Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City

Revolting New York cover

Revolting New York will be published early next year.

On my trips to New York City (in 2015 and 2016), I have scoured bookshops looking for a history of protest in the city, assuming that there must be one. After all, there are at least two books about London’s turbulent past. Whilst there is lots of great research about dissent in New York, there has not been an overarching survey–until now. Next year, a book will be published not just about the history of protest in New York, but about the historical geography of protest in the city. Revolting New York: How 400 Years of Riot, Revolt, Uprising, and Revolution Shaped a City began as a project by Neil Smith with some of his post-graduate students at the City University of New York. When he passed away in 2012, Professor Don Mitchell took over the task of editing the collection, and it is finally being published next year. As you can imagine, I’m quite excited about it, whilst also being a bit frustrated that I didn’t get there first!

Last week, Professor Mitchell gave a lecture about the project at Queen Mary, University of London. I went along to find about more about the project. Mitchell used various examples to demonstrate the strength of the relationship between dissent and the material landscape. We tend to view demonstrations, riots, and other expressions of dissent as unusual events, but they are actually very common, particularly in large cities like London and New York. It is actually more uncommon to have a peaceful period.

Mitchell started the lecture with an in-depth look at a decade of bombings in New York, culminating in anarchist Mario Buda’s attack on Wall Street on the 16th of September 1920 (I have written a review of Mike Davis’ excellent book about this bombing’s part in the early history of the car bomb here.) The bombings contributed to the deindustrialization of New York, as the small-scale manufacturing and transport networks that produced and planted the bombs were driven out of the city. Finance, insurance, and real estate came to dominate the city’s economy. In attempting to strike a devastating blow against the bankers of Wall Street, Buda inadvertently helped them tighten their grip on New York.

Mitchell used this narrative, and others, to argue that “landscape is power materialised.” Whilst this is not a new argument, Revolting New York applies it in a new context. Space is produced through social struggle, the result of constant negotiation and conflict between groups with different visions for that space. Protest is just one form that this process takes. As such, protest shapes and reshapes the city you see when you look out the window (apologies to those of you who are not currently in a city!)

The lecture was an introduction to the Revolting New York project, outlining it’s history, structure, and key arguments. It is particularly exciting for me because of its parallels with my own work on London. The book will be affordable too, less than £25 for the paperback, so hopefully it will help bring historical geography to a wider audience. I for one can’t wait to read it!

London’s Protest Stickers: Anarchism

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Stickers of all kinds are ubiquitous on street furniture in London, like this post box in Brick Lane (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 07/06/15).

Along with anti-fascists, anarchists are some of the most prolific stickerers I’ve come across in London. The Anarchist Federation (AFed) are particularly keen on stickers as a method of protest. At its simplest, anarchism is the belief in a society based on voluntary, cooperative institutions. Force, compulsion and government are not required. Anarchists believe that this is the only way to achieve a fair and just society. The Anarchist Federation is a working class organisation that works towards achieving that.

As anarchist communists we fight for a world without leaders, where power is shared equally amongst communities, and people are free to reach their full potential. We do this by supporting working class resistance to exploitation and oppression, organise alongside our neighbours and workmates, host informative events, and produce publications that help make sense of the world around us.

(Anarchist Federation, no date.)

01_20-05-15 Upper Street, Islington (2)

This is the most recognisable style of stickers that AFed make. The colours, logo, and web address remain the same, but the content changes. This photo was taken on 20/05/15 in Upper Street, Islington (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is another variation of  the classic AFed sticker. The group advocates direct action for achieving their goals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 12/01/16).

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This sticker is part of another series that the AFed produce featuring prominent figures in anarchist history. This is Buenaventura Durruti, a Spaniard who was very active in the run up to the Spanish Civil War, as well as the War itself. He was killed by a sniper in November 1936 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

04_12-05-15 Byng Place

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was, and still is, well known for her anarchist writing and speeches. Born in present-day Lithuania, she moved to America when she was 16, and was significant in the development of anarchist philosophy in the US (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Byng Place, 12/05/15).

05_20-05-15 Regent's Canal Towpath Islington-Camden (12)

This is one of the best known quotes attributed to Emma Goldman. I don’t know who made this sticker, but it is a sentiment I have seen in other AFed stickers. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

06_04-06-15 Heygate Road

This sticker is one of my favourites. It is made by Active Distribution, which makes and sells all things anarchic. I come across their stickers quite often (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Heygate Road, 04/06/15).

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AFed have also been known to use references to popular culture in their stickers. This sticker features Finn and Jake, the main characters of an animated TV series called Adventure Time. It is made for children, but has developed a large adult following (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 25/06/15).

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And who doesn’t love a good yoda impression?! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Station, 27/02/15).

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AFed stickers can often be funny. This is a relatively new sticker (I think!), and is particularly pertinent in the context of the Islamaphobia that our society is currently struggling with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/16)

10_05-05-15 Aylsebury Estate (6)

This is another one by Active Distribution; you can just make out the web address in the top right corner. I found this sticker on the Ayslebury Estate during the occupation that took place there last year (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Ayslebury Estate, 05/05/15).

