…and now folks, for something a bit closer to home.
On 26th September, a group of protesters with the elegant moniker ‘Fuck Parade’ set up shop outside the Cereal Killer Cafe in Brick Lane, a twenty minute or so walk from our hallowed institution. I don’t know, some of you might have even heard it – from what has been reported, it’s safe to say that it was pretty loud.
Fuck Parade have stated that their protest was in the spirit of anti-gentrification, and that the cereal café was targeted due to having the audacity to sell £5 bowls of cereal ‘while people are starving’. And whilst I’m all for critiquing the fetishisation of poverty that seems to be behind the move to gentrify all that’s London about London, I can’t help but think that in attacking the cereal café, the motives are just all wrong.
The reasons behind the spread of gentrification, I think, are two-fold – a disturbing kind of poverty porn perpetuated by hipsters that don’t seem to realise that renouncing their parents’ fortune and pretending to squat for six weeks isn’t the same as not having a choice, and the fact that the people that have lived in Tower Hamlets for years are being priced out of their homes.
79% children in Tower Hamlets come from low income families, but the average house price is £370,000. Faced with a dichotomy like that. it’s no wonder that many locals feel like they can’t afford the soaring costs of living in London any more. And whilst rising inequality is obviously anger-inducing and a niche small business seems like a visible sign of the income disparity, surely the anger is better being spent on the local government.
To have that level of energy invested in a protest is dynamic and hopeful, but also misguided. Tower Hamlets currently holds the dubious record for having the longest housing waiting list in London, but social housing is being sold off quicker than replacements are being built. Two beardy guys who are, as much as it pains me to admit, bringing business to Brick Lane are not the perpetuators of a systemic and borough-wide issue. The private renting sector is the plague of locusts ruining the prospect of home ownership or comfortable social housing for many local residents – shouldn’t they bear the brunt of the righteous anger?
But now to end on a word about the protesters themselves – you might want to think twice about the legitimacy of your protests. An act that has so harshly divided public opinion isn’t going to help those who truly need it so much as drive a wedge between the authorities and the residents. When the feeling of alienation from public services becomes unmanageable, the inclination towards protest is utterly understandable. The obvious misdirection of the hostility, though, is not.