Set your mind back a while now, do you recall December 2014? Recall a blog post I wrote back then about an independent business that sold rare brands of cereal to those looking for a unique/quirky/hipster-baiting experience? No. Refresh your memory:
Why do I bring them up? Haven’t you heard? They were the target of a protest, not a peaceful picketing either, full on property damage and graffiti on the walls. Why? Their prices are in the region of £2.50 a bowl, quite dear yes ($4 upwards for the Americans in the room) but then again this isn’t a bowl of corn flakes and a mug of tea affair, this is “Hey, remember this weird cereal from your childhood that was nothing but chocolate, marshmallows and delicious tooth decay?!”. Essentially, Cereal Killer Cafe was one of the targets of the Class War Anti-Gentrification protests, ‘anarchists’ seeking a war against those who pursue personal profit over the community and fixing issues such as poverty in the area. The protesters argue that it is their mission to target these niche stores devoted to using their resources to sell overpriced goods to narrow markets, rather than setup businesses that sell affordable products to the masses and play their part in helping the community. A slightly misguided cause, the world of business is not so black and white, not every manager or business owner is a penny-pinching fiend nor is every charity entirely honest and above reproach, but I can appreciate their core drive. We live in an unfair society, I do think more needs to be done to tackle poverty and inequality, there are diseases that need cures, countries that need feeding and natural wonders preserving but this… this is not the way.
Independent businesses suffer to stay afloat, in a society where the coffee is always cheaper elsewhere and products are easily copied and made at lower production costs in another country, the savings are passed onto the consumer and those that know how to do it on the cheap, ethically or not, get ahead. Outsourcing jobs, inferior materials, dealing inventors and designers duff hands, there’s no blow too low for the top dogs of the global market. Scale that down to a small family run affair based on a street corner, you don’t have a vast network to rely on, no contacts or partners or sister-companies, you have your life savings, your best friend who needs a job and a dream. Coffee shops charge us through the nose because they have to compete with Starbucks and Costa. If you are the best-known name in a trade, you can afford to charge less because your customer base is so vast, what does it matter? A 50% off sale is easy for some stores because it will encourage sales but some places just can’t afford to sell their wares for less, every penny counts. Your money, to an independent business, is all the more important, the difference between breadwinning and just dreaming of bread. So of course, they have to charge more, any less is profit-shaving they can’t afford, prices are tailored to be enough, to get them by – when have you ever seen the guy running that little tea garden swan off to Cuba for a fortnight just because? Chances are if they did, they either had good money to start from their social standing or they scrimped and saved like fuck.
Anti-gentrification in and of itself is a loathing of capitalism and what it has done to us as a people, I understand that, I sympathise, but the independent businesses of the world are not the villains, they are like us but they just had the resources to hand to build a business and they went for it, many of us would do the same in their shoes if we could. However, blaming them for their prices is blaming the wrong people? Can’t afford tea and cake at Julie’s Sweet Treats? Blame Starbucks for driving her prices upwards with their loyalty schemes and vast wealth of ingredients. Couldn’t afford new threads from that Etsy dealer? Blame the high street for making the hipster-crowd their target, finding a way to mass produce that ‘vintage retro’ look at the price of a few sweatshop slave wages. Hate stupid trends brainwashing the masses? Don’t take it out on people trying so hard to make their business stand out from the common crap we devour every single day. The people of these crowds claimed to fight for their community and yet they came together as a collective to do what they could to destroy it, to tear apart businesses in their area for excluding them with their prices. Cutting one’s nose off to spite their face is perhaps a release of frustration but you look no better off without your nose you know?
I’m angry myself, I’m angry and upset to hear the word protest become smeared with the mud of violence. Protests should not be violent, protests are standing up and saying this is wrong but being damn decent about it, channeling that anger towards injustice into a creative force for good. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, not common thugs but souls that endured shame, humiliation and hunger to defend what mattered, they could have resorted to firebombs and punching the police but they knew that to be heard, they had to be seen as reasonable. If you use that anger for destruction, people do not respect what you represent, trust me, they merely learn to fear your anger and to hate the person behind it, to demonise them and view them as a mindless beast. I get angry, I blog, I give back to my community by just being a good person ready to help someone in need and by giving my free time to charity. Imagine if this gang of hooded vandals had decided instead of rioting and attacking small businesses, they would clean the streets or feed the homeless or do some mass participation event to raise money for Cancer Research or British Red Cross or Oxfam. Such efforts would speak volumes of the worth of this community, this has just caused us all to see them as thugs.
Look, don’t get me wrong, I understand this rage at the system, the divide between rich and poor is ever expanding and the two ‘most developed’ nations of the West have poverty rates that’d make their charity cases look on with sad eyes, successive governments have taken more and more power away from the common man in favour of the business owner. We are angry at those who have anything because we’re told we live in great nations of wealth but see so little of it, the people at the top however are so wealthy it makes me physically sick. The eighty richest people in the world own the same wealth as the three point five million poorest, that’s not even enough to fill a double decker bus. The riot here, or protest as you might see it depending on your viewpoint, is a symptom of a disease that has afflicted society since the dawn of such and that has only worsened with time. Mark my words, ‘violent protest’ will only get more and more common a phrase in the next few years unless something is done to bridge this poverty gap. You of the middle class upwards might say those in high positions worked hard to get ahead and deserve what they get, you might be right, but do you really think that the world is just a nesting ground for millions of layabouts? Honestly? That there are so few people of worth you could fit their names on two sides of A4? I think not, if nothing else then the ‘lazy sods’ of the lower classes deserve at least the bare minimum – shelter, security, food – then maybe they can ‘get off their backsides and contribute to society’