Matthew Bolton, Deputy Director at Citizens UK and author of How to Resist, looks at what actions might be useful following the Grenfell fire.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster we need resistance, not rage. Please don’t misunderstand me - I’m not saying don’t be angry. Watching the videos of people stuck in the tower as it burned, seeing the posters with pictures of lost children, knowing that this tragedy happened in the middle of one of the wealthiest places on earth, this is a truly sickening tragedy that warrants our collective ongoing fury. The roots of our word ‘anger’ are in the Norse word for grief and this is avoidable catastrophe and indescribable pain on a once in a generation scale. The question is what we do with the anger.
Channelled into effective resistance, this anger could drive the residents and neighbours in North Kensington to hold those responsible to account, to recreate their community and rebuild their lives. It could see the rest of us make Grenfell become a turning point, a watershed moment where we no longer accept that people in different income brackets have different rights to a home safe from fire. By turning that anger into action, we can create a national movement to say ‘never again’. Not just in a cathartic release of rage but in persistent and dogged campaigning. Success wouldn’t bring back those who died, or cancel out the trauma that will live on in people, but it would save many more lives and might just bring some sense to the tragedy that’s taken place.
Rage, on the other hand, is a passing howl resulting in some broken windows and placards left in the street to be cleared away. The problem with the ‘day of rage’ protest that took place last week was not just that it was ineffective, though it was. Unsurprisingly several hundred protestors did not bring the Government down and such symbolic protests and one-off mobilisations rarely achieve their grand aims. The more serious fault is that it risks repeating some of the same dynamics that got us here in the first place - that the voices of residents that were not listened to for years, are now not being listened to again. The Lancaster West Resident Association, which covers the estate around the Grenfell tower, has been in membership of Citizens UK for two and a half years. The residents that we’re working with who are connected to scores of local families are more concerned right now with the fundamentals. They want accurate information about the identities of those who lost their lives, they want to know that the air is safe to breathe and the building isn’t going to collapse, they need hot water, since the boiler that serves the whole estate was destroyed in the Grenfell tower. The people truly embedded in local communities tend not to be the voices we’ve read in the newspaper or seen on TV over this last week, myself included. That could be due to class bias in the media, or that journalists gravitate towards those who are most controversial, or more simply that such people are too busy visiting their neighbours and supporting those in need to be spokespeople. Bigger change must come, but let’s try to listen to those that have not been listened to.