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Newcastle:Graffiti won’t go until youth jobs are found

The Newcastle Herald:The "war" should target social inequity, writes Zane Alcorn.

CAST your mind back, if you will, to around 12 months ago.

The Newcastle Alliance's glorious anti-graffiti program ensured that barely a single surface in our great town was defaced. The walls shone like jasper, the streets were paved with gold, and the people were full of pride.

But then the Alliance's graffiti program ended, its funding cut by the council. Almost overnight as if some horrific chaos rift had opened up, the previously pristine walls of this grand town became engulfed by the creeping plague of graffiti. With it came violent crime, drug abuse, higher petrol prices, severe weather events, and a sense of self loathing. Which brings us to the god-awful present?

Hardly anyone can leave their homes for fear of seeing one of the hideous tags, and the once healthy sense of community pride in this city is completely dead.

Lately we have seen some visionary minds in this city working on solutions to this crisis, which is fantastic.

However I would like to address what I believe is a key factor our civic leaders are not including in the overarching strategy for their war on graffiti, which is unemployment I reckon eight or nine out of 10 graffiti artists are unemployed, or at least were for a substantial period and got into graffiti during their time” on the bench".

Let's assume there are 5000 to 6000 people aged 18 to 28 in the Newcastle area who are unemployed. This includes the wider area towards Lake Macquarie and up towards Maitland.

Now, lets say 30 per cent of these people are "bludgers" who don’t t want a job.

Lets say another 50 per cent of unemployed people do actually really want a job, try not to take it personally when people call them "bludgers", and make a fair effort to find work even though there is not ' much to be had.

Then there is the last 20 per cent

These people may have spent a while looking for work and given up.

Maybe they are still looking. Perhaps their parents were long-term unemployed too. This group is fairly resentful of their situation. They see a prosperous society but are trapped on the dole; for reasons not fully clear they feel destined to remain second-class citizens. They are cynical about why society must be this way. Some may call this jealousy; others may call it a righteous and instinctive discontent Few people would question pensioners' frustration at their poverty but apparently unemployed youth should be grateful for what they've got

Let's say one person out of 20 in this "cynical" category becomes a tagger, and finds an intriguingly satisfying pastime. Are they consciously making a political gesture? Are their actions acceptable, or cool? That is beside the point

The point is that by creating large pools of unemployed youth our system is probably producing a certain number of fairly jaded people, including a few taggers. Of course, the wonderful upside of unemployment is it encourages low-paid workers to have a strong work ethic.

People would rather work a crappy-job and get paid below award wages than have to deal with Centrelink.

I reckon there is a body of people many times larger than Newcastle's unemployed population who work underpaid jobs precisely to avoid the dole trap.

So how best to fight the graffiti crisis, if indeed you believe it is much worse now than it has been for the last five or 10 years?

Well, it may not keep wages low, but I suspect we may be able to kill three birds with one stone. What if we got unemployed youth off the dole and instead paid them award wages to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels for domestic use and exports? This would stimulate our lurching economy and help in the battle to prevent runaway climate change, and I reckon the incidence of aggressive and disrespectful tagging would reduce roughly in proportion to a fall in unemployment

Cut unemployment in half, and I reckon you would see half the tags. Beyond this, provide more than one legal wall for this city of half a million people and you would enjoy an even greater fall in tagging.

Legal graffiti walls are simply a gesture which says; "Fine, if you must practice your idiotic art-which-is-not-art at least do it here, on this relatively secluded piece of wall".

Graffiti will never be eliminated but excessive territorial tagging can be reduced, and for this to occur I think getting rid of unemployment-and, more to the point the deep social inequality it embodies - is paramount

Until then, every time you see a tag, let it be a reminder that despite exporting $10 billion worth of coal per year, there are thousands of youth that Newcastle apparently can't provide jobs for.

Zane Alcom is a climate and social justice campaigner with the Socialist Alliance and is a member of the hip hop group Dhopec.

2 Com:

Anonymous | September 09, 2009

im sorry but where exactly is this article heading? as if graffitit has naything to do with unemployemnt- it really doesnt. Painting doesnt increase or decrese with joblessness. infact one can even afford more paint with a job. stringing together bolllocksy social ideas in an ill goverend unclear sentiment like this is utterly uninformative and rather redundant.

MCDF's dhopec lyrics blog | September 23, 2009

Good point, thats why you find just as much graffiti on Sydneys north shore as you do in Jesmond or blacktown.

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