In spring 2011, my friend Will Aspinall and I began wondering what it would take to liberate Brixton from the rest of London. Neither of us had any real answers, but we did agree that Brixton must come together around something before it broke away from anything.
As a way of anchoring our counterfactual fantasy, we decided to unite the neighbourhood around a new flag, and film our efforts.
Though the cause was in jest, our curiosity was sincere. I suppose we were inspired by the televised passions of the Arab spring and by the looming anniversary of the Brixton riots. In the spirit of pub-stool revolutionaries, we wanted to brighten up our backyard with the reflected glory of distant uprisings.
We were also both temporarily unemployed. Now was the time to fill in some missing chapters from our misspent youth.
Why a flag? We already had a local currency, the Brixton pound. A flag seemed like a natural successor, another symbol of mock-statehood. It would be eye-catching and, we hoped, a vehicle for a popular vision of the neighbourhood. We organised a public competition for a new design, with the winner to be revealed at a grand unfurling in Windrush Square.
The climactic ceremony would unite the community—and throw down a gauntlet to the authorities. We expected to attract crowds large enough to make the police nervous. Hoisted above them, the new flag would no doubt violate some arcane Lambeth council regulation.
We canvassed strangers on the streets, enlisted friends through Facebook and left behind posters in pubs. We met bus drivers, policemen, shopkeepers, students, commuters and hustlers, amassing hasty sketches and many hours of footage for our film.
Typical suggestions for a flag reflected Brixton’s mix of cultures. The designs variously evoked the colours of the rainbow, the Union Jack, local landmarks and symbols associated with the largest immigrant communities in the area.
As the anniversary of the riots approached, some commentators began tracing their present anxiety over integration to the official response to the Brixton unrest in 1981. Columnists in the right-wing press spoke as if multiculturalism were somehow a genie released by the Molotov cocktails flung thirty years ago.
And yet many…