THE YEAR OF UNREST

LONDON RIOTS AUGUST 21, 2011, Video Footage by Jamie McGregor Smith

THE YEAR OF UNREST 

2011 will be remembered as a year of unprecedented rioting and protests in Western countries, with the London riots and later the Occupy Movement leading the headlines since it’s onset in September. By October 9, The Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 95 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States.

The London riots shook up the UK in the aftermath of the royal wedding, which had taken place only a few months prior. People were at a loss for words about the massive destruction, vandalism and violence that tore up many of London’s districts and eventually spread north to other UK cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.  The riots exploded in Tottenham after a relatively peaceful March on August 6, 2011, protesting the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police a few days prior. Over the next several days the riots spread throughout London to Hackney, Camden and even areas that are considered rather affluent such as Notting Hill.  Londoners feared for their lives after sundown, as despite riot police trying to control the situation, nightfall brought on outbreaks of arson and rampant looting from packs of youths roaming the streets in search of destruction.

With the majority of parliament and even the Prime Minister away on holiday, they were forced to come back to London early to recon with the mass destruction which tallied close to £200 Million in damages after 4 days.

LONDON RIOTS AUGUST 21, 2011, Photography by Jamie McGregor Smith

The riots have been the source of significant debate as to why they occurred amongst social and political circles. With reports indicating that 50% of the rioters were under the age of 20, the Prime Minister responded to the rioters “You will feel the full force of the law. If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment,” as he condemned “sickening scenes of people looting, vandalising, thieving, robbing”.  Many others blamed a “Broken Britian”, including David Cameron who called it a “broken society in moral collapse”.  Many insisted it was just youths gone wild, totally out of control, and destructive for no other reason than that they are anarchists and thugs with no respect for society. “This is an equal-opportunity crime wave. The lawbreakers are not from any distinct ethnic group, and attempts to explain this behaviour on these ground are baseless and poisonous.”

It has equally been widely recognised that areas in which the worst violence and rioting took place happened to be areas with significantly below average income and the highest levels of unemployment.  Reports have also since disclosed that record breaking amounts of young people are out of work or not in school in the UK. The English government responded to the economic crisis with mass social spending cuts, including for education.  England is currently rated as one of the lowest countries worldwide for upwardly mobile succession.  Most likely as a result of the rioting and protests that have struck a country when they were least looking for it, government officials have recently announced the “Youth Contract” plans. The £1Billion incentive plan focusing on youths between the ages of 16-24 will promote continuing education, finding employment, and includes paying employers 50% of the minimum wage to take on work experience candidates. “The aim of the youth contract is to get every unemployed young person earning or learning again before long-term damage is done,” according to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

OCCUPY NEW YORK, Fall 2011, Photography by Jeffrey Gamble

Across the pond in New York the Wall Street protests, (or “Occupy Wall Street”) gained momentum spreading throughout the US and internationally to include additional protests in countries throughout Europe, such as Italy, Spain and Germany.  On the Occupy Wall Street website it is posted: “Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.This movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians to build a better society. The only solution is World Revolution”.

Demonstrations began on September 17th in Zuccotti Park located in the Wall Street Financial District. The protests focus on social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, corruption, and the undue influence of corporations on the government.  The slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the massively growing inequality of the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.  Massive internet and social network campaigns helped to spread the protest thought America and abroad. Shockingly the United States is actually rated lower than even the UK in upwardly mobile succession despite the popular myth of the “American Dream”.  The internet group “Anonymous” encouraged protesters to “flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.”. The hope generated by the election of President Obama subsided with a growing unrest, as unemployment rates in the US continued to increase. CBO has shown an increasing disparity, with figures noting that in 1980, the top 1% earned 9.1% of all income, while in 2006 they earned 18.8% of all income.  The majority of middle and working class household have had a significant decrease in annual earrings with the top 1% seeing their income increase 392% between 1992-2007 and their average tax rate reduced by 37%. Since the onset of the “Great Recession” in 2007, “the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew from 34.6% to 37.1%”.  According to Bloomberg Businessweek, protesters want “more and better jobs, more equal distribution of income, bank reform, and a reduction of the influence of corporations on politics.”

Mayor Bloomberg of New York was initially supportive of the protest, stating “People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.” Over the past several months patience has worn thin for the protesters, with the owners of the privately owned Zuccotti Park insisting on ejecting the encampment for reasons of “sanitation and hazardous conditions”.  On November 15 the New York Police Department came in riot gear, forcibly ejecting the protesters and making over 200 arrests including of journalists covering the situation.

Interestingly national polls and surveys have shown that the larger majority of Americans approve of the movement, with the Wall Street journal publishing in October a report that “37 percent of respondents tend to support the occupy movement, while 18 percent tend to oppose it.” President Obama responded to the protests stating, “I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country…”  Celebrities including Kayne West, Sean Lennon, Susan Sarandon, Rosanne Barr and Mark Ruffalo have voiced their endorsement of the protest.  Susan Sarandon spoke at one of the demonstrations stating, “”I came down here to educate myself…. There’s a huge void between the rich and the poor in this country.” Despite the eviction on November 15th, the protest has continued, with restaurants around New York donating 3,000 Thanksgiving meals to the protesters on November 24th.

OCCUPY LONDON, Video Interview by Indira Cesarine

The London equivalent “Occupy London” started on October 15th, and has been the subject of serious debate in the UK, with their main encampment taking over the highway of St Paul’s Cathedral with hundreds of tents. The controversy over whether or not they should be allowed to protest at the location has caused several departures of the highest ranks at the Cathedral, with the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, the Dean of St Paul’s, resigning over his Chapter’s resolution to evict the protesters as well as Dr Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s. Despite being significantly smaller in numbers than the New York protest, with anywhere from 150-250 people camping in front of the square, the protest still has had major impact as it forced the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral on October 21st, and the potential protest  eviction has divided many political and religious leaders. The future fate of the protest camp will be officially questioned on December 19th, when the case goes to trial, with 33 year old protester Tammy Samede, a mother of four,  representing the protesters in court. If they lose the case, she has vowed to take it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. “I consider this volunteer work. It’s a massive system we are taking on and some say we are not achieving anything, but people are talking about it.”

Article by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine

Photography of the London Riots by Jamie Mcgregor Smith

Occupy New York Photography by Jeffrey Gamble

Video interview and photography of Occupy London by Indira Cesarine

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