A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Friday, 2 September 2011

2011 : The Summer of the Discontented

London Riots Burn
The Summer of 2011 will go down in British history books as the summer that a collective roar went up especially from the youth of this country.In the midst of great world economic turmoil, a spark flew that ignited a brushfire. Some pundits (abroad mostly) who do not live here were quick to label it the equivalent of the MidEast uprisings of this past spring, but they were hardly that. As one person from Hackney said, "We aren't gathering here for a cause, we're running down to Foot Locker." It was, instead, an exercise in the expression of collective futility and there is a lot of that in England these days.

The riots were triggered by the police shooting of a 29 year old male named Mark Duggan. According to preliminary reports, the father of four children was dragged out of a taxi and shot dead by a policeman. These same reports say that he did not shoot the policeman first so it is unclear what provoked the incident. A handgun found at the scene was not fired. If he pulled it at the police, and the officer shot believing he was going down, we have still yet to find out. The IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission)is looking into what transpired. The shooting of Mark Duggan was what fuelled the controversial riots which began with a march on the Tottenham police station. The demonstrators went to seek answers that the police were not willing to give. Witnesses say that when the group arrived at the police station to demand answers, a 16 year old girl who confronted them  was hit with a baton. That outraged the assembled group and led to the conflagration which eventually enveloped major cities in Britain. It is apparent that the police may indeed have overstepped their boundaries in the case of Duggan and this young girl. The investigations are ongoing.

What was this about? Why did Britain seemingly go up in flames with looting and stealing and mob youth taking whatever they could? Why did the police gun down a young man and not simply arrest him? As of this writing, questions remain.

The inner cities of Great Britain are home to many disenfranchised youth. The riots affected every race and creed. The borough where the initial riots started has an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent which is double the national average. Tottenham has a thriving gang culture and it has been rumored that Mark Duggan had ties to some. Some MPs were quick to call the riots "simply acts of criminality and nothing more" and others said that given the climate of unemployment and the cuts in youth services, what more could one expect?

Let's get this straight from the start. These were not riots that attempted to fight for a better way of living and to send a keen message to the government. There were no leaders who stood up and said, "We are dying here,we have no jobs, we need change, we need you to hear what we have to say."  No. Instead what happened was that people basically seized an opportunity to vent their anger and get some "haul" in the process. The riots in the Middle East which were also fuelled by youth and Facebook were directed toward freedom of expression and a desire to stand up for self-sovereignty. These riots were mostly about self-service. They didn't start out that way, but they escalated into a "free-for-all" that went from city to city.

If the people who marched on the police were really savvy to what needed to be done, they would have simply staked out a protest and not moved from where they were. Sometimes the strength of an organized protest leads more creedence to a cause. Ask Cindy Sheehan who camped out near Crawford, Texas, (the Bush compound) alone for most of the time to protest the death of her son in the Iraq War. Her vigil sent a strong and unequivocal message to the government of the United States.

The Labour government especially under the self-promoting Tony Blair has left a legacy of families and young people who have depended wholly on the government to survive. When these programs were cut then coupled with the tanking economy, there has been a huge negative  backlash. Gordon Brown gave the UK to the EU on a platter (without a referendum) and the government is now having to pay the EU 40 million pounds a day...money that Great Britain desperately needs to give back to the young and especially to the inner city communities that need it. David Cameron is doing no better. He simply limps along carrying Clegg on his back in a rucksack. He can't figure out whether to be like Thatcher or like Thumper. That 40 million dollars a day that is given to the coffers of the EU to bail out other countries is needed in this country not to pay for another lavish party or brand new office for some cushy politico in Brussels.

"It's about poverty..."  I am paraphrasing one blogger I read. "These kids grow up in a materialistic society where they are subjected to seeing all these expensive trainers and electronic gadgets that they can't afford...so of course they are going to help themselves."  What a pile of nanny state garbage an argument that is!  Since when did living in poverty and not having "nice things" give anyone the permission to steal? I really loved some of the paintings in the Louvre. But, guess what? I can't afford them. That didn't mean I opened my bag and tried to stick a Modigliani in it and take it home!  I could have just told the security guards that I had a right to steal it because the Louvre continues to advertise all the "beautiful things" they have, which I can't afford and therefore I have a right to take whatever I want. And yet, that is the argument that some people are putting forth regarding the "help yourself" attitudes that so many took when smashing the windows in their communities and just stealing everything that wasn't nailed down. And don't think that it was only the larger department stores that lost things. Many hard-working small mom and pop stores were also looted. The lifeblood of these small neighborhood shops that were owned and run by immigrants who came here looking for a better life were also looted. And other insane deaths took place as well. Besides the killing of Duggan, there were the absolutely senseless killings of three well-educated Muslim young men who simply went out of their homes to attempt to quell the madness which was threatening their homes. A car careened down the street and killed them instantly. The father of one of them, Haroon Jahan, came forward and pleaded for the rioting to stop. It remains to me, one of the most poignant sane moments in the sea of chaos that engulfed the nation. (See his video at the end of this posting).

