UK Riots An Artist’s Response

An artist’s response to the riots 11/08/11 Editorial by Rebecca Mellor

Looters have been described as ‘feral rats’, but what sort of society harbours, generates and fosters this sort of ‘feral’ behaviour? Who are these yoofs? Is this simply the revolt of social ‘have-nots’, or a throwing of the dummy by a young middle class who have never had to tighten their belts? Is this a generation that has grown up in an ever wanting consumerist society? A strive for its wanton artifice or a reaction against it? Is this reactive criminality in response and in keeping with the proactive criminality and subversions inherent in our banking, governance, education and capitalist systems? Does greed, opportunism and lawlessness in oppressive systems, breed greed, opportunism and lawlessness in its people? Is this a by-product of fractured communities ostracised from their core values? Have a generation of parents and education failed to instil any sense of connectivity to society or environment? Has the current situation, with an undemocratically elected and wildly disconnected government, a lack of opportunities, education and jobs catalysed people into action?

Wherever your stance, we can only hope these acts be a stimulus for meaningful change to our social infrastructures, only that will reinstate faith in people, services and systems and start to address the underlying issues which would facilitate such events. Any terms, threats or knee-jerk reactions from MPs, police and individuals feeds the distractive media fire of ‘other’, creates a ‘them and us’ culture. Only when we begin to see ourselves as a collective will we take responsibility with dealing with the causes, so we can rise like the phoenix from the fire, united as human beings. The future belongs to us; the people, if we are prepared to act positively to shape it and change the manner in which we understand and recognise variables within the wider picture that shape our realities.

Looking at a wider context, without labouring the obvious, banks have been bailed out by tax payers, leaving society now with slashed essential services, education at record cost to anyone wishing to enter the higher education systems, EMA has been cut and still banks and energy companies award themselves massive bonuses and the rich list have managed to increase their net worth by 40% on average over the last year. Basic cost of living is extortionate, food and fuel prices already at record highs and still rising, with energy companies announcing combined electricity and gas prices of over 20% again imminently. People’s rights are ever more chastised in the choices they can make for themselves and their families and the voice that they can raise without fear of reprisal, manipulation or ineffectuality. The machinations of a bureaucratic machine simply has its own self-preservation and the number crunching of profits as objectives, a system will never serve the people unless people unite to insist on it doing so or being totally overhauled. The riots and its reaction have, if nothing else, reminded people of their collective power; to riot, to clean up, to communicate and to organise; we have a choice how we move forward.

People are riled; for various reasons, riled enough to riot, riled enough by the riots, riled by the fatalities, riled by inherent corruption clearly visible for anyone willing to see. Surely change is next, let our creativity, adaptability and sense of connectivity to and regard for others and our environment drive us forward and steer our direction.The system is corrupt and people en masse have lost faith that it represents them or that it has their rights and interests as human beings as prime priority. This is tangible discontent and violence, wherever you stand on the riots, advanced capitalism is unsustainable in its current amoral model which only creates a greater divide between people. Any divisive tool is at cost to social cohesion and service provision; it creates fear and hostility. The ‘wholly unacceptable’ behaviour that Cameron talks of is not confined to any opportunist looters, it is institutionalised and sanctioned through bureaucracy in the UK.

Surely aside from reactive responses a proactive approach is needed to rebuild social infrastructures which support vibrant and cohesive communities. Changes need to be made to the way in which big business operates in the UK, and the way human rights should be defended, rather than attacked and stripped away by inadequate and counter-productive policy, which effectively legitimises a nullified duty of care from government and services including the police. Common law should be maintained by the police and legal systems should focus on upholding human rights, not have their own agenda, directed by profit and profit-hungry stakeholders.

How we behave is our choice, how we react to situations is our choice. We are human beings capable of adapting, thinking and maintaining respect and perspective and changing the dynamic of events and perspectives around us. You are part of a species, any act of violence, manipulation or exclusion is an act against your own species; individual or institutional. You have a responsibility to yourself and to others around you to protect your human rights and challenge any demeaning of these values, from individuals and institutions. Project love and peace, and surround yourself with it, dispel hate-fueling negativity by not subscribing to unproductive knee-jerk generalisations. If Cameron is prepared to do what he can to tackle the issue of these riots, he should be considering how he will go about a total redress of social priorities; with people valued far over profit. The threat of the use of water cannons and plastic bullets, however much it appeals to the closed mind, set on retribution, is a step in the wrong direction, it will enrage the already disenfranchised, create fear and pave the path for police rule, without even the illusion of consent.

There are endless gems of MPs demonstrating their total removal from reality of everyday life and endless soundbites of tragi-comic irony. Boris the bottomless pit of material provided us with such utterances as; ‘how a tiny minority can so let down the rest so greatly’ (could this be true of any other faction of our society?) his calling on people to stop talking about ‘sociological explanations’ (he’d rather there was reactionary dogmatism in response than any attempts to constructively understand the underlying causes) and of course his prompts that ‘everybody should remember the royal wedding’ (is Boris trying to provoke an anti-royalist uprising?) is inane in the first instance and wholly offensive in its inappropriateness. It is naive to dismiss this as sheer criminality as Cameron and Theresa May have, as this fails to address the overall context which would enable such a situation to occur.

It appears that cognitive ability or critical thought are neither honoured or respected by many of those who would influence and/or decide social policy and promote inequality and bias. In view of this I would encourage everybody to think and question more, and look to independent sources for information which will inform a wider view rather than the bigotry, bias and censorship that the likes of the BBC and mainstream media pump into households across the nation. A special mention has to go to Sangat TV for its fearless coverage of the Birmingham riots on Tuesday night, true media heroes of the night; representing humanity with humility and respect.

To the rioters; whatever your motives, rioting plays right into the hands of those who would work to strip away further your human rights. The politicians who claim to not know how the riots could have happened are simply demonstrating the extent of their removal from everyday life. A volatile society fosters discontent, and discontent, on whatever grounds, can manifest into destruction if not addressed, it doesn’t take a political strategist to work that out. Of course mystic Clegg did rightly predict that riots would occur, whether his reasoning was sound or not. Cameron, Osbourne and their cronies, still incredibly, steadfastly and negligently refuse to acknowledge the huge inequalities and discontent which sweeps the nation creating tinderbox conditions.

These events have scarred our country and directly taken the lives of four human beings. Let change now be our intent and be resolute in our actions; intelligent, adaptable, rational, empathic and progressive.

Communicate, create, care and celebrate your species. Take pride in your independent media and your ability to communicate and connect. Keep up with amazing coverage by individuals and independent media across the UK and internationally to get as broad a view as possible to inform your own opinions.

Peaceful protest and civil disobedience, in a country supposedly run by law by consent, are your right. Defend them peacefully, with creativity and initiative and encourage others to do the same, or at least be aware that by not doing this or not challenging anything that may oppress human rights, they are silently complicit in stripping away their own and others’ social rights for personal voice and choice.

Peace, love and light. Be safe and remember to think and question beyond what you are told.

Text and Image by Rebecca Mellor, Interdisciplinary Artist

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