“The Battle of Stokes Croft”
The eviction of our anti-Tesco occupation was dubbed “The Battle of Stokes Croft” by the local newspaper, The Evening Post Pest. We even made it to the national news!
You can see a full rundown of the press coverage here.
What’s going for it? When the revolution comes, it’ll probably start here. The people of Stokes Croft have already re-enacted the storming of the Bastille, with a newly arrived branch of Tesco Express standing in for the benighted jail in last year’s Battle of Stokes Croft. They live their ideals round these parts. What was a few years ago a scruffy lair of crackheads and clubs has been spirited into Bristol’s Most Bohemian Neighbourhood, magnificently free of chain stores, alive with alternative ways of living, from the Classic’s free shop (like an un-Multi-Coloured Swap Shop) to splendid gallery activists the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft, who seem to want to go the whole Passport To Pimlico hog. Thing is, this isn’t anti-capitalism old-style, with hair shirt and poor personal hygiene, but with sassy glamour. The streets are painted in vast, colourful murals. The local cinema, the Cube, might be a not-for-profit “microplex” collective circa 1975, but its seats are plush and it sells delicious homemade cola. And there’s a pretty flower shop. (Flowers of Stokes Croft, we salute you! A revolution must have flowers.)
OH MY FUCK.
>When the revolution comes, it’ll probably start here.
>When the revolution comes, it’ll probably start here.
>When the revolution comes, it’ll probably start here.
Guardian you ever go down in my estimation.
As if the irony was lost on us. Economic crisis, fuelled by subprime lending in the housing market, so lets write a series of articles titled “let’s move to …”
Feature a region and laud it as being “anti-capitalist” in a new mode. You know, that new mode in which the best thing to do as an anti-capitalist is to go buy a house?* As if it wasn’t fucking moronic enough with shit like the PRSC going on ego trips they’re now the prime advert for disenfranchised yuppies to participate in consumerist anti-capitalism. ”Purchase this lovely three bedroom flat in the centre of town! Housing prices are on the up because all you wankers have far too much money to spend but it’s oooookay! Now you guys are all here the working class people of colour who grew up on these streets can’t afford the rent; so you won’t have to pass them on the streets! The revolution starts in the workers co-op run restaurants guys so make sure you get your vegan nut roast while it’s hot! Buy your way into this bohemian anti-capitalist utopia! Obviously the revolution will have nothing to do with organising towards workplace resistance: you can now buy this former squat decorated on the outside with authentic graffiti! There was a riot when the place was kicked out and now you can buy your way into this TOTALLY AWESOME COMMUNITY OF RESISTANCE!”
Fuck OFF Guardian.
Go fuck yourself with your disrespectful sensationalist bullshit.
*I’m not saying that not buying a house is a spectacularly anti-capitalist thing to do either it’s just fucking surreal. ”Look the housing market fucked over the western economy so lets go buy specifically geographically located houses so that we can hang around people similarly annoyed about it.”
[A picture of The Mask carrying a Sony box with a speech bubble saying “Somebody stop me!” with the text by the side reading “Rob a shop, go to jail … rob a nation get a bonus.” Graffiti in:]
Stokescroft, Bristol, UK – big love No Comment & Cee Cee
Favourite mural. Stokes Croft Bristol.
“Looks like Tesco on Cheltenham Road have had to call in the Specialists after their own security and the police have failed to protect the shop!”
This Tesco was the centre of a riot back in late April where it got smashed up and looted, there was a second riot outside there a week later while it was still boarded up. Now in this latest spat of riots it got the windows smashed in again. Last I saw it had a very sorry sign outside it to try and intrigue people in:
(Photo not mine)
The Tesco is located in a region called Stokes Croft which is a focal point for a lot of independent stores, community initiatives, political groups and so on. The Tesco represents an aspect of the gentrification of the area, as middle class bohemian types increasingly call it home increasing housing prices and so on. Along with the eviction of a squat opposite to coincide, Stokes Croft is a microcosm for the silent, passively waged conflict that exists within society. But as with all passive conflicts, there have been times when it’s erupted into aggression.
And for some reason this amazes pundits every time.
I will miss this wonderful place
I agree with you I was just surprised noone had reported anything! I’m interested to see how it’s covered considering now the issues you said
Listening in on my housemate watching the BBC news coverage, the anchor went with the old gem “and of course outside groups could’ve come in and hijacked the protest …”
This line is a particular favourite of mine. It gets thrown around so much.
