„They are destroying their own communities.“ This is a sentence I came across again and again reading the latest updates and comments on the riots in England last week. There is one question I would like to ask: Can the neighbourhoods those youngsters terrorized be actually called their communities? Obviously, the rioters didn’t give fuck all about them. But why didn’t they and why don’t they? Does the origin of their discontent and ignorance rather lie in the phenomenon that they have been given up on by their communities?
I have found some answers to these questions in the brilliant articles by Zoe Williams on Guardian online and Penny Laurie on „Penny Red“. If you haven’t read them – read them now. They put things into perspective for me. Especially now that almost everyone in the UK seems to be full of hate with regards to the rioters, it seems vital to keep a clear head and think about the origins of deprivation and subsequent violence. Of course there is no excuse for what the rioters did (as everybody keeps explaining) and they have to account for their crimes and be punished accordingly (this is common sense). But I believe that the right-wing reaction / heavy penalties are scary. It certainly won’t improve the situation of those lost communities. It will probably make things worse as i.e. this editorial in the New York Times points out (via Penny Red).
One aspect I found particularly disturbing about Zoe William’s and Penny Laurie’s articles were their descriptions of the creepy experience of following the riots on TV while actually hearing the rioting going on live outside. Imagine the apocalypse happening in front of your home and you watch it on TV. (This reminded me of Don DeLillo’s novel „White Noise“ in which the main characters sort of try to behave completely normal and go on with their family lives in the face of local Armageddon after some kind of catastrophe in a chemical plant.) Others organised themselves and went out on the streets to protect their homes and businesses like Dalston’s Turkish and Kurdish community. This was a very brave thing to do and this kind of active involvement sort of (clumsily) brings me to what this post is about:
I believe that a community troubled by poverty, unemployment, drugs and general deprivation can only hope to somehow function if people who live there and are better off get actively involved and do something for it. If young people don’t understand anymore what living peacefully together in a dense urban setting means, then you have to go out there and defend your principles first and then try to figure out together with them what a community is all about. It’s not enough to write about these issues on blogs like this or on Guardian online. Let’s face it – those kids are not interested at all in the stuff we write anyway. And don’t hope for the Conservatives to make things better. They won’t.
Personally, I have come to the conclusion that although this isn’t England and although I have been following the riots from a save distance (and I know it is easy to judge when far away) I want to do something for my community in Kreuzberg, Berlin. I don’t know what this will look like exactly but I have been thinking about this for quite a while now (for quite a long time now to be honest). I’m fed up with being passive (and with just passively gentrifying this place). I need to get active – I want to get involved. People have massive problems here too and they are my neighbours. Just think of poverty, drugs, unemployment, Nazis, property sharks, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go out there and tell people how to live their lives and how Mr. Kennedy will save their souls. And I know that I can’t make a big difference. And it’s not about making me feel good / better either. It’s just that this passive / anonymous / egocentric / cynical thing doesn’t work for me anymore.
The Guardian: Deprivation in Britain mapped