Economy/Economic Policy

'Rotis Not Riots' Offers England Food for Thought

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An online discussion group "Rotis not Riots" has started to look at the causes of last week's riots in England. That offers a bit of relief from the authoritarian backlash coming from the country's privileged-male power structure.

(WOMENSENEWS)--In the vacuum of discussions connecting women to this month's ferocious riots in England, a group called "Rotis not Riots" launched on Facebook this week "to make sense of this unprecedented violence from a feminist perspective."

The group emerged from a casual conversation between three women dealing with the helplessness they felt in the aftermath of unrest across the country.

Roti is a type of unleavened bread that many Indian women, who have traditionally been the cooks in the family, are skilled at preparing. It also plays on the word riot, scrambling the letters into something with warm and nurturing connotations. Organizers say they chose it to touch on the "unique role that women play in providing both physical and emotional support for their families."

With 272 members as of yesterday, the group is confronting the government's championing harsh punishment. Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party have pushed for water canons and rubber bullets, curfews and blacking out social media. Local borough councils have responded by handing out eviction notices and local courts are being pressured to hand out extraordinarily harsh prison sentences for those accused of participating in the riots.

Rotis not Riots has given themselves the task of "thinking about more meaningful and effective ways to reprimand rioters than prison sentences and evictions of entire families," seeking instead community service and meeting victims to create a productive route out of the riots.

But trying to understand what caused the riots may not have much traction for those who are dealing with the deaths of the five men who were killed during the riots and the devastation of personal and business property, resulting in hundreds of millions of pounds in insurance claims, according to the Association of British Insurers.

The online group is currently an outlet for outrage at badly-written commentary in other media that demonize those involved in the riots. Although not loaded with feminist theory, posts on the group's Facebook page reveal a community coming to terms with the flood of information in the international media.

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Difficult to Predict

It is hard to predict the outcome of the group, existing currently as a closed online network, but it provides a welcome move into more progressive conversations that include a feminist perspective.

Rotis not Riots has already taken a stance by championing a petition on, in response to a London borough's decision to evict a mother and her 8-year-old daughter from their council house because her son was involved in rioting. The petition had 2,257 signatures and 188 supportive comments after seven days.

Like many other British people now living outside of the U.K., I spent the first and second nights of the fierce rioting glued to my computer screen, following updates of the movement of violently exuberant youth through London and watching news sources like the BBC and the Guardian live-blogging every second of a bloody revolution.

England's political cabinet--made up of 506 men and 144 women, only 27 of whom are from ethnic minorities--lined up to condemn the "sheer criminality" of the riots and looting.

The riots did spur some talk of disenfranchisement and unemployment though, including Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of The Place to Be and Kids Company, two charities in the U.K. Even Prince Charles spoke of gang culture as a cry for help for those who don't feel like they belong at a short stop in Hackney, one of the affected boroughs of London.

The Guardian's examination of 500 cases related to the riots that have been heard in court showed that only 9.5 percent of the defendants were female, ranging in age from 15 to 60.

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What a disgrace. The very notion that anything at all can excuse the stealing, the violence, the burning, the killing, the horror of the London riots -- let alone an effort to stop them by having something like quiet discussion -- is an unconscionable effort at denying the repugnant behavior of the rioters. And whether single mothers are part of the problem or not, what certainly IS to blame for the behavior of these derelict kids is the lack of responsible parenting -- whoever the parents may be. The problem isn't the politicians: it's the irresponsibility and laziness of the rioters and the people who should be raising them, but aren't. A true feminist would never abandon her responsibility to society, let alone pass it off to others.Shame on WeN, and especially shame on this idiotic "Roti" initiative.

@ Abigail: What a strange reading of the article. I could find no suggestion of excusing the behaviours of the rioters nor could I find any proposal that the rioters be dealt with by quiet discussion nor, as it happens, any hint that politicians were being blamed for the riots.