Defining English Terms: Riot vs. Insurrection
August 10, 2011 § 3 Comments
Many of you may have already seen this video. In case you haven’t, a Black West Indian Grandfather is interviewed on BBC to give an on-the-ground perspective of the riots taking place in London. His use of the term, “insurrection of the people,” brought about questions of his relationship with crime and authority. In response, he explains that today’s London riots are like other demonstrations of public disapproval throughout the 20th Century. In the simplest terms, the People (big P) are letting you know they’re fed up.
Of course, lawlessness is not a condition in which the majority of us want to live. The order we associate with systems of modern governance and social class comfort us with stability. Honestly, I am not sure what I would do without the structure that I love and hate in my life. But what makes the lawlessness of London’s streets so frightening?
London’s riots scare the hell out of everyone because there are other places where the People have reason to be even more fed up. Now, keep in mind, I am not in favor of riots. I am not suggesting that “we should have expected it” either. I am pointing out the fact that of all the places in Europe with problems, London isn’t the closest to the verge of economically-urged social disorder. European cities like Lisbon, Athens, and Dublin seem like more likely places for angry poor folks to hit the streets.
Then there’s the fact that England has embraced social democracy in ways that the US has not. Generally, Post WWII Western European states have utilized economic policies that would worry most Marxist-fearing Americans. Of course, these forms of government aid have accompanied perpetually high unemployment rates that have effected populations such as immigrants, the working-class, and youth disproportionately. Things haven’t been easy for our friends in Europe, but the safety net seemed to work well enough to keep things going.
Rebecca Wilder’s blogpost from Angry Bear on the US unemployment rate brings me to my point. The conditions that appear to get the People to hit the streets are widespread. In fact, Americans don’t need to watch BBC to hear about economic crisis (although watching BBC talk about crisis in the US is pretty interesting). We can see it taking place right now in our own cities, and without any European safety net. In addition, some of the loudest — not the smartest or the most numerous — voices in the US argue against expanding or even maintaining programs that smell of socialism (click here for an example).
So why do the happenings in London scare me? Because whether they are riots or insurrections, prevention and recovery seems to require systemic change. More importantly, these moves call for a degree of collaboration that Americans have not seen in our political system for years. At some point, I would love to discuss the legal or moral implications of defining the aforementioned English events (it seems like a fun intellectual exercise). Right now, I think we have a pressing need to develop social conditions that appeal to the People.
Dismantling social inequality seems expensive, but so does rebuilding a city.