March 31, 2011
This was a MAGNIFICENT demonstration of the fury most people feel, whatever their background, at being impoverished by a government of millionaires. My daughter and I were proud and happy to be there, amongst as it turned out, between 250 and 500,000 others.
I came across the Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC) section of the march, via the website of the Coalition of Resistance. I haven’t been able to be very active in the disability movement for many years now and for a number of reasons. One of these has certainly been my deteriorating physical condition. Nevertheless, I have been so outraged by the decisions of the government, that I was absolutely determined to go on the march organised by the TUC. Additionally, my daughters are now nearly 18 and one of them was free and eager to come on the march and push my wheelchair.
I have to say a little more about my outrage, though. I remember a cartoon postcard I used to have up in my study, which said “To make the rich work harder we pay them more: to make the poor work harder we pay them less”. The millionaires’ (government’s) decisions to make everybody – except the people responsible for the economic mess – much, much poorer, disgusts me more than I can say. Combine that with being able to find enough money to wage wars halfway round the world and I find my blood boiling.
I, like many others, have found that supports that I’ve depended on have been gradually eroded over the years (and sadly not just by this government). A social worker said to me recently that when she first started out, there were eight different categories under which help and support could be given to disabled people. Now there’s one. And we all know that this one is going to shrink even further, as the powers that be define our need almost out of existence. Equally we know that this in turn is going to create even greater need and many tragedies in our community. I meant to make a placard for the march which would read “This government targets help to the most vulnerable”.
Anyway back to the march. We had to travel by train to Waterloo and then get a taxi to the meeting point. I managed to get a permit from the TUC which would allow a taxi to drop me close to where the DPAC meeting point was. My anxiety about not being able to get through the traffic to be there on time meant that we arrived pretty early, before many other disabled people had managed to make it, but that allowed us to get into the mood.
There was already a very festive atmosphere. The stewards were in place (as were the accessible toilets, thank goodness) and my daughter ran around finding placards to attach to the wheelchair. It was a shame that the lovely sunny weather decided that day to disappear behind a blanket of cloud, with a chill wind to keep me from really relaxing, but I was determined to enjoy myself and I did. From her more elevated position my daughter was great at spotting witty placards — and there were many — and drawing my attention to them.
From the very beginning the noise was phenomenal, the usual shriek of whistles rather overwhelmed by the blast of vuvuzelas. I knew my tinnitus would go mad (and it has) but I had to say to myself “so what?”The huge down side didn’t occur to me, until I met up with an old friend of 17 years ago, who is blind. The racket these vuvuzelas made was virtually wiping out the sense on which she most depended and she was horribly stressed. But of course she soldiered on.
It seems a funny thing to say, but it is testament to the size of this demonstration, that actually I saw few of the disabled people from my past. The fact is that there were many of us, but we were thoroughly integrated into the mass of humanity there, even if DPAC had hoped that we would be en bloc. This was for 2 good reasons. One was because so many people had the confidence to join the march wherever they happened to arrive, and the other was that those of us who did start out together soon found that the tide of ‘walkie-talkies’ (as one young friend of mine used to call people who could walk and speak without difficulty) swept in and around us.
Both my daughter and I loved that anybody and everybody talked to us in perfectly natural ways. One man explained that he was retired and fairly comfortably off, but he felt he had to join in (which involved travelling from Chesterfield) because, as he put it, “What is happening is just wrong”. The speakers we heard in Hyde Park, before my back was really too tired to stay any longer, hit all the right notes. We left around 2:30 and were delighted to see people still pouring in.
One last point: whatever your views on the anarchists who used the occasion for violence and destruction, it has incensed me that the BBC’s constant concern seems only to have been about the police not having been able to prevent it. Even the guy in charge of the police operation had to rein the interviewer in and say they couldn’t do more unless we want a police state. And we don’t!
March 30, 2011
The weekend of the TUC march I stayed with my friend Marisha who I met a couple of years ago when we occupied a social services office in Birmingham with other DANners. Seeing her again was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. We were also able to celebrate the sad demise of the charity that had been supposed to support her to live independently, the one some of you may know said the reason that her flat was damp was due to her breathing in it.
She was very disappointed not to be able to join the march as she has a broken leg but helped with the work for the virtual protest we had as well.
On the morning of the march I met some other DPAC supporters and a photographer who had arranged to spend the day following me around and we went to Savoy Street with our DPAC banner and some placards that we gave out to others. It was good to join up with people from other disability campaigns and to see people I hadn’t seen for ages.
We were then shepherded away by a steward with about 20-30 wheelchair users all trying to push our way through a large crowd of people to move to the front of the march.
When we did eventually arrive at the front of the march another steward tried to stop Mikael and I joining the disabled people’s section as we didn’t ‘look’ disabled. As I was wearing my DPAC teeshirt this seemed a bit peculiar but….However we did join them together with Jan and Sedley who had our banner and also don’t ‘look’ disabled either.
All went well for a while until we were suddenly swamped by people from UNISON who started to overtake us and then in Downing Street where we had to move into a much narrower column of people I lost almost everyone I was with, including the photographer, plus the banner.
We had arranged, or so I thought, for people from London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) to march with us and provide support if anyone needed it during the march but that didn’t work out either as not ‘looking’ disabled they weren’t allowed into Savoy Street to meet up with us.
