I doubt you’ve forgotten about Russell Brand’s confrontation with Channel 4 News at the end of last year. During a demonstration to save Hackney’s New Era estate from property developers, a reporter asked the comedian how much rent he paid. Brand, along with the residents he was there to support, clearly thought the question was beside the point.
After a heated exchange the reporter backed away. Even if you do dismiss Brand’s social activism on account of his vast wealth, you can’t deny the incredible platform he gives to the people affected by these issues. And it’s not all talk, either. Westbrook Partners, the US developers threatening to buy out New Era retreated in the face of Brand’s campaign. Following the victory, it emerged that Brand would be opening a cafe on the estate that inspired the now infamous question.
The Trew Era cafe will be funded by the profits from Brand’s latest book, Revolution, and the money taken will benefit the community. Knowing that Brand would be there to open shop, I thought I’d pop along to bask in his philanthropic glory.
Just like 4000 other members of the media:
This Go-Pro tumor was a particular favourite:
An event like this really only attracts the people it serves to help and those sputtering for words in the chokehold of a 24-hour news cycle. As Hackney now boasts about a dozen freelancers for every displaced mum, it didn’t look like I’d be able to get the Trews barista to whip me up a tasty flat white any time soon.
Knowing Brand facetime would be nearly impossible, I thought I’d speak to the man holding the hot pink Trade Union and Socialist Coalition banner. Brian Debus is standing as the TUSC candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch. He’s previously worked on saving the New Era estate and he says he had a hand in driving out the Westbrook clan.
But like all journalists, I wanted to know what he really thought of Russell! “I think he’s done a good job in terms of highlighting and publicising a lot of social events - from the E15 mums to New Era, along with exposing poverty and some of the worst aspects of capitalism.”
As a card-carrying socialist, does Brian think Brand possesses a clear ethos? “I don’t think he’s got a fully worked out programme, but clearly he’s made a step forward and he’s attracted a layer of youth who’ve never been involved in politics. I think he openly admits that he’s still a work in progress.”
Like most people who balk at the media’s willingness to mock Brand, Brian had this to say about our nation’s newspapers: “They’re not much different from Westbrook - same background, same class, outlook - when someone threatens their system, they see it as their duty to denigrate them.”
Time was beginning to drag and still no one had entered the cafe. As the rain began to fall, Russell barged through the crowd in an attempt to usher local residents inside. He was closely followed by one of Debus’ supporters, who frantically asked Brand if he could take a picture with the candidate. He declined with his own inimitable bluster. If I was a cynical type, I reckon Brand was trying to joke his way out of aligning himself with any concrete ideology.
But I’m not. In all honesty, this wasn’t so much a political event as community outreach, and Brand was doing his damnedest to make sure the people he clearly cares for could make it inside.
The weather had really turned by this point. Cameramen were scrambling to protect their equipment and much of the crowd were delicately balancing their SLRs while trying to unfold their brollies. I noticed a loud American voice amid the umbrellas, so I went over and asked for a chat.
“Russell’s leading a revolution. Wherever Russell says to go I go, because he’s the leader.”
Max Keiser, the one who's a man.
I assumed this guy was just a superfan, the sort mad enough to fly over from the States to worship the dear leader. But then I noticed he'd drawn a crowd more attentive than your average hysteric could muster. A helpful bystander let me know it was Max Keiser, a journalist who currently hosts a business show on RT. He works closely with Brand, claiming to be on “the finance side” of his revolution.
“We have a crowdfunding platform called Startjoin. We also have our own ‘Startcoin’ which is quantitative easing for the people. We’ll be giving away a million coins in the next couple of weeks to restart the economy.”
It was a bold claim, and if my scant internet research is anything to go by, an unrealistic one.
Still, he had some views on Britain’s favourite red-top that most of us can appreciate. “Russell’s media footprint is bigger than The Sun newspaper, so they are panicking. Instead of competing by trying to come out with quality journalism they are attacking, because that’s the lazy man’s way to compete.”
Once again, does Keiser think Brand actually makes a tangible impact? “I would direct your attention to the New Era estate. It was a major victory. They took back control of that property from the predators in New York, so that’s a concrete result.”
While I can empathise with the views he shares with Brand - even subscribe to them - I struggle to reconcile his criticism of one controversial news outlet given his participation with another. As morally bankrupt and editorially inept as the The Sun is, it’s not the state-funded mouthpiece of a notoriously undemocratic government.
At one point, Keiser described Murdoch’s cronies as "out there starting wars!" Oh, the irony of it all.
For all my doubts, maybe RT is the only viable podium on which Max can bang his gavel. If Debus' assertion is true, that our media is comprised of the same political class Keiser and Brand are trying to dismantle, then it would make no sense for them to give him any sort of platform. These days, the road to revolution may need to be filled with moral compromise.
Let's not forget that the day itself was about the Trews Cafe. From my brief venture outside, it seems like an effective example of community altruism, and I’d challenge anyone to find fault with it. The billionaire land grab taking place in London is a very real issue, so anything that limits its poweful rampage must be appreciated. Because for every New Era, there are countless other Heygates.
On the way back through the station I noticed this sign. Maybe it was the opening I just attended, but I felt there was something deeply sinister about the use of ‘collection.’ For many, London postcodes are just things they need to snatch up - like stamps or Swiss bank accounts.
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