Rise Up! How Protest Movements Define the Limits of Covid Lockdowns, and the Perils of Covid Denial

Kill the Bill: protestors in Parliament Square on March 15, 2021 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

With the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown approaching, I look at how how the protest movements that have arisen over the last 12 months — about racist oppression, the safety of women and an attempted ban on protest itself — have spontaneously arisen when the logical limits of strict lockdowns have been reached. I also note how these movements stand in stark opposition to the protests of those engaged in Covid denial, who wilfully flout genuine public safety concerns through a toxic mix of dangerous conspiracy theories.

The devastatingly incompetent and corrupt government of Boris Johnson

Ever since the first Covid lockdown was declared in the UK, on March 23 last year, the British people have, for the most part, complied with the rules laid down by a government that was spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, that has handled it with shattering incompetence, and that has also engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent.

Elected in December 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ by just 29% of the registered electorate, Boris Johnson stacked his cabinet with inadequate, second-rate politicians whose only requirement for being chosen was that they were fanatically committed to Britain leaving the EU, an astonishingly misguided policy of national suicide that came out of David Cameron’s shameful capitulation to Euro-sceptics in his own party, and the threat posed by UKIP under Nigel Farage.

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Celebrating 1,400 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project, ‘The State of London’

The latest photos posted in Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London.’

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Today marks 1,400 days since I first began posting a photo a day — and accompanying essays — on my Facebook page ‘The State of London’, and I’m delighted that it has continued to grow in popularity, so that I now have over 4,300 followers, plus many more who follow the daily posts on my own Facebook page.

It now seems like another age since I first set out on my bike to chronicle the changing face of London in photos, in May 2012, exactly five years before I started posting a photo a day on Facebook. As I drew on the archive I’d built up for my daily posts — choosing a photo from each successive day, but from any of the years since the project started — the London of the second decade of the 21st century was a recognisable beast; sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating, a place where the gulf between the rich and the poor continued to grow at an alarming pace, and a place that has been invaded and occupied by predatory developers, building skyscraper office blocks that were not needed, and dense forests of residential tower blocks that were unaffordable for most hard-working Londoners, while selling off existing estates of social housing to be knocked down for further profits.

In terms of my photography and my research, the project has seen huge developments. After using simple point-and-shoot cameras at the beginning, I invested in a superior example, the Canon PowerShot G7X Mk II, two years ago, which transformed my photography, and I also began devoting more and more time to the text accompanying the photos, which, in the early days, had often been quite cursory.

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Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis and Covid’s Impact on Business Rents with Andy Bungay, Plus Three Four Fathers Songs

A deserted Piccadilly Circus on Christmas Day, 2020, an unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Recently I spoke to Andy Bungay of Riverside Radio, a community radio station in Wandsworth, for his show ‘The Chiminea’, which was broadcast on Boxing Day, and is available here on Mixcloud.

Andy and I have been speaking for several years, and it’s always great to talk to him.  Our 50-minute segment of the two and a half hour show began just under 21 minutes in, when Andy played ‘Fighting Injustice’, the first of three songs by my band The Four Fathers, which has long been a live favourite, and whose chorus is something of a mantra of mine — “If you ain’t fighting injustice / You’re living on the dark side.”

We then began our discussion by taking about my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which I began in 2012, and which involves me cycling and taking photos on a daily basis throughout London’s 120 postcodes, and, since 2017, posting a photo a day, with an accompanying story, on Facebook.

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Celebrating 1,300 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

Recent photos from The State of London photo-journalism project by Andy Worthington.

Please support my work on ‘The State of London’, a labour of love that has no funding except from you. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Sunday marked 1,300 days — over three and a half years — since I first began posting a photo a day (plus an accompanying essay) on my Facebook page ‘The State of London.’

The Facebook project began on May 11, 2017, the fifth anniversary of the day I first consciously began cycling around the 120 postcodes of the London Postal District (the postcodes beginning  E, EC, N, NW, SE, SW, W and WC), intending to capture, in photos, the changing face of the city, and its different manifestations based on the weather and the seasons.

