I spent much of today following the events in London through the BBC, the Guardian, and multiple social media channels, and it caused me to think a lot about my reactions to both this riot, and the riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. In both cases I took issue with a lot of the discourse surrounding the events, and I’ve attempted to put my discontent into words, as incomplete and unfounded in research as they may be. I speak from personal experience in both cities, and what I have gleaned through multiple non-academic sources, as well as my own political leanings.
Yes there are people taking to the streets all over the UK today (In London specifically, but also in Birmingham, in Liverpool, in Bristol, in Leeds) to take the opportunity to steal and cause damage, yes similar things happened in Vancouver after something as innocent as a Hockey game. Yes violence and crime is inexcusable. But there are Societal factors that we need to look at too. Those who took to the streets caused violence, looting and mayhem. But why are all these young people so angry? In both London and Vancouver, we have high costs of living, lack of good jobs (for young people especially), a hostile economy, and conservative governments taking time and money away from social programs, policing, and so much more. It takes its toll.
I’m not excusing those who damage property and set things on fire, vandalizing and stealing, but I want to see research and evidence about what’s causing this. The people in the wonderful, beautiful, and diverse cities of London and Vancouver are not wrenching off the shackles of authoritarian governments, but we have governments that do not listen to us. Governments that focus on those with means and not the youth, the future who cannot see their own futures.
In looking at the events through the eyes of social media, the reactions I see are mostly those of shame. Friends on Facebook express how they are “ashamed to be British today” or those on Twitter talk about how it makes them sick to see the violence and destruction. Why do we not feel this same shame and outrage when we take the bus along East Hastings and see those left behind by society, invisible to those in power. When we talk with a man on the streets of London who’s wife died, who hasn’t seen his children in years, and who says he drinks and stays on the streets because it stops him from feeling.
Why do we not feel shame in our government for leaving the youth of London without jobs or prospects in a hostile economy? Why do we not blame those who have the power to change something for the better?
There are people who society has left behind. Who don’t conform or play the game, who don’t know how or don’t want to risk getting hurt again. There are people who have been left behind by their cities, their governments, their countries. And every once in a while there will be a spark. It will be something as simple as a hockey game, or as tragic as the shooting of a (perhaps unarmed) man by police, and the spark will cause these people to realize how utterly angry and left behind they are, and this will happen.
Those rioting are not doing so for overtly political reasons, but that does not exclude these riots as political events.
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On a lighter note, here are some of the nerdier messages left by the people of Vancouver on the boards covering up the broken windows of The Bay Downtown. “The Wall.”