RMT all marched in cities throughout the UK to peacefully protest about the cuts being made in their sectors. And what was the outcome of all these marches? No change in policy.

I am not one to condone violence of any kind, nor arson, nor brutality, but maybe these youngsters, branded as ‘dissidents’, ‘rioters’, ‘hoodlums’ or (in the Sun, ‘morons‘), have a point? If peaceful protests haven’t change the mind of our Government, then what form of protest is left to the public?

I reiterate that I do not condone the actions of the minority of vandals throughout our country that have destroyed the property, lives and cities of people for the last four days. But, when you realise that the kids who’s face’s have graced the Red Tops over the last few days have no union, no MP, no voice, it makes me wonder how else could they get their voices heard?

It all reminds sinisterly reminds of a poem, you’ll all know it:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

It’s by Martin Niemöller and is meant to define the sentiments of the intellectuals in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. In the present context, I feel it could more correctly by read as:

First they came for the students,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a student..

Then they came for the pensioners,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a pensioner.

Then they came for the unemployed,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t unemployed.

Then they came for the youth,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t young.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What we have seen is the systematic breaking down of our society by a Government that clearly has no idea of what is going on on streets all over the UK. First education, then Healthcare, then care workers, now the youth who are being demonified by our Government in what can only be seen as an attempt to ignore the mood of the people and plough on with there policies regardless of who is being affected. Our youth are fighting back, like students, like the unions, but instead of support, they are being condemned.

It was exactly the same with poor Charlie Gilmour and Edward Woollard, two young protesters who got carried away. Both have received custodial sentences, Gilmour 16 months and Woollard 32 months and it is apparent that in both cases the sentencing was pushed through by judges trying to appear strong in the face of a media and political storm of outrage demanding harsh punishment for the perpetrators of violence. But in this storm, one thing was forgotten, what it was that had pushed two middle class boys to commit acts of recklessness during peaceful protests. The answer is somewhere in the political mood of this country, and as pointed out by Matthew Norman in the Independent i Paper, it isn’t “criminality pure and simple” as Cameron claims. It is the complex mixture of a disenfranchised youth, a public sucked into the dream of consumerism based on adverts and political ideology, and a Government which is out of touch. As Norman observed, “The PM looks like a patrician one-nation Tory who has slipped through a tear in space-time, and emerged blinking and bamboozled from his comfy berth in the Fifties.’”

Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Leader, has highlighted some the problems. The trebling of tuition fees, the cutting of the EMA, the rising of youth unemployment and closing of the Job Centres will all have contributed to a a feeling of social alienation, unhappiness and finally towards the riots. In her debate on Newsnight with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Harman stated:

“There is a sense that young people think they’re not being listened to. That is not to justify violence, but when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, when you’ve got the EMA taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and you’re shutting the job centre, you should think again about that.”

Police Riot Squads are deployed to control the looting and violence.

Riot squads are deployed by police to control looting and vandalism in Bristol.

The psychology of the riots is summed up very nicely by Ian Leslie, author of ‘Born Liars’ in his blog. Noting that rioting is “imitative behaviour compressed and sped up,” Leslie believes that social media and 24 hour news allows the “madness of a febrile crowd to spread faster and further and with more fluidity than ever before.” So we have a generation of kids, with broken links to their local community, but strong links with like-minded individuals through Twitter, Facebook and other media, who can swap information almost instantly. This means, that when one or two started rioting and news spread through this online community, the rest would have felt justified to imitate the behaviour of their peers.

This is a generation with little to no respect for police, teachers and our Government, but it is a disrespect they all share, and could, theoretically, be said to be a reason to respect each other. Shared opinions can very easily lead to shared action. Hence riots have spread from the Borourghs of London to cities throughout the UK.

To say the riots were started by social media is probably incorrect. They were organised through social media, they were started through mutual disrespect and social injustice. What emphasises their lack of unity and political polarity is the fact that they attacks lack any focus, only a need to lash out.

To fight the Government or police can inspire sympathy in those who have been on the wrong end of their policies or activities, to attack a corporation shows they have a common goal, consumer capitalism. To take out your anger on everyday people and their livelihoods inspires outrage, and hence the current backlash again ‘scum’, ‘dissidents’ and ‘terrorists’.

There is the additional fact, that these are kids, which over the last few years have seen the moral breakdown of our media, banks and politicians. First we had the expenses scandal, with MPs taking advantage of the public purse for their own ends. Then the banking crisis, which would have been generally accepted as a mistake, if the top bankers weren’t still taking six-figure bonuses at a time when austerity sweeps the nation. And most recently there has been the phone-hacking expose. What this highlighted was that while everyday people’s phones were being hacked for snippets of information, the top journos, politicos and celebrities were sitting comfortably at a party in Chipping Norton deciding where to invest their capital.

