"Watching London burn. That's something that my grandad, a Peckham boy, would never have expected to see again," artist and activist Dan Thompson writes in a Guardian opinion piece.
Thompson, who runs a local initiative encouraging people to use empty shops and open spaces to socialize, is credited with launching #riotcleaup, a Twitter hashtag-turned-rallying cry for Londoners fed up with the destruction of their city and anxious to do something about it. He tweeted it late Sunday night. By Tuesday morning, #riotcleanup was the top trending topic in England. Globally, it was second.
"I'd spent the weekend at Adhocracy in Bethnal Green, an event all about standing up, taking control and building a DIY culture," Thompson writes. "After that, doing nothing wasn't an option. So I tweeted the most practical thing I could think of: let's get brooms, bin bags and a dustpan and brush. Let's start the clean-up ourselves."
Soon after that, musician Sam Duckworth (of Get Cape) followed Thompson's lead and launched the Twitter account @riotcleanup, which now boasts more than 78,000 followers worldwide as it organizes civilian efforts across the battered city.
"Kate Nash and the Kaiser Chiefs' lead singer, Ricky Wilson, have been on the streets of Clapham," Thompson writes, citing more UK creatives getting on board. "Out there, right now, hundreds of people are waving brooms in the air. Boris Johnson has visited. Government ministers have phoned me to see how they can help. People have created websites, Facebook pages, their own small local groups."
Thompson encourages business owners to reach out to @riotcleanup, noting that while authorities have done a good job of cleaning up the streets, "local shops find that harder."
In his office in Worthing, in West Sussex, 40 miles away from London, Thompson is coordinating cleanups with his musician friends on the ground, listing cleanup locations on a whiteboard as he's notified, and marveling at the the community effort.
"I’ve used hashtags before and I just think they’re phenomenally powerful for getting people together under an idea and it seemed a good positive one to use,” Thompson told eWeek Europe. "We’ve seen some Tweets from people catching trains into London just to help with the cleanup."
On the street, some of the cleanup crews have taken to calling themselves The Wombles, after a UK kid's show from the 1970s featuring environmentally conscious creatures that heeded the motto, "Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish."
"The broom, raised aloft, and cups of tea carried on riot shields have become today's iconic images. How British. How beautifully British," Thompson writes. "And how very, very London. People have even produced 'Keep Calm and Clear Up' posters. It's a movement.
More on the London riots:
- Citizen cameras capture more London looters than cops
- Interactive maps reveal satellite's view of UK riots
- BlackBerry hacked after offering to aid police in London riots
- London reels from riots, Cameron pledges crackdown
- Riots reveal London's two disparate worlds