With survivors and FBU firefighters now in the firing line, Julie Al-Hinai detects echoes of Hillsborough
According to the Lancaster West community, not much. With many survivors still in temporary accommodation, many more still traumatised and symptomatic of PTSD, an enquiry is at last under way. Starting with the harrowing accounts of those caught up in the tragic events of June 14th 2017, the emphasis, however, seems to have shifted to the culpability of the London Fire Brigade and seemingly, it is the heroic firefighters who risked their own lives to save others, who are now are being put on trial.
Adding salt to the already deep wounds of the community is a 60,000-word essay 'The Tower' by Andrew O’Hagan. Having won the trust of those he spent months interviewing and collecting testimony from, O’ Hagan seems to have turned their evidence on its head. 'They want the story to be the story they want it to be' he declares 'and no group is more typical of that tendency than reporters. People want to disimprison the facts, as they see them, and division came very quickly to Grenfell over what was real and what wasn’t.'
In the essay, he attempts to shift the blame from the council and its 'apparent' lack of response to the culpability of the firefighters. Little or no mention is made of the greater responsibility of central government and the obvious implications of years of deregulation. He refers defamatorily to those who campaigned vigorously before the fire on matters of safety, as local agitators. More outrageously he says of councillor Paget-Brown,
Paget-Brown isn’t everybody’s cup of tea as a politician, but his dedication to the borough was total. And he was one of the least schmoozed councillors in London, accepting hospitality or gifts only 43 times since 2015, according to available records
Only 43 times! What does that tell us about his cronies on the council?
On Saturday 16th June this year, we saw a national demonstration and rally in London, seeking Justice for Grenfell. Some 2000, this time vociferous bodies, took to the streets to protest the policies of austerity and deregulation that culminated in the shocking tragedy that cost the lives of at least 72 souls. Most obvious amongst the demonstrators were branch members of the FBU. From as far afield as Newcastle and Northern Ireland, they turned out to support their London comrades. Survivors, community campaigners and Grenfell support groups stood shoulder to shoulder with the FBU members, all intent in seeing that blame and culpability is not misdirected at the heroes of the night nor diverted from the government, both local and national, the corporations and organisations; all who hold joint and ultimate responsibility for the tragic, yet undeniably avoidable, event that occurred in one of Britain’s wealthiest boroughs.
The fire itself has redirected attention to Britain’s critical housing situation, the commodification of homes, social cleansing, homelessness, poverty, social welfare cuts and general austerity measures. Also, the neo-liberal policy of deregulation, pursued by consecutive governments, has now come under the spotlight, along with cuts to emergency services. The political left is audacious in its critique and even rap and grime artists, who were referred to by MP Emma Dent Coad in parliament, as the ‘poet laureates’ of this national disaster, continue to use their art forms to lay blame on the government. Interestingly, these artists may represent a phenomenon that Marshal Berman refers to in his essay ‘Justice/Just Us: Rap and Social Justice in America’. In comparing it to ‘a shout from the streets’ from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Berman says ‘much modernist culture gets its energy from the flow and convulsions of the modern city streets.’
The energy that maintains the relentless fight for justice for the residents of Grenfell is most definitely coming from the streets - in silence on the 14th of every month, when thousands walk the streets of Kensington and Chelsea with the message of “No Justice No Peace” where the power of the message is its silence. Elsewhere the cries are more loud and angry.
Once again it is a voice of the street that keeps our attention doggedly fixed on the injustice of the Grenfell narrative. In response to O’Hagan’s ‘The Tower’, and at the request of the local community, Spoken Word artist, rapper and community activist, Potent Whisper, challenges the author’s establishment narrative in his piece, 'You’ll Never Edit Grenfell' Potent Whisper tells us in the introduction, 'Stories can define us or they can defeat us'. It is thus imperative that while we walk in silent solidarity with Grenfell, we must raise our voices on the streets if the story of Grenfell is not to ultimately defeat us.
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