Please do not walk here; we are trying to grow our garden again.
After attending the Defend Council Housing meeting and witnessing citizens organise to make housing in London ethical and affordable again, we decided to go and visit remnants of the Grenfell tower. The route to the place of the tragedy – the place that is the symbol of their own Cain and Abel story – takes us through one of the richest neighbourhoods of London. The closer you get, the more the city noises quiet down and big villas transform into smaller houses and into social apartment blocks. The atmosphere also changes. Glances become suspicious and annoyed. After turning a corner, a charred black building suddenly looms over the neighbourhood, as a shadow of the still standing and still vibrant social blocks around it. The burnt skeleton was once one of the many blocks in the area, but now, instead of disappearing into ordinary everydayness, it stands out as an incurable black lesion against a blue sky with candy floss clouds. The terrible testimony of how little humanity remains when money is society’s god and economy has trumped the highest natural laws. A local resident said: “It feels like watching a crematorium.” Truer words couldn’t have been spoken. Many bodies were never recovered. They charred to coal as the flames, quickened by low quality isolation and a badly designed building structure, reached close to 1000°C in the night of June 14th 2017. Official reports say 80 people died, 70 were injured.
And then, of course, scribblings of courage and support, ink already running out from rain and heavy weather but still visible. All left by survivors, people from the community and passers-by, but also faded papers printed by relatives who are still searching for a family member or a loved one that hasn’t come home yet. It’s been twelve weeks since a fridge sparked a fire that set the whole building ablaze. It’s been twelve weeks since a common household fire became a raging inferno because of bad housing regulations that allowed the buildings to exist without fire safety precautions and to be built with very inflammable materials. It’s been twelve weeks since two women who months before the tragedy actively protested to put in place fire safety precautions died in the fire. It’s been twelve weeks since the building companies realised that the cheaper material and political manipulations to remove obligatory fire safety precautions have cost 80 human lives. It’s been twelve weeks since the city and the media tried to pin this tragedy on the owner of the fridge instead of the regulations and the building companies. It’s been eleven weeks since the outrage and the crying, and next to nothing has happened yet.
I wish I could tell you the atmosphere surrounding the tower was eerie, that people and animals alike quieted in the sight of such loss of humanity, that the silence would feel respectful and heavy. But it wasn’t. Construction workers set off a perimeter around the tower and were clamoring away. Children were playing, enjoying their weekend after their first days of school. A teenage girl was having a fight with her boyfriend on the phone. The air filled with faint cheers and noise of a nearby football match. I couldn’t understand how anyone could resume their lives like this, living in the shadow of the tower. But yet, at the same time, it was incredibly hopeful. It’s remarkable how pliable humans are. We always go on. And on. And on. What else is there to do. I said next to nothing has happened yet, but that isn’t exactly true. Local politicians and big companies haven’t done anything, so far, my statement stands. But the Londoners and the other Britons, they’ve sent so much clothing and food to Grenfell, they had to give away many of their donations to other boroughs. Residents are forming action groups and councils, and they are fighting. Fighting against a hydra monster, but every head they chop off is a victory. The fight will be long and hard and may seem impossible, but they don’t care. They’re being pushed forward from an inner need for justice, from a seething anger and an explosive hope to make the situation better for their children. Amidst all the cynicism and anger, they find hope, they go on and they fight. Please do not walk here; we are trying to grow our garden again.
Text and photos by Sonderland