AL MIKEY writes about the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire
I wrote this on Friday after I visited North Kensington, and after residents stormed Kensington Town Hall. For those people not able, or who haven’t had time, to go down to the area to help or witness (witness is what I did), I hope it’s useful. Been an emotional few days like so many people in London that feel this.
FRIDAY JUNE 16th. A lot of really raw anger and hurt, it’s hard to convey the emotions. When I got out of the tube, every 10-15 metres there’s random groups discussing what happened, who they knew, latest updates, and audiences gather. The streets had around 300-400 locals there. An ice cream van was giving out free ice creams (compliments from a local estate agent apparently). All along the street were hundreds of photos of people missing (i counted around 60 different people) a lot of children, whole families.
The residents are a real mixture, a lot of Middle Eastern arabs, Muslims, north Africans, but also white working class, a lot of women and children in school uniform. There’s nothing segregated about it. Everyone is out and talking with each other. Must be 100 nationalities and ethnicities. Also school teachers saying hello to their pupils (the cleaner from my friend’s daughter’s school is missing, she lived at Grenfell Tower).
A lot of tired and emotional people. Each time I stop to listen to someone else recounting their story, it’s done in such a deep and articulate way like only tragedies can produce.
Whilst this is happening on the street level, each time you look up is the block, enormous, blackened – reminded me of an alien ship hovering over the neighbourhood. It’s something that cannot be covered up, you can’t ignore it. Each time you look up it’s there, reminding you what has happened. That is perhaps the most shocking thing.
The talk I hear is that this was done on purpose to get rid of them from the area, for the rich to buy up the land – there’s a reccurring motif that they are unwanted and excluded, and this fire fits in with that narrative. One young mother with her 10 year old daughter says “they want us dead in Palestine and in Syria but they are not gonna kill us here”. There is a lot of that – a general feeling of persecution and oppression that runs really deep. They feel their whole life-being extinguished, destroyed. That’s where the anger is, the same utter despair that exists in any “slum” in any city in any country.
There’s an uneasy sense from mothers with teenage boys that they don’t want trouble, though many seem angry enough for it. They want and welcome support, for once they are in the spotlight and stage, and the older generations understand struggle, they know the meaning of colonialism and exploitation, this is what is being spoken about.
I don’t know what can emerge as an effective response. As people make plans and strategise, it’s important to remember, like in any moment of rupture, those affected develop super-human qualities of awareness, of sense of purpose, of collectivity. It may take longer, and people may be frustrated with it, but a political (re)awakening is being produced in the shadows of Grenfell Tower, that for once I’m certain.