During the student demonstrations, especially Millbank, the accusation was thrown out that “violence” was instigated by anarchist groups that had come in to subvert the protest. Which firstly presumes that students can’t be anarchist and anarchists can’t be students, and secondly it functions as a hook to say “ok, so the actual protest may have validity and freedom of speech is important, but now we’re going to isolate and demonise the people who use direct action. They’re not part of the protest movement, so lets ignore the purpose of the protest to talk about that for a week.”
A similar thing happened in Stokes Croft (which is a very small area right next to Bristol’s city centre) where people complained about people present at the riots as not being people who live in Stokes Croft and not really knowing what the community is like, blah blah blah. While a hell of a lot of people have to go through Stokes Croft to get to the centre, it’s in the middle of a bubbling variety of communities and acts as a focal hub for much of the broader area.
But again the tactic by the press is to isolate and demonise. The danger of this tactic is that this makes it easier for the government and police to “legitimise” stronger tactics, stricter laws, to defend against this specific “threat” (whereas in reality riots are an conflation of general will. A few angry people can’t spontaneously start a riot within a peaceful protest without there being a firmer basis for it) however these tactics are invariably used to broaden the oppression, it becomes easier to attack and delegitimise peaceful protests and protests on other matters. This style of media reporting plays into the encroachment of clamping down on civil rights across the spectrum (sort of like how when the US increased their budget for counter-terrorism, a significant portion of that was spent on riot control gear).
A ride home (by MichaelOwenTaylor)
“Early on – 2nd round of disturbance on Stokes Croft.”
Remind anyone else of Bottom?
‘Realising what they have done, they attempt to dispose of the body: hiding it under the carpet; trying to eat it; and trying to stick it on top of a passing bus (writing in his log that he was pursuing his hobby of “bus surfing”)’
On Thursday 22nd April, a riot broke out 2 minutes from where I live in Stoke’s Croft, Bristol, after the attempted eviction of a squat on Cheltenham Road. There were helicopters and riot police and it culminated in both police and civilians being injured and a newly-opened Tesco branch (which was the focus of a diverse campaign of resistance by locals) being attacked; the unrest carried on into the early hours of the morning. I’ve been following the aftermath very closely, especially on Twitter, and contributing where I could; partly due to ideological reasons, but mostly because it’s all happening in my back yard and I see its impact on the community every time I set foot outside my front door. You can read what I believe to be the most unbiased report of the incident here.
Many reasons have been offered as to why it happened, and what chain of events led to what was dubbed ‘The Battle of Bristol’ by The Independent the next day. It’s led to a flurry of activity in the blogosphere, with almost everyone tweeting on #stokescroft linking back to posts elucidating their take on the issue. This particular post was one of my favourites, although I do wish the author would reconsider shopping at Tesco. The Guardian website also offered an astute analysis of the cultural and social landscape of Stoke’s Croft, and the reasons why the residents have taken on the behemoth that is the third largest retailer in the world.
The video is well worth watching; it was made by a resident of Stoke’s Croft and shows what people local to the area believe led to the largest riot Bristol has seen since 1980.
From what I gather that Tesco opened back up again today. I’ll be catching a bus past tomorrow and having a look to see. Not sure what will happen if that’s the case, I expect some mates will be back outside there protesting but there again they may be too busy with exams. I don’t expect this is the end of it though.
These are not my words. They are the writings of a good friend of mine, Lee Salter. But they offer good insight into the contradiction of Tesco providing jobs, cheap food and people shopping there because of it’s “brilliant service”. The same very much applies to most large supermarket corporations:
Well I wrote this for a comment XXX’s wall (in response to something someone else wrote), but I might as well share it. Basically it’s an answer to the “let people choose whether to go to the supermarket or not”. Steal at will.
I think the point you’re missing is that supermarkets don’t really give people genuine choices. In the first instance, should they be faced with an uncooperative planning department, they bully, harass and (unofficially) bribe to get planning permission to build pretty much what they want, where they want. In this sense, one might suggest that protesters look to change planning law, but the chances of any government turning round to say “okay, we’ll change planning law to suit people at the expense of business” are rather minute. Additionally, local authorities are under such financial pressure, that they are loathe to say no, lest they lose out on the income generated through business rates.
Second is the mode of operation of most supermarkets – they tend to buy much of their produce from countries where there are large landholdings (often owned by big transnational corporations). Those large landholders will pressure their workers and tenants to produce for the supermarkets (whether Tesco or Sainsbury’s, Asda/Walmart or whoever else) for very low prices because it is more profitable for the landowner (rather than those working there, who generally have no choice) to export to supermarkets in bulk than to produce for local markets.
It’s not just in poor countries where this downward pressure on prices (and therefore wages) occurs (though the use of armed thugs and militia to prevent workers from organising for better wages – yes, they just kill anyone who tries to improve conditions is rather worse). It happens here too – just ask a small chicken farmer or milk farmer if you can find one – the suppliers TELL them what they’ll charge!
