When We Marched For Homes

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When we walked the streets in the cold
From Shoreditch Church to City Hall
Having gathered there at midday
On the last day of January
To demand a home to live in
In the city we were born in
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the London Evening Standard
The night before printed two lines
About the march and two pages
About some millionaire’s wages
In the West End final issue
(Then it snowed early next morning)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When The Guardian on Friday asked:
‘Are you taking part in the march?’
If only one in one hundred
Of their 200,000 readers
Answered ‘yes’ – where were the rest
When the rain fell on Saturday?
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When you watched us from the café
Cradling your skinny latté
Against the cold that kept you inside
Knowing you’d read about the issues
In next morning’s Sunday papers –
Almost wishing you had been there
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the Focus E15 Mothers
And the daughters without fathers
Marched through the streets with their banners
Saying: ‘This is the Beginning
Of the End of the Housing Crisis!’
(Though they have no homes to live in)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the coppers under orders
From their paymasters and owners
Stopped us marching through the City
Turned us down Spitalfields shouting:
‘Social Housing, not Social Cleansing!’
Past Barclays Bank and Boris Bikes
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When at One Commercial Street
We saw the ‘poor doors’ for the workers
And the marbled entrance lobby
For the City boys and bankers
And Class War held up their banner
Saying: ‘All Fucking Wankers!’
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When at Goodman’s Fields the signs said:
‘Redefining City Living’
With luxurious apartments
In stunning new developments
Where they filmed us with their smart phones
From behind their plate-glass windows
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we turned down Prescot Street
And businessmen in business suits
Stood outside under umbrellas
And doormen in silk top hats
Stood and held the umbrellas
(Safe behind the lines of coppers)
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we stopped at Tower Hill
Underneath the railway bridge
And the band of women drummers
Made the whole street dance together
Chanting: ‘Boris Out! Boris Out!’
Ringing through the iron girders
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we crossed on Tower Bridge
Stopped the traffic over the Thames
And the East End met South London
So that our one or two thousand
Grew to three or more thousands
As we turned into City Hall
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we passed One Tower Bridge
Where new homes are on the market
From one-and-a-half to fifteen million
For the Mayor’s future neighbours
And on their balconies we saw
Our flags and fists raised in defiance
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When we stood in Potters Fields
And saw how few of us there were
Between the shields of riot police
Beneath the dagger of the Shard
And though our banners now were sodden
Still our voices had not fallen
Where were you when we marched for homes?

When the speeches were concluded
And the leaflets were distributed
And photographs were being taken
Of the Aylesbury occupation
We turned to the absent thousands
In the flats and homes of London
In buy-to-let private investments
In property developments
In assured short-term tenancies
In uncertain rental vacancies
In ex-housing associations
In earmarked regenerations
On council housing waiting lists
On sanctioned housing benefits
In homes awaiting demolition
In rent arrears facing eviction
In newly taxed second bedrooms
On the couch in sublet front rooms
In furnished dives and in bedsits
On the street and off benefits
In tower blocks they’d occupied
In council flats now privatised
In social housing left to rot
In recently illegalised squats
In empty homes of oligarchs
On sleepless benches after dark
In the doors of West-End hotels
In B&Bs and East-End hostels
In emergency night shelters
On the seats of bus shelters
On the steps of tube stations
In the cells of police stations
In homeless accommodation
In far distant relocations
And we asked our fellow Londoners
Where were you when we marched for homes?

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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