Hackney played host to a series of powerful voices on Monday night during a panel event in aid of a national anti-racism campaign.
The five-person line-up brought together a number of speakers from across London, and spoke about topics such as institutional racism, austerity and Brexit, in the build-up to a national demonstration as part of UN Anti-Racism Day.
Speakers included Unite Against Fascism founding member Weyman Bennett, chair of Finsbury Park Mosque Mohammed Kozbar, filmmaker Sue Clayton, and Grenfell firefighter Lucy Masoud.
Much of the two-hour long event was spent discussing the rights of refugees to move to the UK, and included a moving clip from Clayton’s latest film Calais Children: A Case To Answer.
The film tells the story of the so-called ‘migrant jungle’ which until recently was home to refugees looking to reach the UK from Calais.
Bennett, an outspoken critic of government policy towards migrants, was quick to applaud the film, saying: “The Home Office has acted illegally by not bringing them [Calais refugee children] into the country.”
He also slammed politicians who he deemed to be “racist figures” who supported a hard line against the refugees, saying that “their aim is to divide us and spread division between communities”.
As the discussion moved forward into one about austerity and poverty, firefighter Masoud spoke out powerfully against the impact of government cuts on the fire service:
“In London we have lost 22 engines over the past few years. The truth is you want us to reach you in six minutes, and right now we won’t reach you in those six minutes”
Masoud went on to hammer the decision of Kensington and Chelsea Council to coat Grenfell Tower in flammable cladding in order to improve its appearance:
“Those people living in Grenfell Tower didn’t stand a chance the moment those rich people in Kensington and Chelsea decided they couldn’t look at an unattractive building and had it covered with cladding.”
“That sealed their fate.”
“This government holds the emergency services in contempt. Today that tower, Grenfell Tower, is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with this country, and every MP in the House of Commons should be dragged down there by their nose to see the impact of what they have done.”
Bennett, in turn, was quick the criticise the police for their relationship with minority communities, saying: “I don’t believe the police can change. Every time they come across someone and kill them, nothing happens. There’s an enquiry and nothing happens.”
As the panel discussion came to a close, one speaker, a teacher at a local secondary school, chose to criticise the government’s anti-extremist Prevent strategy, saying that: “We as teachers don’t buy into the Prevent strategy which victimises Muslims and picks on Muslims.”
The event closed with a chant of “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” from the assembled crowd, and a call to attend the upcoming Stand Up To Racism demonstration in London on 18 March.