Finally, there are the customers. Faced with a simple economic choice, of course most people will “choose” Tescos. But this is not because of the quality of Tescos food or the “experience” of shopping there. It’s because it is cheap. Why does this appeal? Because most people are in a contradictory situation. We DO live in a wasteful, throwaway society. We are encouraged into that attitude every day in every way. At the same time, though, wages do not tend to keep up with REAL prices – so although we have to consume (lest we damage growth rates), but we can’t afford it so we borrow (ever heard of the credit crunch?!!) and/or companies work at keeping prices down (and therefore also wages down, creating a further contradiction) to enable people to continue throwing away and over-consuming. So, for example, the middle classes over-purchase rather often. This means, in order to keep up consumption patterns, we have to “over-purchase” relatively cheaply. Local shops aren’t able to offer cheaper foods because of their lack of control over the supply chain and because of economies of scale. If we take working class and poorer people who don’t necessarily over-consume, well, they just go for what is cheapest and easiest, which brings us back full circle to planning law.
I don’t blame anyone for going to Tescos – indeed, I’m not adverse to shopping in supermarkets. I’d prefer not to, but to suggest it is simply a choice is rather an oversimplification!
A lot is starting to float out in the media about the riot in Stokes Croft on Thursday. Frankly a lot of it is nonsense in so far as I’m concerned. I have friends that live in the area and when I heard a riot had broken out I travelled down to observe what was going on and because I have friends that live in the immediate area. I could write an account of what I saw, but I’ve already spoken to the New Statesman and the main parts have already been included in the article, so it’s simpler for me to direct you to that for a recounting of events.
For my contribution to the article one person in the comments has characterised me as “spent all night smashing up the area because he was either drunk/on ketamine/both” (I was completely sober, though quite tired, and didn’t so much as pick up a bottle to throw) and someone else said that because I’m a student I “don’t even live in the local area for much of the year.” (I grew up just outside of Bristol, I currently live in Bristol and because my parents home is so close I don’t go home on university breaks. Stokes Croft is a favourite area of mine to go to when going to the centre). So you can see already people are much more ready to leap to judgements and conclusions about an article themselves, and guilty of exactly the same sort of things they accuse the author of.
There are, however, two main assertions floating about that I think really need rebuking and confronting. The first is that the police went into the squat to deal with a petrol bomb situation. The second is that this was a riot over Tesco/squat eviction/other started and carried out by anarchists/hippies/other.
So why am I so openly willing to declare without a shadow of a doubt that I have no faith in this claim of petrol bombs being involved in the situation?
A lot of the entire concept of this story really just doesn’t add up. From the police website statement on the issue:
And a subsequent statement to BBC News on the matter:
So the police themselves don’t seem able to decide whether or not they’ve found petrol bombs, found what look like petrol bombs or need to do forensic tests to prove whether or not they are, indeed petrol bombs.
Well, what exactly constitutes a petrol bomb, also known as a molotov cocktail, in the first place? An empty bottle, some rags and some petrol or some other flammable liquid such as white spirits. The majority of houses will have these constituent objects. The squat was occupied by artists, so if they had turpentine or white spirits or anything similar in their houses for cleaning brushes or thinning paints does that then legitimately make them into violent criminals just waiting to smash corporations? Next time you’re seen walking into your house with a crate of beer do you want the police knocking on your door asking if you’ll be using the bottles to make petrol bombs?
Other things that don’t add up about this whole assertion:
I have friends that live next door to the squat and know the squatters. This idea flabbergasted them as the squatters, at least to my friends, did not come across as the type of people who would do this. Any time they’d been into the squat they hadn’t seen petrol bombs laying around waiting to be thrown.
The squat has been longstanding but at the moment the council want them out so that the council can impose it’s own image of how the Stokes Croft area should function. They’d been issued with a notice of eviction for Wednesday and on Tuesday organised a party to make sure lots of people were there to be able to resist bailiffs. The eviction never came, yet on Thursday 160 police in riot gear descend saying the squatters have petrol bombs, forcing their way in and overturning things as they go. You can read the squatters statement here, and an anti-Tesco protester also did an interview with BBC Radio 5 to voice their own bemusement with the situation, saying “I was chatting to the security people and I discovered that two of the firms were employed by Tesco … another third company were Geordie boys and they were very tough. They said that they weren’t at liberty to disclose – it was a London firm that employed them- but as you got chatting they said that they were specialists in evicting squats along the Thames.
