London is on edge, twitchy; a tense atmosphere pervades the city, in the office, on the train, on the streets. The crowds have thinned, people scuttle to and from work, before the darkness descends; shopkeepers stand outside and keep an eye on the situation on the street, while nervous rumours spread, conversation can't keep off the topic, and for the moment at least, London has lost its haughty smugness. Instead, there hangs a heavy atmosphere, perhaps even reflective, as the consequences of the great engine of power's greed and corruption comes back to haunt it. But, at least we haven't heard about the Olympics for a while.
The Met's murder of Mark Duggan last week, and the subsequent attack on a peaceful demonstrator at the vigil, has caused a wildfire – hotter and more vicious than could ever be predicted - that has spread across the capital and beyond; the untouchable Met – responsible for the murders of Ian Tomlinson, Smiley Culture and so many others – are at last getting some comeuppance, having been protected so far by the not-so-independent IPCC. But there is little pleasure in this for most, because people are scared: will I get home tonight, will I be robbed or attacked, why can't all this be over? But maybe we citizens of London are at last coming face to face with what it must be like to live on a bad estate, or even a war zone, faced with the reality that the City forces on to others, in other places, far from view.
The media has up built up a hysterical frenzy, the politicians are back from hols (hope it was lovely), the police are overstretched, the spin doctors coining terms like “criminality”, and now the right-wing Breiviks of the EDL, NF and BNP are declaring themselves guardian protectors of the community. Last night these right-wing fascists threatened to march from Eltham to Lewisham, in Southeast London to spark a full-scale race war (bringing back memories of the 1970's New Cross Fire and the Battle of Lewisham), while the BBC declared that it wasn't covering the event because it “didn't want to encourage rioters” (rather hypocritical since its covering the riots in Eltham tonight). Londoners are stuck between a rock and a hard place – do you get into bed with the distasteful authoritarians and disciplinarians, or face the wrath of the unsettled hornets' nest of youth? We shouldn't have to be faced with this simple choice, so calculated and engineered, the old lesser-of-two-evils trick (eg Labour vs Conservative) that maintains the “elected oligarchy”.
But already people are finding ways to come together to combat threats to small businesses and local streets by forming self-defence units, which the Met has called “vigilantes”, no doubt afraid that their monopoly on community safety will be challenged. These have generally been formed where there already exists a traditional community, whether ethnic or organic (ie built up over time), while the rest of the city locks themselves behind doors trapped by their isolated individualism. Other outcomes have been street cleaning groups and donation centres, where those who have lost their homes in the riots can pick up donated goods; Londoners have sought to direct their fear into positive actions, into mutual aid (a bedrock of anarchism), instead of internalising it into the racial hatred, bigotry and hysteria of the Daily Mail reader.
Regarding the rioters and looters, there seems a cross-section of characteristics, from the polite and helpful (seen in a number on Indy articles, such as those warning others to watch out for their possessions) to the more shark-like (or the fashionable word at the moment, “feral”), who would attack or steal anything from anyone. While the media and bigots would have us believe they are all former, it cannot be doubted that there is a range; nevertheless, if people are to have solidarity with the rioters, then the attacks on small businesses, public transport, homes, cyclists and people must end. There need to be clear ground-rules that these must never be targets, and some sort of code within the rioters themselves that such acts will be prevented or punished. Secondly, attacks on our local areas, which are generally shit-holes anyway, need to stop; sure, they are easy targets but the real wealth of the corrupt oligarchs of West London, the City boys in the Docklands, and all the white-collar criminals in London have remained untouched. If you want people to stand behind you, to cheer you on, and get real loot into the bargain, then these are targets more worthy of the rioters' brilliantly effective tactics.
If these actions are to move beyond the spectacular and become a movement for social justice, for more than just harsher repression after the fires have died away, then rioters need to work more intelligently. By reassuring Londoners that they are not, and will not, be victims of attack, is a start; you will need everyone's solidarity afterwards. By choosing your targets cleverly – like the large supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsburys) who undercut small farmers and local businesses, banks and money shops who steal from us all daily, large retailers who use sweat-shop labour, and so on – the riots become “political” (ie with purpose), which commentators can't dismiss as “mindless” (ie in anger).
Let us hope this becomes something more, something liberatory and not just a flash in the pan, followed by severe repression. Good luck, stay safe and all power to the streets.