Just steps from where Brixton burned a little more than a year ago, a multiethnic collection of Britons gathered Friday night to watch the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics at the Dogstar bar.
Thirty years ago, riots in this neighbourhood at the end of the Victoria line, put into the lexicon by the Clash’s epic The Guns of Brixton, came to symbolize opposition to right-wing policies and sentiment.
In April of 2011, rioting returned just steps from where the usual Friday pub crowd met and hugged, danced and cheered loudly as various icons of British culture, both past and present, were celebrated during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Games.
There is a crazy quilt of Jamaican, Arabic and increasing white gentrification in this neighbourhood. And it was a Friday night much like any other.
Asians, blacks and whites gathered in the local watering holes with friends to celebrate the end of the work week – but with a difference.
Young and old, there was a palpable sense of pride during the opening ceremonies. (Interestingly, the lone police officer at the Brixton subway station, said it was slightly quieter than most Friday nights.)
Once the entertainment portion of the show ended, before the parade of athletes, the Dogstar emptied noticeably. Until then, each song during director Danny Boyle’s televised creation was sung with gusto. Champagne was passed around, and the sense of community resonated.
Brixton is representative of this country.
Prime Minister David Cameron, no friend to the people of Brixton, was nonetheless entirely accurate when he chided Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his criticism of the London Games.
Cameron said it was easy to hold an Olympics in the middle of nowhere – a charitable description of Salt Lake City – and Brixton is representative of what the British PM meant.
It is a cramped enclave where Jamaican patty stores butt up against Arabic coffee shops. It is roiling, dirty, compelling, yet at the same time welcoming to strangers.
It is hard to imagine God Save the Queen being sung any louder any place in this city that has been a magnet for the world for centuries. (Or the tribute to the National Health Service resulting in chants of “NHS! NHS!” the way it it was in Brixton.)
Britain welcomed the world Friday night; Brixton did that years ago.