I wasn't at the recent Fuck Parade in Shoreditch during which an altercation has been reported at a local café but I followed the news with great interest. The news media doesn't sit independently within our economic, social and political system. The news is framed for us by priorities we don't often get to see and by the frames used to tell a story.
When a story breaks it can fall by the wayside quickly if something else knocks it down the running order. People like to see, read or hear stories about real people so a café getting 'vandalised' whilst people munch on posh Frosties is an attractive story. A café that has already featured in the news really helps because there is a continuing story to remind people of. The café owners can be presented as victims and the protesters as a mob or thugs. It's all neat and tidy but in showing the anger on the streets, the focus has changed a little and with it so should the way in which gentrification stories are framed.
For a long time now such stories have been told through the frame of the people doing the gentrifying. The narrative of areas being 'dragged up' by the wealthy has been dominant. One news outlet described the Cereal Killer Café as "enriching" Whitechapel. It went on to say that 20 years ago it wasn't safe to walk around that area alone. The message is clear: by being enriched we also become safer. Rich areas are good and poor areas are bad in this narrative. This idea is also used as a selling point by some businesses. The Brick Lane Coffee Company patronisingly boasts on its website that it has "three shops scattered about the lowbrow areas (where all the action is) of the big smoke." Enrich and feel edgy at the same time.
With all that muesli on the floor last week the media for once allowed us a peek at the story of gentrification through the eyes of the dispossessed. We saw the anger and rage that accompanies enrichment. The story was shocking for many people because of the target. The protesters have been dismissed as 'mindless thugs', bullying a small business but that misses the point.
We're talking about people who are no longer able to shop, eat, drink or socialise where they and their families have for generations. They see no enrichment in being priced out of their homes, their cafes, their pubs. The story of gentrification had thus far failed to focus on the harm it produces and the pain it causes. It had failed to note the anger that many people feel. As a society we can't stay ignorant on this. We can't simply focus on the new shops, restaurants, luxury apartments and money flowing into "lowbrow" areas. We need to look also at the people facing the negative impact of gentrification and the plight they face.
A Class War supporter and former east end resident told me "the truth is that we are not welcome in the new shops. They sneer at you the moment you walk through the door. Everything is changing so fast, and we are not welcome in our own homes. But we're not supposed to fight back because it's not polite, it's not civilised. They've got us all stitched up."
Class War's continuing protest against the Jack the Ripper Museum started because of the glorification of violence against women inherent in such a project. However, it is also about gentrification. The Museum is owned by a millionaire wanting to make a killing in an area where people are proud of their working class and radical history. A museum about the women of the area would have been welcomed.
Instead we have a gimmick that will feed off horror. My Class War contact was keen to describe the process of gentrification from their perspective and how the museum fits into their story. "I'm a disabled woman working as a sex worker for many years, until recently. [The museum sits in] "an area that sex workers have been brutally cleansed from, some being imprisoned by the use of ASBOs. It's insult to injury. First the gentrifiers clear us out, then they gloat over our 'sexy' murders. They're sexy and not tragic because we're seen as bodies to be carved up for titillation and not as people". When I asked what they thought of the man who has set up the museum they replied with one word, "pondscum".
The café and the museum are both very different businesses but they are both examples of gentrification, a process that is now being fought. Gentrification is not simply about gimmicky shops and cafes. It's about anger at being excluded on grounds of wealth. It's about the people being forced to move and the ones valiantly trying to stay put despite the pressure to leave. It's about the inclusive social and communal spaces that have gone, not the exclusive ones that have sprung up. Gentrification has an impact and that impact has not yet been fully felt because the fightback has barely begun.Suggest a correction