And, what has been made clear by the media coverage, is that they all felt totally justified doing what they were doing, like it was owed to them – so why shouldn’t a generation of kids who have watched these kinds of crimes not feel justified to take their slice of pie, however violent it is? If the bankers can find a way to take their tax back, why shouldn’t (in their opinion) should these looters? I am not justifying them, but can no one see how they felt justified?

We need to think about this outrage before it gets out of hand. Zoe Williams in the Guardian today suggests that the impetus behind the riots could come from a social class or group that lives in the consumer capitalist world of adverts celebrity gossip and glorified lifestyles, which, hint clever advertisements, everyone must have, and, hints our Government and businesses and banks, everyone can have.

Hoody sets fire to a bin during riots in Bristol

A hoody begins a blaze in a wheely bin during riots on Monday night in Bristol

But can we all have it all? The answer to that is probably not. Especially, as Harman emphasises, with tripled tuition fees, no EMA and no jobs for young people. This, then will lead to a disenfranchised group of youngsters who feel they have no hope of getting either a degree, or a job, and therefore no hope in hell of reaching the heights of comfortable living that adverts and society accepts as the norm. Therefore, when they see our ruling elite taking what they want, they attack back in retribution. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but I don’t think any of us can, deep down, say it’s unexpected.

Everyone likes to live in a cosy bubble and indulge the myth: If I work hard, get my degree, get a job, I can buy my house, raise a family, have regular holidays, and put away a pension. But in living that myth, and striking out at anyone who harms the myth, we end up with a disillusioned minority who are under-represented. Like Woollard, or Gilmour, the public outrage from the myth-buyers will put these people in jail and allow us to go back to the bubble. But it doesn’t address why these people aren’t either in the bubble or accept the bubble themselves. We could just bang all the arrested rioters in jail and carry on with our lives, but does this change anything? Will this stop more future riots? I think the answer is no.

Our Government loves the myth. It means when people with actual grievances against their policies stand up to be counted they can shrug them off as a minority, while the rest of us bury our heads in the sand and it isn’t our job that is lost, or our pensions which disappear. But one day it will be. This is why the teachers are marching, the students are marching, the Unions are marching. But unless we left our heads up and accept that everyone deserves a place in this country there will always be inequality, always be injustice, and always be riots because the quite majority, pursuing it’s own agenda, will leave a trail of mess that someone has to pick up. It might not be our jobs now, or our pensions, but it is our country. We are all going to suffer at the hands of these austerity cuts, politicians and bankers excepted, but why can’t we stand with the protesters? If we all stood together, youths, students, unions and everyone else, then no one would have to riot. But the majority of people in this country want to lie back and take the cuts and hope it won’t affect them. This is why when people complain there is such outrage – not because anyone disagrees with them – but because they worry the protests will make their lives worse.

So instead of condemning the young for feeling unrepresented and alienated, lets sort out our system. Yes, lets punish the perpetrators of injustice, but lets not get back in the bubble, but address what has caused these riots. Let us build something better and use this as an opportunity for Britain to say no the destruction of our education system, our health service, our unemployment services. Let us say no to a country where we are all so scared for our jobs that we don’t give the young any hope of getting a job themselves. Let us say ‘no,’ to social inequalities and ‘yes,’ to putting this country back together.

Harmann calls on the Government to “be on the side of opportunities for young people, and jobs for young people.” Let’s all be on the side of young people. Let’s punish the perpetrators of these riots, but not without forethought, and never forgetting that there are complex reasons for these kind of outbreaks that a quick prosecution can’t brush under the dirty carpet.

I would like to thank Doulas Hook for his wonderful images taken from Monday nights riots and for giving me permission to use them in this piece. More of Douglas’ work can be found on his blog at: http://hookphoto.blogspot.com/

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  1. London Chap
    August 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I’m not sure I agree with all of these points. In particular the idea that these people are in some way disconnected from their local community. Many of the people arrested were not kids and many of the people arrested had jobs in the community.

  2. Kristina
    August 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Interesting blog, Joe. Really though-provoking and bloody inspiring actually. Nice one. Hope you’re well, Kristina.

  3. Kristina
    August 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    *thought

  4. CH
    August 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Demonified – Demonised
    There – Their 😉

    “This is a generation with little to no respect for police, teachers and our Government, but it is a disrespect they all share, and could, theoretically, be said to be a reason to respect each other. ” Scans as a little clunky and unclear.

    You repeat yourself a few times in the middle and partly in the close.

    Enough with the editorial faff though, I like the sentiment in the article. Was reading H.S.T earlier and he pointed out that protesting demonstrates an essential faith in the system, the belief that someone in power will listen.

    The riots, I’d suggest, demonstrate a loss of even that faith by a not inconsiderable percentage of the country.

    Keep up the good work bud.

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