… And the chap that had been describing the local people in such a derogatory way said “They’ve got petrol bombs in there” and I said, “I don’t think so!” –‘cause I’d been there over the four days and there were about four people in the building itself, and I hadn’t seen any evidence of any of that” and they reported it to the police who immediately responded with a huge over-the-top reaction.” – the linked blog has a complete transcript of the statement, a youtube clip with the whole radio interview on it and a little more information either side. But the inference from all this is
1. Bristol Council want the squat out.
2. Bailiffs don’t go and do it themselves.
3. Working as security at the disputed Tesco are security who specialise in getting squats out. (A Tesco that locals didn’t want there but the council did. Which seems to suggest towards an institutionalised corruption, supported by this news article, whereby due to the government no longer providing money for projects councils are no encouraged to take bribes from big business.)
4. A call is made to police claiming the squat has petrol bombs they plan to use against Tesco.
There are other, nitty gritty bits of information about the whole situation that don’t add up. If there was such a prevalent bomb threat from the squat, why is it they were released and able to get back into the squat within 4 hours of the initial events starting? Police forgot to lock the doors and they weren’t meant to return, but in my experience of Avon and Somerset police from friends arrested on peaceful demonstrations, 4 hours is a very fast turn around.
Also the press statement went up very quickly, making very definite claims about what happened and who caused what. Again, Avon and Somerset constabulary have taken days before making statements regarding public order situations – this one came out barely after the fires had died down. This seems to tie in to the idea that they had already planned what was going to be said.
Yet on Friday Channel 4 news and the Telegraph were asserting that the Tesco had been petrol bombed. It was not! This is a press misrepresentation of a story which, given all the evidence, I very much believe to be a fabrication in the first place.
The second assertion, if you hadn’t gotten bored and drifted off by this point already, is that this was a riot against Tesco, or in support of the squat and it was perpetrated by anti-Tesco/pro-squat hippies/anarchists/take your pick. That the riot is illegitimate because it was just a bunch of middle class bohemians with daddy issues. Now I’m not going to get into an argument over whether or not the riot was legitimate, whether or not the the violence was justified for this cause or the other. Frankly I’m not concerned about that in the specifics, what concerns me is the very flippant way a very broad group of people are being pigeon-holed and having their intentions attributed to them.
At the time of writing this it’s a Sunday on a 4 day, Easter, bank holiday weekend. Friday was a bank holiday with no work, so Thursday was a night out on town for many people. Stokes Croft has plenty of pubs on it, it’s a busy road in to town and many will start off with pre-drinks on Gloucester Road and make their way to the centre through Stokes Croft.
The police raid happened at 9 in the evening on this busy street. There are reports from eye witness accounts that many people began to observe the squat eviction with interest (and who wouldn’t when there are hundreds of riot police blocking off much of a road). The police response was overly aggressive towards by standers including shunting with shields to force them back.
Stokes Croft is an area that has a very singular character and a largely autonomist culture. It’s also situated next door to St Paul’s and Montpelier, regions with a lot of youths and a lot of dissociation from mainstream authority. I saw a lot of young people there who were spoiling for a fight with authority, they weren’t concerned about what else was going on. They were enjoying the theatre of the situation.
At no point is it ever a wise idea to sit over a hundred police in riot gear, blocking off a main road to the centre, shunting drunk people around in an area that already wouldn’t be the greatest of fans of a large police presence. Yes, the starting was in essence a squat eviction and yes, Tesco did get thoroughly smashed up. But to infer that those were some focus of a pre-planned activism is wrong. It was an organic process of the public being riled up the council, by corporatism, by police. It was an expression of dissociation from government and authority. It wasn’t a riot about this, that or the other it simple was a riot.
And notice what I said before about the “theatre of the situation” – nobody will expect Tesco to turn tail and run because of this. Nobody expects the squat to no longer risk eviction because of this. When it comes to the TUC march on March 26th nobody thinks the government will suddenly say “whoops, you don’t want these cuts? Sorry, I’ll undo them.”
That’s not how it works. Protests and demonstrations are public statements of unrest. Riots even more so. They’re almost a drama piece, or an art project, spontaneously created to make a statement. They’re organic congregations of people with various purposes, intentions and problems that for a few brief hours have decided they’re going to be doing the same thing about it. Because they’re angry, they’re frustrated and because the state and corporations are ignoring everything else they’ve had to say in the past. It’s not about saying “oh but rioting over just one Tesco when bigger things are happening else where!” but ultimately what you’re doing is ignoring the bigger things that have happened to the participants in the riot that have led to such an intense show of much broader anger.
“Let riot be the rhyme of the unheard.”
Edit: Maybe a good article to read for a bit of background and a recount of events. Eye-witness accounts are floating here there and everywhere so if you search about they’re sure to be found.