On September 21st the Focus E15 Mothers rounded off a year of campaigning against the housing crisis by occupying four flats on the Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford and turning them into a community centre. This act seems to have galvanized and focused housing struggles in London. But what exactly has changed? Plan C member L.S. reflects on a film showing at the occupation put on by the group Feminist Fightback.
Sitting close, blankets around us, snacks and drinks, old friends and new ones. A feeling of togetherness on this raised brick square in the middle of the paved square on this run-down council estate. And in front of us the small but now beautiful-to-us collective space we opened together – our banners – these homes need people, these people need homes – now also festooned with bunting, ribbons, messages of support and photos all up the wall…
A film screening of two films on housing struggles – one from Poland in 2008 and one in Liverpool in the 1970s. The words on the screen coming straight at us and speaking so true to our experience. Every nuance and joke hit its mark. The E15 women and carpenters residents sitting enwrapped. Laughing and cheering. No division between ‘lefties’ and ‘residents’ – we are all both, all everyone. The polish women and the 70s rent strikers too – right there with us. History speaking to us in the present with no mediation or interpretation. The messages were all there to be heard and understood directly. In the 1970s a woman asked her interviewer ‘who are you making this film for?’ and at that moment the answer seemed so clear to me: ‘for us. For this moment.’
Above us the moon is shinning down in a clear night sky. A small, bright slice of nature – unmissably beautiful. And all around us poverty and wealth. Waste. Right in front of us is a tower block – 20 stories high. 10 flats on each floor. 1000 windows, but only 5 lights on. The dark windows mocking us – the empty flats sitting silent and cold and us locked out. Squat the lot! And then the bright shiny new towers and the red olympic spiral. People in there having dinner parties with no clue that just below them a group was gathering – struggle and love and connections were forming. A tiny seed growing in this unlikely landscape.
So many times I have put on film shows to 10 lefties, or had brief conversations with people in housing need that go nowhere – and finally we are here. Together. It seems that tonight we can overcome all divisions – that a new and better world is truly possible starting with us. Other residents walking past see us – some come over and sit down, some stand at the back, watching and listening. Others look at us and keep going. They all saw it though. Saw a group of people caring about something. Trying something. Educating ourselves, discussing together, eating and drinking together outside. Socialising the square, socialising our situations, socialising our struggles. It felt like all those years paid off to have that one moment under the moonlight in a rundown council estate on the edge of the empty olympic park. One love. One fight.