Why go to the riots when you can read about them on Vice?
A blow by blow account by blogger John Knight. Great pix by James Pearson-Hawes (aka Queenie) and Jamie Teate.
Damn. I leave London and riots and protests break out all over Europe.
And wildcat strikes break out all over the UK in support of oil workers going on strike after their bosses hired European workers, and effectively locked them out.
Well, bless their hearts.
When I was still in England, I wondered how long it would be before this happened. Though the rallying cry of ‘British jobs for British workers’ might be exclusionary – and might make it that much more difficult for my one generation removed though British passport holding person to get a job – you can hardly blame these guys for feeling the way they do. The ‘Polish Plumber’ might have been great for the middle-classes, but the drastic wage cuts, the pressure that immigration put on employment in general in Britain was very real, and was making life very difficult for non-rich people. This was pretty much ignored by the government, the papers, by everyone except the BNP.
Wages for most people in London were a joke, the cost of living was a joke. As the son of British immigrants to Canada – as a North American – I’m not against immigration or immigrants, but so often in Britain immigrants were used to undercut standards, wages of the British worker. It’s about time they got their own back.
If New York is about anything it is change. Change and re-invention is built right into this city’s fabric. To paraphrase the Last Poets, all New York does is change, change, change.
Every time I’ve come back here after being away for a few months, I’ve found a different city than when I left. Not just different people, but a different mood, a different definition. Just before 9-11, it was an overpowering materialism, the SUV’s, the yuppie store taking over even in Brooklyn. Six months later New York was a wounded, and more human, city. People talked to each other in the bars again, and that camraderie that is never far below the surface of New York life, even at it’s craziest, was out in the open.
In fall 2004, with hope that the Bush years would soon be over, New York was a great place to be. Wild, open, as dazzling as the fall colours. When the Republicans, using Ground Zero as a backdrop to appeal to the rest of the nation, while delivering a direct snub to this deeply Democratic city, held their convention here, some half-million people marched against it (as six hundred thousand braved 15 below cold and a chill wind off the East River to march against the Iraq war).
After Bush was re-elected, New York seemed to go on the retreat and by last spring, when I came back for the first time in a year and a half, it seemed the pod people had taken over everything. The Manhattan bars seemed to have been taken over by the super-rich, who flew between Manhattan, Dubai, London, wherever else the hyper-elite gathered. Brooklyn was only the downmarket version.
And now? Hard to say. Friends in the construction biz, who get a lot of their work from people working on Wall street, are having a hard time getting work – but that doesn’t mean they’re not working. A friend who invested her savings in mutual funds lost 30,000. Seems her bank invested only in the safest prospects – one of whom turned out to be Lehman Bros. The new condos in Brooklyn are mostly empty. My favorite bar in Manhattan was almost empty last night at happy hour but for a few old time old-regulars and some queen at the bar yapping into his cellphone, presumably to his boyfriend, about who gave who the most blowjobs (not to be a homophobe here, but some private matters should just stay private).
But rally it’s hard to say. My friends here still have new toys that would be out of the reach of the people I know in London or even Canada. Walking through Manhattan last night, it still seemed like the Midwestern suburbs dominated. Only time will tell which way this city will go.
Bed-Stuy blues . . .
I left not long after Obama was nominated this summer and there weren’t many Obama posters at all – in fact I wondered if people in Bed-stuy even cared. Since then, Barack Obama has won the election, Wall street took a nosedive, and Barack Obama won the election. My friend CJ had this to say about election night:
“The whole election was really amazing, though. Right up until Election Day none of us really dared to believe it could happen, despite the commanding lead Obama had in the polls. At best we hoped for a squeaker, with counting going on through the night. I must say, too, that the turnout at my polling place was even lower than in 2004. There was no line, no wait: just in and out. I guess all the voting age people are incarcerated or in the country illegally, or perhaps the district is just underpopulated. Then around nine pm I was in the Union Pub with some friends, and Pennsylvania went blue on the big screen, and having spent the last fortnight watching the pundits pore over the electoral map we knew (or at least I knew) that that made it almost mathematically impossible for McCain to win. Then Ohio went not long after, and everyone was screaming and jumping up and down and embracing each other. Then North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, and the Solid South crumbled.
“In Bed Stuy everyone was honking and firing their guns in the air down in the projects just like New Years Eve. Every public place was a madhouse, and people who have probably never owned an American flag in their lives except perhaps to burn it in protest were waving all these flags like crazy. They even had those enormous ones you usually only see at car dealerships on Long Island.
“Then the next day there was that hung-over feeling. It was grey and drizzly, and Bed-Stuy looked every bit as trash-strewn and derelict as ever, with all the same bums on the same chairs on the same corners. I couldn’t stop crying for days, though, the emotion was so strong–and I’m normally pretty blase about these things. I noticed other people, too, would just start weeping on the subway. It was like we’d woken up one day in exile, and then woken up the next day in our own country, restored to us at last. Of course, about forty percent of the country feels the opposite way, and are busily hanging Obama in effigy, sending boxes of feces to their black neighbors, committing hate crimes, and in the case of a country store in Maine, conducting a betting pool on when Obama will be assassinated. (“Hope someone wins!” reads the sign.) And the messianistic hopes everyone has invested in Obama are just too much for any human being to fulfill. The kindly gentleman from the Community Garden up by Classon told me, as he pressed a bag of collard greens upon me, how now there was going to be peace everywhere in the world”
Three months on, Bed-Stuy doesn’t feel much different than from when I left. On the street, the new apartment houses are finished and ready for tennants – the Verizon telephone people were inside, presumably setting up telephone lines. The building on the corner of Franklin that has been derelict as long as I’ve been around is being fixed up – the windows boarded over, the brick repointed. Along Greene Ave, the hi-rises that had been started this spring or summer are still under construction, so no half-finished hulks, not yet anyway.
CJ says the word is that construction that has already been started will be finished, but there will be no more construction for some time. And the people I know here who work in the field aren’t working much. Some say the construction industry will be dead here for two years or more. What this means for Bed-Stuy, I really don’t know.
What do recessions bring?
On the most basic level, what’s happening now: the collapse of one or many sectors of the economy, a drop or collapse in house prices and, most importantly, a loss of jobs. The latter is the hardest – when you have to struggle all day every day for weeks, months, years just to get a job (‘finding a job is a full-time job’), and kiss ass to some dickhead boss just to keep the job you have – and it’s amazing how many cretins, how many exploitative, bullying little pricks come out of the woodwork when times get bad – a recession is more than just numbers or news of some hedge fund company going bust. It’s real, and it’s now.
But recessions are awful only incidentally because of economics. After all, in purely economic terms, folks around the world and in very recent history lived much worse than us and put up with much more. It’s the way people get. You can see it even now, before the pain has really set in – people withdraw, get fearful, they look inward. Emotionally, spiritually, culturally, it is the equivalent of the banks not wanting to lend to each other. In some cases, if things get bad enough, and go on long enough – people can even get evil.
It’s not the economics, it’s the fear, resentment, the inward-turning loss of spirit you have to watch out for. And in Britain, it’s an open question which way it will go . . .