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United Kingdom: Time for #RiotCleanup in London?

Hackney riot aftermath

Hackney riot aftermath, by StolenGolem (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After extensive looting and rioting across London and other cities in the United Kingdom since Saturday night, ordinary citizens are now looking for ways to help their cities heal.

On Tuesday morning the hashtags #prayforlondon and #riotcleanup have overtaken #londonriots on Twitter, showing the conciliatory mood of all those eager to move on.

The #prayforlondon hashtag is a nod to the #prayforjapan hashtag that became hugely popular after the March earthquake in Japan. World citizens (including teenage superstar Justin Bieber who has 11.6 million followers on Twitter) are using it to show solidarity with citizens of London.

Inspired by other recent crises, there is now also a London Riots page on Crisis Commons, a wiki website mapping technology use in disasters.

Helping hands

The #riotcleanup hashtag has information about meeting places for Londoners who want to help local businesses with the cleanup effort.

Riot clean-up team in Peckham. Photo © Emma Jane Richards (used with permission)

Riot clean-up team in Peckham. Photo © Emma Jane Richards (used with permission)

Dan Thompson (@artistmakers), an arts magazine editor and promoter of putting empty stores to creative use, initiated the effort, and it has since taken on a life of its own.

@artistsmakers: #riotcleanup is not political; it's just twitter people being nice. It needs to happen tomorrow as a symbol that London won't stand for riot

Referring to the website Riotcleanup.co.uk (currently offline) and Twitter account @riotcleanup, Thompson says:

@artistmakers: Thanks to everyone who helped me get the #riotcleanup sorted out – have no idea who's set up the website and twitter account, that's not me

There is a public Google spreadsheet that has some of the meeting times listed.

@artistmaker: Hearing from Camden, Lewisham, Hackney that clear up is well underway; we have volunteers ready to help any business that needs #riotcleanup

Thompson's feed also shows evidence of ample press interest with notifications of televisions camera crews meeting volunteers at different locations.

On Facebook, people are also actively seeking ways to help on the pages Post riot clean-up: let's help London , Reclaim London, and the smaller, Riot Cleanup.

Labour party MP Richard Burden from Northfield, Birmingham, heard about a local cleanup on Twitter. Using AudioBoo, GetGood recorded his statement to the crowd.

Richard Burden welcomes #riotscleanup (mp3)

Shell-shocked and looking for reasons

Journalist and award-winning blogger Penny Red (@pennyred) wrote a post late on Monday night describing how she felt as she watched London burning on television from her living room. It's being shared and linked widely, and already had over 150 comments on Tuesday morning.

These are the final paragraphs:

Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.

Noone expected this. The so-called leaders who have taken three solid days to return from their foreign holidays to a country in flames did not anticipate this. The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that after thirty years of soaring inequality, in the middle of a recession, they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning, and it will continue to burn until we stop the blanket condemnations and blind conjecture and try to understand just what has brought viral civil unrest to Britain. Let me give you a hint: it ain’t Twitter.

I’m stuck in the house, now, with rioting going on just down the road in Chalk Farm. Ealing and Clapham and Dalston are being trashed. Journalists are being mugged and beaten in the streets, and the riot cops are in retreat where they have appeared at all. Police stations are being set alight all over the country. This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.

Sylwia Presley (@PresleySylwia) contributed to the writing of this post.

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