I have not been able to write about music for a week now. The scenes from Grenfell Tower have been seared onto my brain and I cannot shake them. Watching the footage of the victims and witnesses of, and to, this horrific blaze has left me shocked and saddened. I cannot begin to fathom the immense horror that has been experienced there. The sight of people at the windows of their flats knowing that they perished in such a horrible way has been something that I really cannot get out of my mind in a way that has not happened with other recent tragedies, such as in Manchester, London, Afghanistan and Portugal. I guess that actually seeing people and knowing what is going to happen to them is a very difficult thing to bear.
Mixed in with all this is an anger that there have been plenty of warning signs in the past that would make this terrible tragedy completely avoidable, that the fire that started on Tuesday night should have been a small localised fire that was dealt with, and would have maybe made the inside page of a local paper. This is also something that increases the sense of despair at this abhorrent situation.
I am sure that I am not the only one thinking and feeling this, and I am sure that it is nothing compared with those who are experiencing the pain and grief first hand. For me the question is that, nearly a week on, what do we do with it? Where do we start?
As always to try and work out my own feelings about it I am writing this, and if I decide to publish it on my blog it is because I thought someone else might find it helpful too. It also feels inadequate and self-indulgent, and the question arises how we can channel our feelings in a way that leads to real change; change from a society that allows this to happen. I can give to one or many of the funds that have been set up to support the victims and their families, and I probably will. But it feels, this time, like I should do more.
We are told that we should be proud of Britain, and actually in the wake of this tragedy I am proud to be British. I am proud of the many people who pulled together in that community to provide what support they could for their fellow human beings. I am proud that people from all sorts of backgrounds put their sense of humanity first. In the wake of all the recent tragedies in Britain, the first instinct of the many has been to react in a positive, generous and open way. It is only the minority who have sought to turn these desperately sad events into a focus for hate and other negative emotions.
What I am not proud of, in the wake of Grenfell Tower in particular, has been the ‘official’ lack of response to this. If news reports are to be believed it was Sunday (the fire started on Tuesday night) before the local council started to get people into the areas affected. It was Friday before Theresa May met any of the victims (I really don’t want to focus on her though as her response seems to me to be more symptomatic of the issues here), and there is a palpable sense of anger in the community which, mercifully so far, has not turned to violence… though it looks like it has been close.
For me it is a very difficult balance to understand the anger that I am feeling as the result of this (and again there is part of me that feels self indulgent in writing about it, but it is the only way I can process it), and the extent that I can make political points about it. In this case, though, it seems unavoidable. It seems fairly obvious that, while the exact cause of this fire has not been determined, there is diverse and mounting evidence to suggest that it has happened as a result of the combined cultures of gentrification and austerity that have gone hand in hand and acted against the most vulnerable in this area of London.
There is a sense that the people of Grenfell Tower, and other social housing in the area, have been treated with contempt and been ignored for a significant amount of time, perhaps decades. There is a sense that money talks in this part of the world and, in the wake of austerity, the money (and the attendant power) has continued to drain away from the ‘have nots’ towards the ‘haves’. For me, then, the ‘have nots’ at the top of Grenfell Tower are also the ‘have nots’ who have had their disability allowances taken away, often with similar tragic, yet let emotively visual, circumstances. They are the vulnerable children who have had support social and emotional support removed because there is not longer and money for the services that fulfil that role, children whose misfortune has been to be born in the wrong family. Then there are wider social housing issues that are now coming to light… you know what I mean I really do not need to spell it out.
I really find it difficult to understand how it can in anyway be considered right that we should want to live in a society whereby people are crammed into barely habitable social housing, and homeless figures are on the rise too, while block after block of real estate stands empty to satisfy the greed of investors. I really find it difficult to understand how we throw away a third of our food, while a growing number of people have to rely on food banks to survive. I really find is difficult to understand how it is that a diverse community of people can put together a infrastructure of support out of nothing within hours, but that it takes days for ‘official’ support to event begin to take effect. Surely, in the words of Theresa May, enough is enough.
Then there is the role of experts. Remember them? These are the people that we should not listen to any more. These are the people who have been trained to warn us when something needs to change in order to prevent tragedy. These are the people who are part of ‘health and safety brigade’ who just want to make rules for the sake of it. These are the people who apparently want to stand in the way of progress. Well what progress is that? The progress toward a deregulated society where the profit motive is put above everything else? The progress towards a society where we take back control, only to leave it in the unsafe hands of the free market? We have heard repeatedly from these experts who have produced mounds of evidence of how their warning of such a tragedy have not been heeded. This is not about ‘I told you so’ hindsight but deliberately ignoring of such warnings because it might cost a bit more to enact those recommendations… and really we do not want to be spending money on the poor do we?
The utter tragedy of Grenfell Tower for me, then, is the sheer and stark fact that it was avoidable. It was avoidable for many reasons, many of which have been evidenced in the response (or lack of response) in the aftermath of the fire. That makes me very angry. That makes me want to see change in a emotional and visceral way that I have not experienced before. That makes me long for an alternative to the sort of society that has been in the ascendancy since 1979. And before you jump on me, no the 1970s were not great, but the 2010s are not great either… more of the same is surely not an option.