My thanks to everyone taking an interest in the project, which has just reached 3,800 followers — plus many more who follow the photos on my own Facebook page, and also those who follow ‘The State of London’ on Twitter.

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Covid, Ghost Cities and the Collapse of Property Prices in the West End and the City of London

An almost entirely deserted Oxford Circus on November 10, 2020, during the latest Covid lockdown in England. A previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Is this how the world as we know it ends, then — not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with the slow, silent death of shops, pubs, restaurants and live culture?

England’s second Covid lockdown, introduced on November 5 in response to rising infection rates, has, in a crucial pre-Christmas month for business, shut down all shops regarded as “non-essential” — in other words, to name just a few examples, all clothes shops, gift shops and bookshops, as well as pubs and restaurants — with a sense of timing that could lead one to conclude that it was dictated by Amazon and other online retailers for whom Covid has seen their businesses reap unprecedented profits.

The cost of this, in terms of businesses shutting down, and employees laid off, is not yet known, but it seems likely that, as 2021 unfolds, the centres of our cities and towns will be wastelands, reminiscent of the early 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

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Keeping Live Music and Performance Alive in a Covid Lockdown Culture

The Four Fathers’ gig on October 31, 2020, successfully completed before the second Covid lockdown starts on November 5.

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I was preparing to play a gig — yes, an actual gig! — on Saturday evening, with my band The Four Fathers, when news of a second lockdown in England was finally confirmed by the government. It wasn’t surprising, because infection rates had been steadily rising, but the government — as indecisive as ever — had missed the opportunity to impose a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to coincide with half-term, as recommended by medical experts, and was now, belatedly, announcing a four-week lockdown instead, starting on Thursday, November 5, and lasting until December 2.

Unlike the first time around, though, the government announced that schools and universities were to stay open, even though what are regarded as “non-essential” shops and businesses will be required to shut, imperilling the future of countless small businesses, who had just begun to find their feet, and who must now be facing, in numerous cases, a fatal loss of business in the run-up to Christmas. Even if they are allowed to reopen on December 3, it seems pretty certain that Amazon and a host of other online retailers — many in the “fast fashion” business, and many with dodgy employment practices — will be making a fortune while nailing shut the coffins of high streets across the land.

To impose this kind of sweeping lockdown for an entire month while leaving schools and universities open is exactly the kind of muddled thinking on the government’s part that — even putting aside for a moment their cronyism, corruption, and obsession with incompetent, overpaid corporate service providers to do jobs that should be provided by health professionals — will enrage and alienate people, whilst also failing to actually tackle the problems of rising infection rates.

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Covid Lockdown: Video of My Band The Four Fathers Playing at a Small Party in a London Park That Would Now Be Illegal

A screenshot of The Four Fathers playing in a park in south London on August 29, 2020.

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On the August Bank Holiday weekend, my band The Four Fathers played a largely acoustic set — and then joined other musicians in a jam session — as part of a little party in our local park in south London, parts of which were filmed by our bassist’s daughter, and which now constitute a record of what London looked like five months after the government first declared a lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The party normally takes place in a friend’s house, but this year, because of Covid-19, everyone concerned recognised that even a well-behaved house party wasn’t acceptable at the time, and so the proposal to move it to our local park was suggested instead.

In the earliest days of lockdown, London’s parks were patrolled by the police and local officials to make sure that no one stopped or mingled during their allotted one hour of exercise a day, but, as the peak of the panic passed, parks then became the focal point of human interaction, and while there were some obvious examples of slightly reckless behaviour — parties of young people drinking late into the night, provoking the wrath of the curtain-twitching brigade — for the most part people were aware of social distancing, and were simply trying to balance the need to avoid spreading the virus with an equally important need to socialise.

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COVID-19: Institutional Inertia, the Need for Vision, and the Collapse of the US and the UK

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus COVID-19. Trump wore a mask in public for thew first time just a month ago, having previously said that he would not do so. The day before, Johnson, who is rarely seen at all, wore a mask for the first time in public while visiting businesses in his Uxbridge constituency.

