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Brick Lane anti-gentrification protesters are their own worst enemy

Brick Lane anti-gentrification protesters are their own worst enemy

Brick Lane anti-gentrification protesters are their own worst enemy
28 September 2015

Smearing paint and cereal across the front of a small independent business? Limply kicking an estate agent’s window while egged on by a mischievous cackle? 

It's hardly strutting out in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square, is it?

If only Karl Marx had known that this was the best way to rally against the shackles of capitalism - that all he needed to provoke the masses into rising up against the morally bankrupt and moneyed elite was a packet of no-frills cornflakes and a pair of size nines.

Yet, on Saturday evening 200 people gathered around London’s Brick Lane and did just that in protest against gentrification, all carefully nestled under a carefully thought out banner that said: ‘Fuck Parade’.  The juvenile knee-jerks of a hipster-hating group that weren't quite sure what they were talking about other than that they really disliked people charging money for a service and ironic moustaches. 

Less anarchic revolution; it was like watching a student during fresher’s week, drunkenly showing his mates what an absolute ledge he is by placing a traffic cone over his head. Their fruitless actions culminating in a mobtastic fashion at the now infamous Cereal Killer Cafe, their only real target.

Inside, customers including children found themselves barricaded in as the baying mob - brandishing smartphones as opposed to pitchforks - began causing criminal damage on behalf of the working classes. The irony of course being that the cafe's two Belfast-born owners, Gary and Alan Keery, are two working class lads done good - it’s not their fault people will literally pay for anything.

Which is a lot more than can be said for the demonstrators. Barely harnessing a brain cell between them, this young, largely white posse of faux-punks waving flares and lighting effigies of hipster policemen ablaze didn’t provide an accurate representation of the working classes at all (they looked too smug for one thing), nor did they come close to embodying the multi-culturalism of an area as ethnically diverse as Brick Lane.

Most of them simply looked lost, unsure of what to do, like a flash mob who didn't get the memo, or a group of ravers whose bus had broken down. Some even put all their excitability and pent up aggression to use by dancing (which I would encourage), while others just targeted that faceless enemy known as ‘the hipster’.

And that’s the problem: the hipster doesn’t really exist - it’s too ubiquitous a term to personify a class or type of people, some of whom will come from working class backgrounds themselves. The reason quirky cat cafes and the like are popping up in poorer areas is because these places have been left to ruin. What would these protestors rather see open instead? Another Pret-A-Manger, the middle class McDonald’s already threatening to make every street in the capital look precisely the same? Or would they rather the building remained derelict and further the plight of nearby sink estates?

“Class war” read one banner. “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” said another. Which begs the question why they didn’t take their anger to the nearby London HQ of Royal Bank of Scotland, a stone’s throw from Brick Lane, and of course now mostly government owned. Or is banker-bashing so 2008?

Unless you’re knocking on the door of the local MP, Tower Hamlets isn’t a place to attack, it's a place to nurture, to appreciate. Dwarfed by the ivory towers of Canary Wharf, and where the average income is roughly £12,000 and yet flats on the market priced at half a million are marketed as ‘affordable’, this is one of the most impoverished areas in the country. That such creative industries and unique (occasionally annoyingly so) pop-up places can exist in this part of the East End is testament to the intuitive people who influx to it.

And like it or not, much how two blokes realised they could charge £3.60 for limited-edition cereal, the Foxtons of this world will continue to adapt and flourish in an ever changing market so long as it lets them. That’s simple economics. Therefore the onus is on governments to ensure fair play for all, and this is the institution to attack.

All that the embarrassing actions of Fuck Parade served to do was belittle a serious issue: unsustainable wages and skyrocketing housing costs. There is currently a very real living crisis where generations of lower classes are are being squeezed more than ever and protests causing the suffering of small businesses (that actually financially benefit the locality) are ludicrous. Beige attempts at debate that consciously avoid targeting those who really should be held to account in return ego-fueled column inches.

Fuck Parade just assembled over 200 people to appear out of the blue on a Saturday night. If they were really serious about making a difference for poorer communities, couldn’t they have spent their time volunteering for a local charity? Or how about using those paint bombs to help redecorate some of the region’s most deteriorating buildings? But no, I guess that doesn’t get them on TV.

If this group really are on the frontline of a class war, then they need to do more than incite violence in already suffering neighbourhoods. Taking off the masks and having a proper debate and real ideas would be a start.

Change can happen through revolution but not without clear purpose and a real idea of what you're rebelling against. If only Fuck Parade had spent more time focusing on the basics than their fiery amateur theatrics and ironically angry moniker.