Last night I found myself in the thick of the mindless thuggery by the hanger-ons of a so-called anarchist group who vandalised the Cereal Killer café on Brick Lane in an anti-gentrification rally dubbed #FuckParade. You may have already read about this but I feel I have to add my voice to the debate, as a small business owner who witnessed the carnage firsthand.
It was nine in the evening, past closing time, so my partner Henry and I put up the shutters on our shop - Regimental Vintage - when we heard the mighty din of fireworks going off in Allen Gardens (the public park behind our shop) followed by the sound of a rowdy group marching down from Brick Lane to our end of Cheshire Street. Henry, his friend and I popped outside to see what the ruckus was about, only to be confronted by a mob. Hundreds of people close to my age (male and female) were stomping down the street in a cacophony of blaring music, drunken sing-song, vicious and vulgar taunts - basically baying for blood.
At first I dismissed it as an obnoxious pub-crawl. But as the group grew ever larger and their tone became ever clearer, it was obvious that they were rabble-rousers trying to intimidate - their swagger inebriated by booze and the sort of misplaced socialism so often appropriated by the bored who try to assuage their middle-class guilt with demonstrations designed to stroke their own vanity.
Police helicopters and riot police vans arrived at the scene. At this point, neither Henry, S, nor I knew what the devil was going on - only that some of the mob who were chanting: "F*ck the police! F*ck the pigs!" were suddenly less cocky as they slipped sheepishly past the police before muttering obscenities the moment they were out of earshot. What happened to that bravado, then?
To quote from this “anarchist group’s” Facebook event page: "Our communities are being ripped apart - by Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, Israeli scumbag property developers, Texan oil-money twats and our own home-grown Eton toffs.” Tweets I dug up from supporters of Class War and those aligning themselves with Class War and #FuckParade revealed a deluge of hatred for 'hipster scum', capitalism, and 'poshos'. My initial reactions were: excuse me, but how does race - Russian, Saudi, or Israeli - come into this? What is this thinly veiled xenophobia?
You're crowdfunding your anti-hipster street party on IndieGogo? That's like the EDL collecting at a mosque. Also, you're protesting against 'hipster scum', how...? By hosting a 'street party' with poi dancers, fire eaters, elaborate costumes, rock music? Sorry to break this to you, but you sound like middle class people bitching about other middle class people being middle class. The irony.
I can't speak for the working class, but I can't imagine they'd want you to fight for their behalf with displays of such hypocrisy. I'm going to go out on a limb and judge (as you do so well) from your ability to afford expensive cameras, iPhones, costumes and makeup for your 'street party' that you lot are hardly impoverished. Some of you are probably well-off. Perhaps some of you have been to university. I wonder how many of you 'freelance' while living at home with your parents or if you are even born in the very city you're trying to reclaim.
How is your vandalising the Cereal Killer café and making them the "poster boys of gentrification" doing the working class a favour? Oh, it's all justified because you think spending £5 on a bowl of cereal deserves an insurrection? Honey, let me break down economics and fair trade for you: if someone wants to spend £5 on a bowl of cereal or £10,000 on a table at The Box, that's their prerogative. If you have such a problem with capitalism, why don't you demonstrate outside Westminster - or even the Pret and Tesco just up the road? Oh, right, because these large corporations/establishments can afford CCTV cameras that will capture your unlawfulness, security that will apprehend you, and a prosecution team that will see you convicted for criminal damage (and have your iPhones taken from you behind bars - no more Facebook or Twitter!) Unlike an independent business run by people who've worked hard to get to where they are now.
I agree with you that the property market in London is ridiculous. I also think that the extortionate prices to buy a home in the capital is exploitative. I sympathise with the middle and working-class who can't afford to get on the property ladder until much later in life, if at all - only to be burdened with ridiculous 50-year mortgages that they might be too busy killing themselves to pay off to even enjoy their hard-earned homes. I believe that the city, as a collective, have every right to express their dissatisfaction, to call for change and reform, for a fairer system that allows everyone a fighting chance to own their own homes, to not have to move out of the city they grew up in and love because they've been priced out by investors who buy property they have no intention in living in.
I even admit that my understanding of politics is basic at best, and that my privilege protects me from the soul-crushing reality of having to choose between running myself ragged to keep up with a city I cannot afford or moving out of London. But I cannot condone your actions.
Lest you think my open letter to you, #FuckParade and Class War, is an emotional tirade from the very "hipster-capitalist-foreign-posho" that you seem to despise so much, I present to you another open letter from one who comes from a different background than I - an eloquent address from by boyfriend Henry, A Real Londoner, who was with me throughout the incident:
To all whom this addresses,
I am from London. I was born in the East End. While I feel a strong sense of patriotism, I am not naive to what may be called a class struggle. I know firsthand the woes of being on the negative end of the City’s uglier money-grabbing side, but as much as I have tried, I cannot in all good faith condone the actions of any so-called fellow "socialist" that I saw rioting this weekend.
I have a small shop - Regimental Vintage - which I built from scratch years ago and eventually got an investor's help with. Last night, I was with one close friend and my girlfriend, about to leave with our meagre takings to return home when we were essentially held under siege by (and I only recount what I saw with my own eyes) a bunch of boozed up early-twentysomethings, all brandishing iPhones and DSLRs, in a scene reminiscent of any post-apocalyptic movie.
I may not be intelligent nor am I a learned man. I have not had the privilege of a university education. But if any of the activists are reading this open letter - I may be from London, I am the son of a sergeant major in the British Army, I have been homeless and I have at times felt like I am a victim of a greedy world, but I would never condone anyone attacking a cafe filled with innocent people.
I have seen enough crap happen to my home to ever care or give heed to anyone trying to scare my people. I might not eat cereal in a trendy bar in Brick Lane but I am going to have a bowl of something there tomorrow because I truly believe all those affected by tonight have more than shown the right strength to call themselves Londoners.