Ahead of the anniversary of the disaster the establishment will seek to depoliticise events, but we must mobilise in solidarity now more than ever, writes Tom Whittaker
Campaigners in Bristol held a silent march on Wednesday March 14th to remember the victims of the Grenfell fire and to support their continuing demands for justice.
The fire took place on June 14th last year and since then survivors of the fire and their supporters have held a silent march in the Kensington area to demand justice on the 14th of each month.
The Bristol march, initiated by Desmond Brown of Bristol 4 Grenfell and supported by Bristol People’s Assembly, was part of an attempt to spread this solidarity initiative beyond London to other towns and cities across the country. It ended up receiving a great deal of local media coverage, and was promoted by Mayor Marvin Rees.
A number of other organisations in Bristol supported the march including those campaigning on housing issues such as the tenant’s union ACORN and the student-based Cut the Rent Campaign, as well as University West of England Student Union.
Particularly prominent in their support where around half a dozen representatives of the Avon Region Fire Brigades Union (FBU) who marched in uniform and with their banner. Such solidarity between firefighters and their union and the Grenfell survivors has been a crucial feature of the London silent marches.
Prior to setting off protestors listened in silence to Lowkey’s Ghosts of Grenfell, which gave an increased emotional charge to the occasion. Marching in silence was a novel experience for many people, a mixture of mourning and protest, but a powerful statement nonetheless.
The hundreds-strong march finished with a rally at the Malcolm X Community Centre in the St Pauls area, with speeches including those from Labour councillor and cabinet member for housing Paul Smith and Green Party councillor Cleo Lake.
Issues raised by various speakers included the lack of permanent accommodation for hundreds of survivors, a lack of any criminal charges yet levelled against persons in authority and the government’s wholly inadequate response on fire safety across the country. This was joined by a unified denunciation of the policies of privatisation, deregulation and cuts in social housing and fire safety as major factors in the disaster.
The Grenfell fire last June, coming less than a week after the general election, felt like a moment when all the fault lines of British society – class and racial – were exposed. The charred remains of Grenfell tower stood as a monument to the failures of neoliberalism.
Theresa May’s minority government tottered in those first few days after the fire. When protestors from Grenfell stormed a meeting of Kensington and Chelsea council it seemed for a moment that the authorities might struggle to contain the situation.
We are now less than three months away from the first anniversary of the fire which will fall on Thursday 14th June. The message from Bristol is that we are ready to march again on June 14th, this time with bigger numbers and broader backing and that we encourage other towns and cities to do likewise.
The establishment is likely to try and keep the anniversary limited to commemoration of the victims. They will seek to depoliticise the occasion and neutralise demands for justice.
We have to try and ensure that an emotionally charged occasion is also a politically charged one.
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