11_19-05-15 Tottenham Court Road (4)

This sticker echoes the sentiments of the Emma Goldman quote above. It looks like someone objected to the message however, as the sticker has been quite badly torn. It reads “never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 19/05/15).

12_17-04-15 Malet Street (4)

My French is rusty, but I know enough to identify this as an anarchist sticker! I think that it roughly translates to “The elections…are you still having fun?  Abstention” Revolution! Self Management!” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

You can see where I found these stickers on the Turbulent London map.

Protest Stickers: Newcastle Upon Tyne

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Like most cities and large towns, the urban infrastructure of Newcastle is littered with stickers of all kinds (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Like most major towns and cities, Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast of England has a healthy tradition of protest. With a population of just under 300,000, it is not one of the largest cities in the UK, but ‘Geordies’ are famous for their good nature and friendliness. As I discovered when I visited in July, this doesn’t mean there isn’t contention and dissent in the city, which is demonstrated by the large number of protest stickers I found.

This was the first protest sticker I found in Newcastle, on Northumberland Street, in the city's main shopping area.

This was the first protest sticker I found in Newcastle, on Northumberland Street, in the city’s main shopping area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Animal rights was one of the most common themes of stickers that I found.

Animal rights was one of the most common themes of stickers that I found (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have seen similar stickers to this one in London. They criticise the British Heart Foundation for using animals in their research.

I have seen similar stickers to this one in London. They criticise the British Heart Foundation for conducting research on animals (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also criticises the British Heart Foundation, but is less visually striking. Stickers are made using various methods and various levels of skill.

This sticker also criticises the British Heart Foundation, but is less visually striking. It references a different webite, so I imagine it was made by somebody different to the previous one. Stickers are made using various methods and various levels of skill (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is also protesting against experimentation on animals, but not specifically in relation to the British Heart Foundation.

This sticker is also protesting against experimentation on animals, but not specifically in relation to the British Heart Foundation (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker also relates generally to animal rights, but focuses on the culling of badgers. It calls for culls to be sabotaged.

This sticker also relates generally to animal rights, but focuses on the culling of badgers. It calls for culls to be sabotaged (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker has been partially removed, but I think that the whole text probably read 'Animal Liberation- Human Liberation.' The raised, clenched fist is a fairly common symbol in protest circles. This sticker plays on that symbolism with the addition of a raised paw.

This sticker has been partially removed, but I think that the whole text probably read ‘Animal Liberation- Human Liberation.’ The raised, clenched fist is a fairly common symbol in protest circles. This sticker plays on that symbolism with the addition of a raised paw (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker has also been partially removed, but two clasped hands can be seen. This is often used as a symbol of solidarity, an important concept in protest movements.

This sticker has also been partially removed, but two clasped hands can be seen. This is often used as a symbol of solidarity, an important concept in protest movements (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The second common theme in Newcastle protest stickers is anti-fascism. Anti-fascist groups seem to produce a lot of protest stickers, and the North-East anti-fascists are no exception.

The second common theme in Newcastle protest stickers is anti-fascism. Anti-fascist groups seem to produce a lot of protest stickers, and the North-East anti-fascists are no exception (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Anti-fascists often campaign on specific issues that they consider related to fascism. This sticker is playing on the name of the English Defence League.

Anti-fascists often campaign on specific issues that they consider related to fascism. This sticker is playing on the name of the English Defence League (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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In this sticker, anti-fascism is connected to class-based activism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker focuses on the homophobic element of fascism.

This sticker focuses on the homophobic element of fascism. Around the circular anti-fascist logo is the words antihomophobe action. The words at the bottom of the sticker used to read ‘Eat Shit Nazi Scum.’ They look as if they were deliberately obscured, perhaps by a member of Newcastle’s far-right groups, or maybe just by someone who took exception to the profanity (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The North-East Anarchists also have a presence in Newcastle's sticker landscape.

The North-East Anarchists also have a presence in Newcastle’s sticker landscape (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In this sticker, the North-East Anarchists are criticising the banks, although I found this sticker a bit confusing- I had to read it a few times to figure out what it was saying.

In this sticker, the North-East Anarchists are criticising the banks, although I found this sticker a bit confusing- I had to read it a few times to figure out what it was saying (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Left-wing politics is far from simple. This sticker condemns Bolshevism

Radical politics is far from simple. This sticker is by a group called Anti-Bolshevik Action, which appears to be advocating communism, but not the communism of Stalin, Trotsky and Mao. There are a myriad of complicated divisions between groups with similar beliefs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Not every group that puts up stickers in Newcastle is left-wing. This sticker from the North East National Front references Enoch Powell, an anti-immigrant politician to made the famous 'rivers of blood' speech in 1968.

