When I first met Dawn Foster, who died at the age of thirty-three, she chatted with my then one-year-old daughter as if she were an old friend, and was delighted to hear that ‘they shared the same September. birthday. We were in the same fancy hotel in Bristol for business, and we had a breakfast date after I emailed him to let him know how happy I was to see someone. a write from the point of view of the left and the working class. in the national media. It was all a little incongruous – the woeful middle-aged parents and the tall young woman whose startling blue-green eyes twinkled when she went out for a cigarette – but I knew we had made a friend when she continued to happily discuss mutual friends and irritants while having pieces of hard-boiled egg thrown across the table. (And that was just my husband – badoom-tish – that’s exactly what I would send her now if she was there.)
From that point on, my daughter’s birthday was also “Dawn’s birthday” – we sent her a card reminding her of the double celebration. Not that she needed to be called back. She loved children and she loved people in general – because of her experiences rather than despite her experiences, it always seemed to me. In the short six years we have known each other, I learned enough about what she had experienced in her childhood and adolescence to find not only her resilience, but her complete lack of self-pity. source of wonder and help. She didn’t just want to survive, but to thrive in the life she had made for herself.
She did this by choosing to harness her anger as a source of positive energy: not just for herself but for anyone who needed it. Her origin was not only working-class, she was in many ways truly marginal: disturbed and disheveled by periods of care, school changes, and domestic experiences so malevolent they could have destroyed her. Above all, his environment was one of trials. Even as her writing career took off, she struggled to work around poverty rather than out of it, knowing that she would likely be in debt due to student loans for most of her life. Because of this, she never gave up on the idea that much of her early suffering was preventable. She has never been comfortable enough to forget that poverty is a political choice inflicted by those who do not live there.
Dawn’s rage at this fact gave her what poet Paul Farley, in reference to his own trajectory from the Liverpool municipal estate to the post of professor, called the ‘flight speed’ necessary to overcome the merry-go-round of economic traps. and socio-cultural which keep working class people in their place. A scholarship in Warwick – a glass university with an Oxbridge complex – gave her this ticket, but her cruelties did not leave her indifferent. We once gave a talk on social mobility where Dawn told how, as a scholarship student, she was invited to a special reception meant to make students from non-traditional backgrounds feel welcome. . In a conversation with a staff member, she exposed her Newport accent and was told she wasn’t going anywhere unless she changed the way she spoke. Such indignities might have curdled his vision in bitterness; other people could have packed their bags and gone home the same day, and you wouldn’t have blamed them. Instead, she modulated as much as she needed and used the light for fuel.
We have bonded by a mutual compulsion to place the experiences of working class individuals in their proper context, in a media landscape that speaks to working class people. We were both sick to death seeing dangerous and reckless political and social affairs stories written by people comfortable enough to assume outrage is the same as anger. Dawn was an engaged reader of the scholarship of figures such as the late Doreen Massey, Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall and space geographer Danny Dorling, whose work seeks to make sense of inequalities as experienced in place and in time ; she did it with such passion and understanding that when she began to write, her synthesis of ideas and experience seemed effortless.
Nowhere was this more evident than on the morning of June 14, 2017, when she awoke to learn that the Grenfell Tower was on fire and many of its residents were trapped inside. She went straight to the building from her home in south London and stayed as long as she could stand, taking notes, reporting, speaking and helping local residents.
“If a tenant is relocated out of the borough, I will go after them,” she wrote to me in a text that day – referring, no doubt, to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the minority government of Theresa May and whoever had the power and influence to prevent seventy-two people from dying under the worst possible circumstances. For her, the “crime” of living in a communal tower had been punished with death: the very definition of social murder.
Dawn’s reporting on Grenfell Tower earned her a regular column in the Guardianopinion pages, in addition to the regular column she had in the Society section of the newspaper. Two days after the fire, she wrote in the Guardian: “The problem some people have with the towers is not security, but the fact that poor people live there, that they exist. She knew this because, perhaps only of all those who covered the fire for national media, she herself had grown up in one of them.
For a while, I felt like not only was everything she deserved and worked for was coming true, but – for once – someone had been awarded a top platform. one precisely on the basis of its unique and crucial perspective, rather than because it was a comfortable fit. Dawn has been able, too briefly, to add her voice to the infinitely small number of national columnists – their ranks now further reduced by the passage of the matchless Gary Younge in academia – which makes it I get it.
Journalists in training are reminded that their role is to afflict those who are at ease and to comfort the grieving. This is precisely what Dawn sought to do with each of her writing, whether it be to relate child hunger, free schools, the long-term effects of sell social housing, or the disastrous impact of universal credit. His columns expose, both patiently and furiously, the moral bankruptcy of those who seek to delegitimize the Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell project. In other words, she expressed the needs and wants of people who can’t afford not to hope, and she took aim with everything she wrote to give people – including herself – something to look forward to.
Obviously, this couldn’t be allowed to happen. In mid-2019, I noticed she hadn’t been in the diary for a while and assumed she was sick, so I texted her to find out how she was. “Fired,” she replied, typically to the point. It appeared that she had write a song, about then Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Tom Watson, who had upset the newspaper keepers so much that they decided she couldn’t stay. All she had done was point out that her boss had come within inches of winning the previous election with the kind of democratic socialist policies that people rightly associate with and expect from a Democratic Socialist Party. Would it not be better for the deputy leader of that party to work to secure victory next time, rather than create the conditions for his catastrophic loss?
the GuardianDawn’s discomfort with Dawn’s point of view – an article to which I contributed, as a freelance writer, for fifteen years – revealed his institutional classism. The inability of its editors to recognize the importance of including this perspective, and to do whatever it takes to support it, to maintain lines of communication, and simply to accept the existence of direct and angry people with very good reasons to be blunt and angry is proof of that. It is also a bad deal: not everyone is liberal, everyone who reads the Guardian is well-off, and there is a large constituency of knowledgeable young readers who – how do you put that? – could do without being told that Jess Phillips speaks for them.
As with any other long-established powerful institution, the newspaper has unspoken rules and structures that serve to maintain its small liberal homeostasis. This is what is so painful: I have no doubt that with better health and a level of support from her employer who recognized the sheer difficulty of her situation, it doesn’t matter how much it is worth sticking a firework display. in the middle class ass once a year while Dawn could have continued to make and develop her contribution. She always had ideas – good and enlightening – in motion, which would never materialize in her own words.
Dawn and I had quite a bit in common apart from a nerd devotion to the social sciences: a South Welsh / Irish heritage shared through peri-urban cities; swear; and a deep love for Liverpool, my adopted hometown. Every time we met in Liverpool you could see Dawn reveling in her crazy zest for life, her Irish, her Catholicism and the simple fact that it’s a place where being a socialist doesn’t make you a weirdo. . Dawn had all of these attributes in spades, so it’s no wonder she liked him.
Yet there were multitudes contained in his life and character that I doubt I ever could have known. We lived in different cities, we were twelve years apart, and I can’t drink more than a pint and a half without falling asleep. But in a way, we were parents: she inspired me, and I was spurred on by how she inspired so many others. I felt gentle and careful standing next to her – she was about a foot taller than me, for one thing – but more courageous after spending time with her. Dawn is irreplaceable, but we can seek to emulate and do something about her extraordinary compassion and feeling for the suffering of others. She had every excuse not to do it, but she did it anyway. So should we.