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Six months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, prompted an unprecedented lockdown on social and economic activity, a veneer of normality has been resumed, although it remains an uneasy time. Pubs and restaurants are open, cars once more fill the streets, turning the taste of the air to one of petrol after months without it, and zombie shoppers once more return to high streets and shopping malls to buy clothing produced in factories — mostly in the “developing world” — that involves economic exploitation of the unseen, and nothing short of environmental destruction, as these factories kill off rivers with their noxious chemicals.

As I see on an almost daily basis, however, on my bike rides into the West End and the City of London to take photos for my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, the veneer is very thin. Although people have been returning to the West End since June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to to reopen, the numbers are down, and massively so.

As I explained in my most recent COVID-related article, COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”, 5.1m people visited the West End in the first full month of the post-lockdown re-opening of retail outlets, but that was 73% down year-on-year, and will not enable businesses to survive unless landlords also write off 73% of their rents. If they do, the virus will have succeeded in denting the wealth of the rich; if they don’t, the West End will soon be a wasteland of shuttered shops, because however much some people are enjoying al fresco street dining in pedestrianised streets in Soho, there is an achingly huge financial hole where the tourists and office workers used to be.

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COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”

An almost entirely deserted Liverpool Street station on April 2, 2020 – a previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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In Sunday’s Observer, the paper’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley related how, a few weeks ago, a group of civil servants at the Cabinet Office were “told to find a way of re-opening nightclubs in a coronavirus-safe way.” Although they were, in Rawnsley’s words, a “bright group”, they couldn’t overcome the fundamental  — one might say fatal — flaw at the heart of the exercise. “The socially distanced nightclub is a contradiction in terms”, as Rawnsley put it, adding, “Nightclubs, by their very nature, are all about social intimacy.”

Rawnsley proceeded to explain that he was telling this story “to illustrate just how very desperate the government has been to release Britain from every aspect of lockdown and return us to something that resembles the pre-coronavirus world as closely as possible.” Our leaders, as he put it, “dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease. While never quite saying it explicitly, their ambition has essentially been to get everything open again.”

This indeed seems to be the case, and it is typical of a government made up largely of inadequate ministers who are only in place because of their enthusiasm for the insanity of Brexit, and who are led by the laziest example of a Prime Minister in living memory, that the nuances of the challenges facing us — and the unexpected opportunities for a less chaotic and more environmentally sustainable world — are being ignored.

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3,000 Days of My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

Some of the most recent photos from ‘The State of London’ on Facebook, where I post a photo a day from eight years of photos taken on bike rides around the capital.

Check out all ‘The State of London’ photos here!

Please feel free to support my work on ‘The State of London’, for which I have no institutional funding. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

My photo-journalism project ’The State of London’ has just reached a noteworthy milestone — 3,000 days since I first consciously went out on my bike, on May 11, 2012, to cycle around London taking photos to chronicle the fabric of London and the many changes wrought upon it, beginning with the upheaval that attended the capital’s role as the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games. I began posting a photo a day on Facebook on the fifth anniversary of that first trip, on May 11, 2017, and have been posting a photo a day for the 1,176 days since.

In the eight years since, I have taken many tens of thousands of photos, covering all 120 of London’s postcodes in the 241 square miles of the London postal district (those beginning EC, WC, W, NW, N, E, SE and SW), with a particular focus on central London — the City (EC1 to EC4) and the West End (WC1, WC2 and W1), and the immediate surrounding postcodes (SE1, SW1, NW1, N1 and E1) — and with other clusters of repeated activity in the whole of south east London, where I live, in east London, most readily accessed via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and in parts of south west London — particularly, it seems, Brixton, Vauxhall and Battersea and Chelsea — and west London; especially Paddington, Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove.

These 3,000 days have not only been a way of keeping physically fit; they have also played a major role in ensuring some sort of mental equilibrium amidst the general chaos of the state of the world — even if some aspects of ‘The State of London’ have added to my sense of rage rather than placating it; in particular, the colossal and colossally expensive construction projects that have transformed the city to an alarming degree over the last eight years.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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