The annexation and colonisation of Stratford and Hackney Wick

When Jacques Rogge took to the rostrum in Singapore in 2005 he might as well have been dressed in a black cloak with a large stick supporting a Cockney skull. When he announced the host city for 2012, a death knell rang out over the part of East London earmarked for the Olympics. Sebastian Coe, hunched over the steering wheel of an armored steamroller, located on the Eastway, hearing the deathly vibrations, tooted his horn and began the annexation and colonisation of east London. Sebastian led a merciless army of demolishers, bulldozers, developers, security firms and policemen who used a variety of techniques to bully, intimidate and force people from their homes and businesses. Four hundred people were forced out their homes which were then demolished. Two hundred businesses were removed from the Lower Lea Valley. After the expulsion Sebastian’s army flattened the vacated buildings. Community resources, Hackney Wick market, ‘fridge city’, the Manor Gardens Society Allotments and the Eastway Cycle Track were destroyed; the social capital of people living in the area obliterated.

Once the land was rid of its inhabitants and buildings, the soil of the Olympic Park, contaminated, was washed, sieved and shaken, to rid it of ‘petrol, oil, tar and heavy metals such as arsenic and lead’. Electricity pylons, carrying power cables from West Ham and Hackney Wick substations, were removed, and replaced by cables laid underground ‘in two 6km tunnels up to 50 metres deep’.

Sebastian’s army, obeying the rules for compulsory purchase orders, used an old trick deployed by Robin Hood, and gave the evictees a good meal before their eviction. Local businesses were given money equivalent to the value of the land their business was located upon. Residents were handed just over eight thousand pounds.

Sebastian knew the war would be cheaper to win if it could be won by words. A team of propagandists: writers, artists and filmmakers, were recruited to bias and sway opinion to ensure a spark of revolt could enflame wider support. The area earmarked for the Olympic Park, peoples’ home and place of work, was described as a ‘derelict slum’, ‘a scar’, ‘an urban desert’, a heart in need of transformation. The allotment next to the housing estate was anthropomorphized, turned into an abusive husband and control freak, apparently isolating locals from the rest of the world. The area was said to contain untapped potential as if the previous inhabitants of the Olympic Park had been rubbish sat upon a gold mine. The misnomers regeneration and transformation were used to describe annexation, eviction and colonization..

Sebastian’s army was not in the mood for remembering the past or the people who had been evicted. The Olympic Park developers remembered and commemorated little if anything of what had gone before, as if it had never existed, as if, true to their own propaganda, it had all been rotten.

Having invaded the land earmarked for the Olympic Park, having expelled the inhabitants and businesses, Sebastian’s army of security guards manifest pretensions for creating a Greater Olympic Park. They made cross-border incursions into bordering lands; some of it designated public space, reproaching and accosting people walking along the canal bordering the Olympic Park, and intimidating people indigenous to the territories.

In the months preceding the games a private militia of unscrupulous landlords, most landlords, egged on by a barrage of inflammatory literature produced by East London’s estate agents, toyed with the idea of evicting tenants for the period during the Olympics, to welcome in wealthier members of the Olympic family. Many of them having toyed with the idea, went ahead and evicted their tenants.

During the Olympics a security man, seeing a photographer take photos of the Velodrome and Hockey stadium, on public land outside the park, suggested that a soldier from the British Army would confiscate the camera if the man was seen taking photographs with it, claiming the army had already confiscated such equipment from other photographers. A few days into the Olympics and the army set up a small military camp on the Lea Valley River preventing members of the public from using the canal and sited anti-aircraft missiles on apartments in Bow, some hundred meters outside of the Olympic Park.

The evicted and imposed upon felt invisible, bullied, ignored and irrelevant. East Londoners put up limited resistance. In the face of overwhelming force partisans fled into parks and down canals. Messages such as ‘No bid no games’ and ‘Fuck Seb Coe’ were written on walls; businesses displayed anti-Olympics banners, the residents of Bow took the government to court to stop the army from mounting anti-aircraft missiles on their property. Users of the Lea Valley towpath demonstrated a makeshift military camp established to stop use of the canal. Gardeners from Manor Garden Allotments marched from Hackney Town Hall to the Olympic Park Gates.

But it was all to no avail. The police, with a track record for ignoring the law in order to enforce it, responded where signs of resistance manifest. One business owner took down a banner posted to the side of his warehouse, which read “Justice for Victims of the Olympics” after a senior police officer had ‘had a word with him’.

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