‘We are with you’: 22 East London housing estates stand in solidarity with Grenfell

United Kingdom
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A gesture of love and solidarity from estates and communities in East London to Grenfell and their local community. The organizers tell the story behind the action.

Residents of council tower blocks and estates across East London and South London dropped banners – one for each of the 22 residential floors in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, destroyed by fire in Latimer Road on 14 June – in a show of mass solidarity with victims, survivors and the local community.

The action, dubbed ʻEast 4 West – Grenfell Solidarity, took place on 27 June. It was mainly organized by black, brown communities and people of all faiths living in social housing in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Southwark among others; we also brought together estates from South East and North East London.

Our action shows peer-to-peer social-housing tenant solidarity at a time when London estates are being socially cleansed in the name of regeneration, which is neither resident-led nor accountable, and is leading to the break-up of communities all over the capital.

We were responding to the call from The Grenfell Action Group that solidarity actions be creative, imaginative and healing at the current time of intense grief and pain in their community.

An estimated 261 residents of Grenfell Tower are still unaccounted for according to the Grenfell Action Group, a figure far higher than the 79 confirmed dead in official government accounts.

Together with the action, we sent a message of solidarity to the residents and communities of Grenfell, which read:

Ends to ends, estates to estates, we hope this action brings together our communities and also makes the people of East, North and South London aware that our realities are not too far away from those of Grenfell and its local communities.

We direct the eyes of our community towards Grenfell, to remember all who are gone and to keep our hearts with you.

We came together because many of us do not have the funds or the living space that others have to offer, and we know nothing can bring back what was taken from you.

We too, live in inner city council estates and tower blocks. Our communities are working class, black, brown, people of all faiths, poor and proud. We wanted to find a way to show you that we are holding you however we can: in prayers, love, resistance and solidarity. We have not forgotten you.

We know that there is a long journey towards justice and community repair. We believe in you. We know that you can heal your communities and get the justice you deserve.

We stand in solidarity with your demands for justice. Justice will be yours and because of that justice will be ours.

We are with you.

We will never forget.

With love & solidarity

Your East London Fam

 

Cultivating journalistic solidarity for Grenfell and community

Our action took place yesterday, but, sadly, we were unable to get any media coverage. We understand this is because mainstream media outlets – including mainstream black and brown ones did not see working class, community-led actions as being as meaningful as intellectual think pieces and even attempted to distort our message of solidarity.

Of course supporting and championing Grenfell community is necessary and important. However, we must question if it serves their community first. We share the following points to encourage better journalistic practice in a time it is needed most.

Who should be speaking – the privilege of voice right now

We chose to share a letter that was intimate, meaningful and not speaking on behalf of anyone – especially not on behalf of those survivors from Grenfell and local community.

We paid attention to the residents. One of the survivors of Grenfell and long-time organizers said within the first couple of days: ʻno one speaks on our behalf or makes demands on behalf – we will do this work, we just need time to heal and grieve.ʼ

We also paid attention to the silent procession organized by community leaders and residents of the Grenfell area. The silence demonstrated powerfully the absence of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the TMO (Tenant Management Organization), both in the neglect prior to the fire as well the post-relief effort. The silence also symbolized the absence of the victims who died, and survivors who could not be there.

In moments of silence, we must investigate who gets to speak and who is silenced. Why do the middle classes, mouth pieces and think pieces feel the need to fill this silence? How are these very voices in the media benefiting from speaking? And how does this reproduce the erasure the community in Grenfell have already experienced?

The community of Grenfell has plenty to say. The reality is that they and the surrounding area have been active, voicing and speaking on these issues for years. From fighting to save the library in North Kensington, to the current Wornington College campaign and tragically the efforts to highlight the safety concerns for residents in Grenfell Tower.

They were ignored. They were let down not just by the TMO and the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but by several media outlets too. They were let down by the middle class that established itself as the only legitimate voice. We cannot fail them further.

Importantly, we believe that being able to churn out analysis pieces is not the role of middle class allies who already take up space. This contributes to the invisibilizing, erasure and dehumanizing of working class voices and in communities such as Grenfell and North Kensington more broadly.

We understand the working class in Britain faces layers of marginalization, including particularly black, brown, muslim, disabled, undocumented communities. Ultimately, we must interrogate how the middle class silence working-class voices in all spaces, including mainstream media.

We are calling for greater introspection in journalistic practise.

For those who claim to be our allies in the media and elsewhere, but continue to fail working-class communities, we are sharing these points to call for uplifting and centring the voices of the Grenfell community, the and local area, and communities alike. We encourage journalists and media outlets to do the following:

  • Centre and honour the voice and leadership of Grenfell residents and their local community;
  • Have the integrity and courage to step aside to platform the voices who should be speaking and to do that on their terms;
  • Do not censor, tone police or attempt to make their voices middle class for your readers. Legitimise working class voices, tone and language;
  • Fully amplify the voices of the Grenfell community. Not just to speak for, but to facilitate ways for them to be fully heard. This must be done without censorship and without diminishing their voices.

Britain has rarely seen a tragedy of this size. Few events in recent memory match this level of gross negligence. In this moment of crisis, allies in the media must understand that sometimes solidarity means being in service to the communities affected. Questions to consider:

  • How are you de-centring yourself for those that should be speaking?
  • How are you using your privileges as resources for collective liberation?

This was a collective action with residents from 22 estates.

You can support Grenfell local community voices at: www.grenfellsupport.wordpress.com, www.Justice4grenfell.org and others. If you want more information specifically about this action, you may contact [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected] on behalf on the residents of the 22 estates.

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