Skip to 3:10 for Meatraffle’s ‘Yuppies Out,’ but you may as well check out the last bit of the last song!
A predominant and unifying thread that runs throughout this movement is the anti-gentrification slogan, ‘Yuppies Out.’ Trashmouth signees Fat White Family started the ‘Yuppies Out’ protest group and have organised various demonstrations that have turned this movement into more of a coherent ‘campaign.’ A ‘campaign’ in this context is a sustained and organised public effort, making collective claims on target audiences. This campaign has built up a ‘social movement repertoire’ and demonstrates public displays of Worthiness, Unity, Numbers and Commitment (W.U.N.C).
The pictures below are of a ‘Yuppies Out’ protest in Brixton. It is important to note that this was not just one isolated ‘performance.’ It is part of a larger series of ‘episodes’ that are interconnected so as to apply more pressure on the power holders. This particular ‘performance’ was specifically against a new champagne bar called ‘Champagne and Fromage’ that opened in October 2013. Lots of locals in this working class area struggling to make ends meet are getting priced out of the Brixton area because rents are shooting up. ‘Yuppies Out’ posted on the demonstrations facebook event page: ‘A dark cloud is ominously looming above the once pure skys [sic] of Brixton … this cloud is called CHAMPAGNE AND FROMAGE and from the 15th of October it will rain on us until we drown in a sea of estate agents, champagne swilling yummy mummies and the so called “fizz fiends”… cunts! WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. DEATH TO CHAMPAGNE AND FROMAGE! YUPPIES OUT!’
Worthiness is demonstrated: mothers can be seen protesting with children as demonstrated in the photos below. Unity is demonstrated with the use of synchronised movement (chanting) and ‘Yuppies Out’ and ‘Champagne and Fromage Out!’ banners. Numbers are demonstrated; the space outside the bar was occupied by a crowd 50 strong and finally, commitment is also demonstrated. This movement adopts much ‘against the odds’ behaviour. For example, ‘Yuppies Out’ is illegally scribbled in all sorts of contentious places and has gained for itself quite a sacrificial and formidable reputation. ‘Contentious’ is a key word here though for it is certainly a form of contentious politics.
According to Vera Taylor: ‘Protests are sites of contestation in which bodies, symbols, identities, practices and discourses are used to pursue or prevent changes in institutionalized power relations.’ (Vera Taylor, p. 67.) Contentious politics is always the result of having no direct control or access to the power or decision-making apparatus. This is the only way that ‘activists’ can have some bearing on the process of gentrification because the ‘activists’ have no way of staking their ‘claim’ through the usual channels of political protocol and so have to make a ‘claim’ to the ‘power holders’ contentiously through the means of either indirect persuasion or coercion. In this instance, we see both persuasion and coercion. Michael Lipsky succinctly states that: ‘Protest is a political resource of the powerless.’ (Lipsky, p. 56.) There are certain logics though that underpin exactly how this protest is played out.
The logic of numbers: Gathering large numbers of activists inevitably demonstrates a show of strength and solidarity. It shows that the movement has the ability to disrupt civil society and even undermine the power holders perceived strength. It also shows that there is a significant proportion of people who are residents of Brixton who do not like the gentrification that cafes such as ‘Champagne and Fromage’ embody. However, it must be said that this could work the other way, for indeed, the aspirational middle class professionals who also live in Brixton might well be pleased that cafes such as this are opening and creating a more affluent neighbourhood. It is not in their interests then for every day life to be disrupted. The aggressive rhetoric of ‘cunts! WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. DEATH TO CHAMPAGNE AND FROMAGE! YUPPIES OUT!’ might also alienate those who are sympathetic because it creates a sense of fear, but also could well have the effect of making the movement appear unserious. It is also unlikely that any small hints of irony or complexity would be understood and thus, only serve to discredit the movement.
The logic of disruptive and violent damage: The last photo of this blog shows the graffitied slogan, ‘Yuppies Out’ sprayed onto a Foxton’s estate agents. This has both a symbolic and instrumental effect. It is symbolic in the sense that news agents symbolise gentrification. When an area becomes gentrified estate agents move in. As ‘Yuppies Out’ said themselves: ‘it will rain on us until we drown in a sea of estate agents…’ It is also symbolic in its complete disregard for authority. Such an act is illegal but has been considered as the right strategy for the right movement at the right time because there is an ‘instrumental’ value. Causing such a news agents a financial loss, or smearing their reputation, even if it be in a miniscule way, shows the vulnerability of the targets. This is the goal and incentive for assembling the right repertoire: Demonstrate the vulnerability of the target. However, such acts could alienate less radical members of the movement or population. The aggressiveness and disruption, although demonstrating commitment, could also cause an increase in oppressive actions by the authorities. Fat White Family and ‘Yuppies Out’ would argue though that radical behaviour is necessary for people to take notice. The economic forces that drive gentrification are a relentless, hegemonic tide so a completely legal repertoire would probably be ineffective and would not be taken seriously at all. However, I must admit, that certain choices that have been made and the way this movement has conducted itself at times has also lost the movement credibility.