Not every group that puts up stickers in Newcastle is left-wing. This sticker from the North East National Front references Enoch Powell, an anti-immigrant politician to made the famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

National Action is a national socialist group that calls itself "Britain's premier Nationalist street movement." THey reject more mainstream nationalist groups like UKIP and have the ultimate aim of a "white Britain."

National Action is a national socialist group that calls itself “Britain’s premier Nationalist street movement.” They reject more mainstream nationalist groups like UKIP and have the ultimate aim of a “white Britain” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As is often the case, stickers in Newcastle reflect a combination of local, national, and international issues. The Trade Unions and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was formed to campaign in the general election in May.

As is often the case, stickers in Newcastle reflect a combination of local, national, and international issues. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was formed to campaign in the general election in May 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This sticker is calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, specifically oranges. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement aims to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue by exerting economic pressure.

This sticker is calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, specifically oranges. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement aims to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue by exerting economic pressure (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In contrast to the previous two, this last sticker has a distinctly local flavour. 'Radge' is Geordie slang for rage or anger. It may be a criticism of the armed forces, because of the use of the RAF logo and font.

In contrast to the previous two, this last sticker has a distinctly local flavour. ‘Radge’ is Geordie slang for rage or anger. It may be a criticism of the armed forces, because of the use of the RAF logo and font. It also might not, but I liked it too much to leave out because I wasn’t sure! (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. ‘Newcastle upon Tyne.’ Wikipedia. Last modified 17th July 2015, accessed 19th July 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcastle_upon_Tyne

Book Review: ‘Dynamite, Treason and Plot: Terrorism in Victorian and Edwardian London’

'Dynamite, Treason and Plot' by Simon Webb.

‘Dynamite, Treason and Plot’ by Simon Webb.

Webb, Simon. Dynamite, Treason and Plot: Terrorism in Victorian and Edwardian London. Stroud: The History Press, 2012.

There is a tendency today to see terrorism as some modern aberration, something that has arisen in recent years and might with luck fade away in time. This is unlikely. Terrorism of different sorts has been a constant backdrop in British history for centuries; it is likely to remain so for centuries to come. The notion that increased vigilance on the part of the public, combined with wise and good laws passed by Parliament, might one day defeat terrorism and usher in a peaceful era, where nobody needs to worry about bombs and assassinations, is a chimera.

Webb, p.151

As far as most people are concerned, Guy Fawke’s plot, the IRA bombings of the 1970s and 7/7 are probably the only examples of terrorism in London. In Dynamite, Treason and Plot: Terrorism in Victorian and Edwardian London, Simon Webb sets out to correct that misconception. From the Clerkenwell Outrage, where 12 people were killed in a Fenian prison break gone wrong; to the Tottenham Outrage (not every event is known as an Outrage, I promise!), a chase that lasted several hours and involved the hijacking of a tram and a milk cart, the stories Webb tells range from the horrific to the downright farcical.

Arguably the biggest strength of Dynamite, Treason and Plot is the emphasis on continuity. Humans have a tendency to believe that everything that happens is new, that the problems faced by modern society are unique to our time. Webb proves the inaccuracy of this belief, demonstrating that not only terrorism, but also immigration and xenophobia, are issues that the people of London have been grappling with for centuries. Irish, Jewish, and more recently Muslim; many minorities have been the subject of fear and discrimination in the city, and terrorism has frequently exacerbated the tensions.

Another of the strengths of Dynamite, Treason and Plot is Webb’s approach to terrorism itself. Webb doesn’t condemn the terrorists he describes outright, but neither does he glorify them. The first chapter of the book is devoted to discussion of the theories and motivations behind terrorism. It is not necessarily the mindless, monstrous violence which it is often portrayed as-there are particular reasons why people choose to resort to terrorism-and Webb takes them into account. Terrorism is an emotive subject, difficult to deal with in a sensitive and balanced way, but I think Webb does a good job of this.

Webb’s writing style can be repetitive; he frequently makes the same point twice in quick succession, and he often says how it was “nothing short of a miracle” that more people weren’t killed or injured in the events he recounts. He makes assertions, making a point without providing any supporting evidence, and often overlooks some of the historical controversies and debates. For example, in the chapter about the Suffragettes, Webb mentions the alleged plot to assassinate David Lloyd George by the Wheeldon family. In Dynamite, Treason and Plot it appears there is no doubt that that is what actually happened, but in To End all Wars by Adam Hochschild the event appears much more complicated. Hochschild suggests that the whole thing may have been a set-up, the plot concocted by the government to harm the opposition to the First World War, of which the Wheeldon family was a part. Whatever the truth, Webb completely ignores the debate, and as such misses out on some of the nuances of the story.

Despite the shortfalls I think Dynamite, Treason and Plot is well worth a read. It is an engaging read that deals with some of London’s darker, overlooked history. Webb puts terrorist into political and social context, rather than treating it as an isolated and inexplicable phenomenon to be instantly condemned.