When the Olympics were awarded to London, the city saw it as an opportunity to transform the East End –long synonymous with poverty, poor health, slums filled with immigrants and industrial smells. The games were successful and so was the effort to transform the area. The new businesses and residents, however, have met resistance from anarchist protestors in a fight over the gentrification and arrival of hipsters and trendy types heading for London’s East End, much like Brooklyn has been transformed in recent years.
Historically the wrong-side-of-the-tracks, the East End drew hundreds of protesters in what both sides have referred to as a “class war.” No one was seriously hurt in the demonstrations on Saturday, which were organized on social media, but some area businesses were vandalized in the chaos that ensued. Another protest is planned for next weekend.
The protests’ organizers, who call themselves Class War, explained their motivation on Facebook, “Our communities are being ripped apart ….We don’t want luxury flats that no one can afford, we want genuinely affordable housing. We don’t want pop-up gin bars or brioche buns – we want community.” They added, “’Working class people are being forced out of our homes but we won’t go out without a fight.”
Some 49% of the children in the borough live below the poverty line. Property developers and private landlords are developing the area, which started with the Olympics redevelopment, and out the area’s traditional residents. (Approximately 49 percent of children in the area are in homes that exist below the poverty line.)
The poverty and reliance on food banks to feed those children was probably a catalyst for the damage done to one area business – the Cereal Killer Café, which sells 120 types of cereal from around the world for about $5 a bowl. The protestors threw paint on the windows and building, inflicted other damage, and spread cereal around the area.
The Cereal Killer Café received considerable criticism when it opened late last year from people who saw the East End shop as a symbol of the neighborhood’s gentrification. The owners defended their right at the time to open the business.
While more businesses were damaged, “it was just us that was targeted—it wasn’t as if they were walking past and just happened to stumble upon us. They were deliberately coming here, throwing cereal and shouting ‘gentrification’, ‘anarchy,’” according to Gary Keery, one of the café’s owners who are twin brothers. “We’ve had some letters through the letterbox saying ‘die hipsters’ and stuff but nothing to this extreme. It just doesn’t make sense.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson condemned the protesters and the violence on social media. He tweeted, “Small businesses like @CerealKillerUK are lifeblood of London’s thriving economy – any violent protest is unacceptable.”
The skyrocketing rents and gentrification of the East End of London may have led the self-named anarchists to fight the hipsters. But, an underlying thread in the area that will be the focus of the protest next Sunday, on Oct. 4. The area’s sordid history includes the crimes of serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Clearly, that was the origin of and pun intended by the Keery brothers’ café’s name.
week’s protest target is a newly opened museum in the neighborhood that tells the macabre story of Jack the Ripper, London’s most notorious serial killer. The protest organizers object to capitalizing on the gruesome murders of women (generally prostitutes) in the area in the late 1800s, which they consider to be one of the darkest chapters in East End history.
The museum’s founder, Mark Palmer-Edgcumbe, who at one point was reportedly head of diversity at Google, originally planned to open a museum about the social history of women. However, as the project developed, he settled on an angle from the perspective of the victims of the Ripper. The protestors object, feeling that it glorifies sexual violence.
The museum, cereal café and new development reflect the change that the government sought when it began tearing down buildings to build Olympic facilities. Now, London’s East End is attracting a different clientele and business money, which will undoubtedly result in more clashes between the “Anarchists” and hipsters as the fight over the changing area.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
New York Times: London Cafe’s Cereal, at $5 a Bowl, Sets Off Wrath
NY Daily News: Anarchist group vandalizes Cereal Killer Cafe during London protest against gentrification
Daily Beast: London’s New War: Hipsters Vs. Anarchists, With Breakfast Cereal as a Weapon
Daily Mail: Hipster-hating gang who attacked trendy east London cafe plan new protest…. against the Jack the Ripper Museum
Cereal Killer Café
CNN: Why gritty East End is London’s gold standard
Photo of damage courtesy Cereal Killer Café
Poster promoting protest courtesy of Class War’s social media site