Monthly Archives: June 2017

A Tale of Two Towers

On March 25, 1911 in New York City a horrific fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killing 146 women, men and children and injuring hundreds more. Most of the victims were women and most were working poor, Jewish and Italian immigrants. They died from the fire, smoke inhalation or by falling or leaping to their deaths to escape the heat and flames. The factory owners had locked the stairwells and exits to prevent workers from taking “unauthorized breaks”, a common practice at the time.

The result of this indescribable tragedy resulted in massive organizing for working people to demand safety codes and measures. It was, in many ways, one of the earliest examples of the regulation of industry.  This was a major accomplishment considering this deadly day happened in the midst of the notorious “Gilded Age.”  The excesses of the wealthy few were flaunted for everyone to see while the poor masses struggled to make ends meet, working 14 hour days and getting paid pennies for their hard labour.

In the years since there have been many other tragedies the world over where the poor, immigrants, people of colour and mostly women have suffered immeasurably from factory or housing fires or related disasters. In almost all cases industry has been let off the hook, allowed to continue its deadly practices at the expense of working people, children, animals and the living earth itself.

Thanks to the “market” dictates of global capitalism austerity, deregulation and the gutting or dismantling of social and physical safety nets has become the norm. Working people and the poor are told they must accept this in order to “grow the economy.” But these lies are as thin as the paper they are written on. And tragic greed-borne catastrophes are their hallmark.

The recent Grenfell Tower fire in London is the sorrowful sister to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. It is a testament to a duplicitous system of exploitation and greed on behalf of the wealthiest .001%. It may be too early to say what exactly caused the horrific fire in this residential tower in London in the early morning hours of 14th June, but it is not too early to say that the working poor, immigrants and people of colour are always disproportionately the victims of such tragedies. Prior to this event there were documented complaints about the “very poor fire safety standards” in the building and the questionable cladding that was apparently put up largely for cosmetic reasons because wealthy residents of the neighbourhood did not like the look of the towers.

The tower stands in Kensington and Chelsea which has one of the starkest divides between extreme wealth and poverty. It is on the Lancaster West Estate which houses poor, multi-ethnic families. As early as last November the Grenfell Action Group warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

We have seen similar incidents around the world where the divides between the uber wealthy and the poor are growing sharper and in areas where real estate is in high demand. In neglected slums of Manila fires are an all too common occurrence. In Mumbai and Bangladesh we have seen this time and time again in sweat shops and shanty towns. The cries of the poor are seldom, if ever, heard. And this is by design.

Global capitalism cannot afford societies built on the values of mutual cooperation or respect of the dignity and inherent worth of all human beings. There is too much profit at stake to even allow this kind of conversation among the wealthy elite. But perhaps this tragedy, much like the one at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on that sorrowful day in NYC, will galvanize us all to challenge and dismantle this system of ruthless barbarity. Perhaps it will be a wake up call for us to begin constructing a world where the dictatorship of money is no longer acceptable.

In a very real sense we are all in that burning tower now and the wealthy and powerful are busy alighting the flames that will burn up the entire planet before our eyes. It is my hope that we will use this horrific and needless tragedy to awaken from our collective slumber and work to build the world that they will not permit. There isn’t much time left and irreparable damage may have already been done.  But we owe it to those who have already been lost to let this be a rallying cry for a revolution of the heart.


My deepest sympathy to the victims and their families.
Kenn Orphan 2017

The Perfect Freedom of a Meadow

Spring is in full bloom here on the coastal barrens of Nova Scotia.  And there are some who would want to neatly mow the grasses of our little meadow. Lawns, after all, have become synonymous with Western notions of how a well appointed home should look. But doing this right now seems savage to me. And our home is far from “well appointed” anyway, being situated within the crux of a nature preserve.

Indeed, Spring has unleashed a fury of colour and variety in our little meadow. And these places have sadly become all too rare in our world. They are often razed and scraped clean of their diversity to be replaced with a mono-crop of one species of grass; and they are frequently beset with life extinguishing pesticides and weed killers. Other times they are cleared to furnish the insatiable needs of urban sprawl. The housing and business industry sees them as great money makers since they are almost always level.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the smell of fresh cut grass and lawns can be fun to roll down or picnic and play badminton on. But there are no shortage of them in this world. And at a time when fragile ecosystems are being devastated at breakneck speed in the service of moneyed interests, I cherish this small piece of paradise beyond what I could ever describe.

I love the way the wind ripples through it as if pebbles were being cast into a still pond. How plump bumblebees bob through the tender reeds like drunken helicopter pilots with too much cargo; or how tiny birds peek through clearings as if negotiating a forest. The colours are truly revealed at sunset with breathtaking simplicity, and in the moonlit nightscape I like to imagine I am sailing through a nebula in search of a new star on a sea of sapphire drenched clouds.

I did mow a couple paths through it so that we can get to the trail, the composting barrel and to walk around and admire the wildflowers beginning to open. But I will likely leave it this way until the August sun dries much of it out. In the meantime I will revel in this sense of perfect freedom a meadow bestows on this humble admirer.

“How does the meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold.” ~ William Wordsworth


Kenn Orphan  2017