On the 14th of June 2017, 72 people were killed as a result of the incompetency of one of the richest local authorities in one of the richest cities in the world. A year later, people are still searching for answers, and they looked for them during a silent march through the streets near the tower block which caught alight a year earlier. Thousands came up and gave up their evenings to walk in silent solidarity, wrapped in green scarves for Grenfell.
This was my first experience of a political march and I was overwhelmed as soon as I arrived. I got there five minutes before the march was set to start, and the sea of people and placards hit me hard in the chest. We were assembled at a local social club which was a base for help for those who escaped the blaze. A mural had been put up on a large wall, asking for evidence against the government to be put. Anonymously. While the public inquiry has begun to hear evidence publicly (beginning in May), the 'People's Public Inquiry' here was marked with the words 'The truth will not be hidden'. This anti-government sentiment was quite rightly threaded into the march in the form of signs and placards. Towards the end of the march, I was behind a sign that said 'Ignoring pleas for fire safety? Murderers will pay.' People were united and mourning for those lost, but simultaneously presenting a front against the display of classism brutishly shown by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
In the area we marched through, trees and local signage were covered in green ribbon and messages of remembrance. One residential street had signs with a similar format, starting with a sentence along the lines of 'I stand with Grenfell because...' I saw one, in quite childish handwriting, saying they had lost their friend in the tragedy. Whole walls were covered in pictures drawn by children of people they think make the community special, and it was hard not to cry when reading the words written by kids put through unnecessary trauma. One banner along an overhead train track was designed by a 11-year-old boy, with the message that the children of Ladbroke Grove are the future. The pictures of children he drew were brown, black and white, reflecting that many who died and suffered as a result of the fire were immigrants - immigrants who lived in council housing only streets away from some of the most expensive houses in the cities.
'Tories have blood on their hands' was a popular sign made by the Socialist Workers Party and distributed amongst the crowd. The sign featured at the top of this post was one of many in that vein calling for justice and unity. Two strands of protest had merged together here: the love and solidarity of the city with those affected, and those who saw the tragedy as the Conservative party failing to look after their citizens. The council at the time of development had prioritised money over safety, choosing to put the contract out to tender and going with combustible cladding. They saved £1.3 million. They lost 72 lives.
People are at the core of this issue. People's lives were lost, and people's lives continue to be torn apart as they are still not rehoused and suffer from trauma. Yesterday, on the anniversary of an atrocity, thousands of people came together to be angry together. But it was a subtle anger. One that manifested in shaking the hands of members of the fire service who held back tears, in the applause and cheering that emerged when we reached the end of the route and in the signs and green scarves that I saw scattered around West London on my way back home. People will not stop fighting for the truth and justice the Grenfell survivors deserve. The government must be held accountable and the people of this borough, city and country will not let them forget the deaths that happened needlessly on their watch.
If you want to learn more about the incident, here are some sources:
BBC documentary about the incident, including interviews with survivors and volunteers
BBC article about how the fire happened
Official site of the public inquiry