140 Yr Old House of Reeves Now Burnt Shell--Owner in Shock
Where is the morality? Where is that part in these young people that there is a right and wrong? My parents grew up in the Great Depression. I know that my grandparents and parents did not steal simply because there was not enough money or food. They "made do". Having faced a period of "poverty" in my own life, the idea of stealing and/or helping myself to whatever I could get never even entered my mind. Why? I was taught that it was wrong to steal. I was taught that there were consequences. I have never seen a country more devoid of parenting skills than the English. Many have no boundaries and they draw no lines with their children. (When I see really well-behaved children, I am elated because they are about as rare as a red bird in a rainstorm here.) In their quest to follow the materialistic dream, stuff is thrown at children, and boundaries are not enforced. This "free for all" parenting and lack of discipline has led to a lot of lost children. The parents blame the schools. The schools blame the parents. A parent is a child's first teacher. By the time a child reaches school age, they have been imprinted with experiences that may shape their thinking forever. Meanwhile, the NHS hands out Prozac like candy, rather than dealing with the deep collective depression that people (especially the youth) exhibit.  I have never seen so much apathy and immorality and if anything has been spawned out of a nanny state government is that it has looted these youngsters from ever believing that they can have what they see in the window if they simply decide to change their lives, go to school and find a meaningful way to live their lives. One yob that was interviewed on national television told how when the riots broke out, he made a beeline to the shop that did not hire him!  He said that basically he felt he had a right to steal from them, since they would not hire him. How nice. Apparently, the shop made the right choice.

Cameron came down hard on the looters. He used the CCTV system to track people down. And the police installed huge blown up images of those still at large asking the public to come forward to identify them. One mother turned her child in. Some of the perpetrators were found to have been from upper middle class families just out "having a lark" and in no need of any sort of material possessions as they were quite well-off. It's great that Cameron used his "old style Tory" tactics. But what tactics are going to be used on the banksters who plunder the public and loot in their own style? These yobs were hauled off to court while most banksters simply take the money, pay their million dollar bonuses and live better than ever. Where is the accounting for that crime? Who is going to tell the banksters that they need to stop living it up while Rome is burning? That the money that was given to bail them out was supposed to be put back into the economy?

Yet, there is an irony of sorts in these riots...no one in the UK ever has to go hungry or homeless. The government provides housing, benefits and free healthcare and counselling for whomever desires to take advantage of that. Rather than using that as a way to work themselves out of the system, many simply make it a way of life. If you walk through most council housing estates, you will see state-of-the-art televisions, the latest mobile phones and expensive trainers many bought by families on state benefits. Meanwhile, next door a single mother who is just above the benefits cut-off point has to struggle, scrimp and save to buy her children decent gifts for Christmas while the high taxes she pays so diligently is funding her neighbor's new Ipod. Where is the justice in that? Example

There is a great difference between the Americans and the many Brits. It's attitude. An American will see a nice thing that someone owns and say, "One day I can have that....I just have to apply myself... and go out and do something." Americans have that sort of drive to better themselves. They have no choice. There are no nets in America. There is no welfare state (to speak of) to pick you up. Here, anyone who has is resented for having. "Who do they think they are? I want what they have and I am angry they have it and I don't." The class system is very much alive here and moving upward is extremely difficult for anyone when the taxation rates are so high, you have to earn three times as much as you would have to earn in America to be considered "middle-class".  The upward mobility that you are given in America comes harder here, yes, but not impossible. Even my British friends complain about the backstabbing, the envy and the "every person for himself" attitude that permeates the very fiber of life here. It's exhausting and it isn't life affirming . As I've stated before, America still fuels "the dream". Great Britain fuels "you should know your place...stay there...and we will give you the handouts to do that." The problem is that no one really sees that. It is the biggest con job the government is perpetrating on its own people. "There are no jobs! That's why there is rioting!" The truth is, there are jobs and no one is applying. Why apply for work when what you earn on benefits is the same as what your take home pay would be at most entry level jobs? Don't believe me? Click here then click here

What the people don't understand here is that the state ultimately is not responsible for their well-being. If you hitch your wagon to the state, then you hitch your wagon to a millstone. Maybe it's great, you can commit benefit fraud and get away with it. Maybe you can filch some numbers. Maybe your checks every month will get you what you need and nothing more and you are fine with that. But the state owns you. It owns your home. It owns your children. It owns your very soul.

I am not condeming help for those who need it in a crisis, or when you hit a rough patch and you have nowhere to turn. Nor do I condemn it for the single parent or the elderly or the sick. Any nation with a conscience should be obligated to help in those situations. But when a nation makes its citizens co-dependent, it breeds generations of people who simply have lost their ability to fend for themselves. More than that, they feel that the government is obligated to pay them for simply living.

Lindsay Johns
You can throw all the money you want at programs for youth and at helping the disenfranchised. But if you cannot retrive someone's ability to dream and in the process restore their soul purpose, then the system has failed miserably. All the money in the world can never restore a fundamental flaw in Great Britain today.It isn't a job or more money or a better house or a new pair of trainers that is needed. It is to restore the right to the people of the radical idea of self-determination and hope.

Lindsay Johns, writer, broadcaster and a youth worker in the inner city said it best: "Too many young people will never reach their potential if they are allowed to remain in their mental ghettoes...It is our own politically correct cowardice that has been the greatest force behind marginalization." (full text of his outstanding op ed here.)