“Is this the land of do-as-you-please? No this is only the land of take-what-you-want. Anarchy means ‘without leaders’ not ‘without order’… This is not anarchy, Eve. This is chaos” Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta
This week, we’ve seen anarchy on the streets of London. The amazing thing I’ve come to realise about anarchy though is that it’s actually a neutral platform.
Anarchy, says Wikipedia, may be ‘a complete lack of authority or political organization,’ but it can also mean ‘a social state characterized by a lack of a state, ruler, or libertarianism’. So while the lawlessness of people smashing shop windows to steal trainers or burn furniture shops down was anarchic, so equally was the mob who, without any leaders or instructions, gathered brooms and dustpans and brushes and took to the streets to clean up on Tuesday.
They hadn’t signed up to a manifesto or an agreed set of rules or beliefs. Nobody was in charge of them, or told them what to do. They were hundreds of individuals who, without leadership or state intervention, took to the streets and worked out a new way of doing things.
Twitter, of course, was similarly neutral. On Monday night, the message in the media (which always needs a clear, simple idea) was that Twitter was a Bad Thing. That it had somehow caused the riots and looting. By Tuesday teatime, Twitter was a Good Thing, bringing back the Blitz spirit. It was neither, of course. It was just a channel.
And actually, while hundreds of thousands of people gathered around a diverse set of Twitter accounts relating to the Riot Clean Up, that’s not why people were on the streets. It helped, but so did word of mouth, and seeing your neighbour walk down the street with a broom, and so did hearing somebody on the radio, and so did watching people sweeping the streets on television. The anarchic spirit of the riot clean up spread quickly across all of those neutral channels as well. I feel amazed and confused by this last week. I had an idea on Monday night, that we should clean up and help get London working again. Sophie Collard had the same idea, and a hashtag, #riotcleanup. We put the two together and from there the idea spread. Lots of similar little ideas became a bigger thought.
Hundreds of people had their own idea of what that hashtag meant to them. I’m sure that what’s becoming known as the Broom Army included people of every age, race and religion. Every one of us, whether we took to the streets or used our laptops to gather resources and spread the idea, know that there are bigger issues for society to address.
And I’m sure none of us will stop working, in a million little ways, until we’ve worked out what those problems are, how to fix them, and have achieved that fix.
I will carry on, as I have since I was 13, using the arts to bring people together. I’m from Sussex, the county of the useful man. I’ll be running Revolutionary Arts, sorting out the Empty Shops Network, editingartistsandmakers.com and creating the Made In Worthing festival.
So that’s where I’ll be this weekend, with #riotcleanup behind me; back home in Worthing, with my family, watching people try to fly off the pier at the Worthing Birdman. Who knows, one of them might face the end of the ramp, run, and find the wind lifts them and they soar. Sometimes that happens. And if it does, I know that tens of thousands of people watching, who love watching someone crash hopelessly into the ocean, will be inspired.
Dan Thompson, one of the Riot Clean Up mob
5am, Friday 12th August (originally posted on artistsandmakers.com)