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We need a Critical Mass to combat these hooligans

There are so many reasons for these riots, but only if the general population takes direct action against them can we reclaim the streets

A lot of people of my generation are not really interested in the news, even in the extraordinary times in which we live. Abstract concepts such as sovereign debt and the wrongs of billion Euro bailouts (with or out without haircuts) result very quickly in eyes glazing over. Yet the images of burning cars in London and elsewhere are keeping everyone glued to their TV screens. No one has explanations, and the plethora of experts they've called on to the TV has hardly helped. Commentators seek either to explain away this phenomenon through poverty and financial cuts, or they blame the feral youth that has come from too much nanny state. Rights without responsibility is a catchphrase bleated out by every other sheep who, like the population at large, has no other explanation. Just which rights and which responsibilities they're talking about is unclear. Do they mean freedom of speech, where newspapers are able to hack into peopleís phones and listen to their conversations, all in the name of providing information? Or maybe they mean the kind of responsibility taken by members of parliament, who routinely lie to get into office, elect themselves pay rises while submitting bogus expenses and are on holiday when the streets are burning?

No, that's not taking responsibility. Blaming the other party for cuts or explaining peculiar British circumstances while calling for solutions through tough action (by someone else) isnít either. We have seen across Europe and the Middle East that people are ready to take responsibility. Millions are dissatisfied, but only in England do they take to burning police cars because of this. Not that you'd know if you watch the BBC or other mainstream news organisations - they're too interested in the views of the IMF (an organisation which has a very poor track record) while they ignore the genuine concerns that swathes of the population have about finding employment and being able to live in a decent way.

I do not, however, wish to draw parallels between this wanton vandalism and the social movements of the south. This morning I saw a film of people in baseball caps beating up a young tourist, then helping him to his feet while going into his bag to steal some piece of electronic equipment. Shops have been looted and everyday consumables such as training shoes and ipads have been taken. This may have started as some sort of reaction to a police shooting, but these people are merely violent opportunists. The sort of hooligans that we all thought had gone away with all-seater football stadia and the housing boom. They didnít just magically vanish of course, and with the wealth gap larger than it ever has been a large underclass exists in British society which has been ignored Ė until now.

The Police, meanwhile, are useless. For far too long they have become influenced by the overclass (if there's British underclass then the politicians, journalists, corporate businessmen and bankers surely form our overclass). The British Bobby was supposed to be more than just a aristocrat's skivvy, but the corruption we've seen during the phone-hacking scandal looks to be rife. Innocent young black men are stopped and searched as a matter of routine, although even this is constitutionally questionable. If resentment exists against the Police there is obviously some justification for it, but as a unit to restore order to the street they look incapable. Are there no more tactics then lines of shields and maybe a baton charge? The kettling of protestors in London might work for nice middle-class people who don't carry Molotov Cocktails, but for dealing with burning barricades it simply doesn't work.

Amidst all of this, people are listening to what they hear on TV and repeating it. I've heard so many times today people calling for the army to be brought in to take control. This is surely a no-brainer. For a start, troops are either abroad on a tour of duty or only in the UK as one of the short breaks they get from the most dreadfully intense experience of their lives. Soldiers are trained for war, and are hardened by experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, of which this is not even close. Meanwhile, what more could the army bring? Ammunition? Tanks? Imagine a looter being shot in the back for stealing a pair of trainers. This is the kind of action which may pass off in Iraq (blaming the insurgents), but an incident such as this on the streets of London would only fan the flames, if you pardon the expression.

Watching scenes of fire and destruction on our television sets or hiding under sofas hoping they wonít break your window looks like any number of dreadful zombie movies. This, however, is real life. In this world we have the power to influence events ourselves. What we have seen in Spain and Greece, not to mention Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria is that a critical mass of people can make a difference. If we want to stop these riots then we have to take responsibility. We have to reclaim the street for the general populace. Instead of hiding, we must join together and walk towards them. Just imagine 10,000 people walking slowly and silently towards these thugs. Their answer to the police and the army would be to throw things, but for me there is no more impressive, or scary, sight in the world than a critical mass of people standing up and taking action peacefully. India was won through thousands walking to the sea and living in a normal way, against unjust laws, and this (much smaller) battle can be won in a similar way. We cannot let an entire population be cowed into hiding behind the sofa and hoping someone else will do something about it. Only we, the people, can solve this mess, and in the process reclaim the streets for ourselves not just from the hooligans but from the corporations too.

So this is my solution. We have communication methods for spreading the word, and we have a critical mass of people who are deeply shocked. Take the responsibility for this and douse the flames through smothering the few with the masses. Let's all agree to meet in our High Street this evening and show these thugs that we, the average working person, will not tolerate such destruction to our cities.

Either that or pray for a few very stormy nights. Even hooligans don't like the rain.

Adam Mathews, 9 August 2011

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