Anyhow Mikael and I continued on the march and met up with Terri from Manchester for a while. It was good to see her again too.
We eventually arrived at Hyde Park but had no idea where the static protest or the space set aside for disabled people was. There were no signs and no stewards to ask, however I eventually got a text from Eleanor and we headed towards where she was.
On the way we gave out lots of leaflets about DPAC to anyone who ‘looked’ even vaguely impaired. It would have been good to be able to identify those with invisible impairments too but obviously even for us that’s difficult.
I was very disappointed with Ed Milliband’s speech which didn’t even mention disabled people. Perhaps since it was his party, the Labour party, which began many of the attacks against disabled people he wanted to avoid the issues.
Around 3 pm I headed back to the centre to find some cheaper food than that on offer at Hyde Park and afterwards went to Trafalgar Square. This started to fill up about 5.30ish and I met women I knew from Winvisible and Single Mothers Self-Defence who were there with lots of other women from Global Women Strike.
As I’d lost all my placards by then I borrowed one from them which read “ Tahrir Square, WC2, City of Westminster” It seemed hugely popular and Christine and I who had the same placard were being photographed every few minutes by people passing by.
Everyone in Trafalgar Square was having a peaceful good time and enjoying themselves at that stage of the evening. There was drumming and dancing, some speeches and students and younger people sitting around Nelson’s column singing and chanting. Us women did some chanting too my favourite being “Cuts Kill, Kill the Cuts, Eton Scum here we cum”
A little later someone used their loud speaker system to announce that the media had been sent away and legal observers arrested and 800 people kettled in Picadilly Circus. The police were also lining up at that time to kettle Trafalgar Square and we saw a number of young people being stopped and searched for no apparent reason. After distributing some bust cards to some young people who didn’t have one we decided to leave as were cold (read freezing for that) and tired by then and didn’t want to be kettled for hours.
By the time I arrived back at Marisha’s there seemed to be a full-scale battle going on in Trafalgar Square so I’m glad we left when we did.
Do I think the day was worthwhile? Short of half a million people rushing into the House of Commons and taking it over I’m not sure the government care much about our views and dissent, but it was a great feeling to see so many disabled and non-disabled people united and fighting for their futures against the cuts.
For me it is very, very important that it is us who put forward our views “ Nothing about us without us” and that we campaign for ourselves as disabled people with both visible and invisible impairments. It is important that we throw off the paternalism of being spoken for by the disability charities and work with other disabled people in unions and DPOs to organise for ourselves.
So the fight we started at the Tory Party Conference continued on March 26th but for us I don’t think it will end with the downfall of the coalition government it is the system that exploits us all that must change.
( pictures of the day by Mikael Barnard)
March 30, 2011
My feelings about Saturday’s March for the Alternative are extremely mixed. In terms of the size of the event there is little doubt that it was a success, however, I have to admit to coming away feeling disappointed.
There’s no one specific reason I can pinpoint, therefore, the best I can do is to try and give my emotions some context.
My journey down to London was fairly uneventful. I did strike up a conversation with a female Barbershop Choir singer and discussed common ground around assumptions that are made and experiences of inequality. I wasn’t aware until quite recently, for example, that women took part in Barbershop singing. Strangely the whole day became littered with examples of assumptions that are made and experiences of inequality. My body isn’t capable of marching these days so I planned to go to the static protest in Hyde Park, but to grab a bite to eat. Sat in an American style dinner and about to attack a piece of bacon, I was approached by a stranger who offered to assist. Normally, I would be prepared to struggle on independently, time wasn’t on my side so I accepted. As he sliced away, he turned with a smile and said: “It’s okay, I understand your problems; I’m a nurse”.
Despite the crowds I finally reached Hyde Park however in the dinner I realised I’d left the details of where the static protest was at home. Each steward I spoke to tried to send me in a different direction and even tried to haul me into the “crip pen” in front of the stage! Resisting, I stormed into the TUC Information tent only to discover that there was no details about the static protest. Once outside again I ran into a gaggle of disabled people who I knew from the Disabled people’s Movement and they said that the static was way back near where I had come from! Feeling angry and frustrated, I was on the verge of exploding when Show of Hands came and did a sound check with, Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed. This calmed me and I decided to unfurl by Disabled People Against Cuts banner just left of the stage and hoped this could be a rallying point.
Holding the banner proved to be a bit of a pantomine, but I was eventually assisted by Sheila Blair who was on the British Council of Disabled People’s Management Committee with me and….wait for it…Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of UNISON! Soon the numbers in the Park increased as a large sea of Marchers arrived at the stage. Although my ploy of forming a rallying point paid off and I was joined by other disabled people from DPAC and the Black Triangle Campaign, I didn’t gather a sense of unity and togetherness that was there in Birmingham last October.
Disabled People Against Cuts had hoped disabled people would have had a visible presence and some of our issues would’ve been mainstreamed but apart from the speech by the TUC Disability Committee Chair and the odd mention, I felt disabled people were totally marginalised. Listening to speech after speech, I suddenly realised that these people weren’t deliberately “ignoring” disabled people, the truth is they remain largely ignorant of our issues and therefore simply rely on simplistic assumptions about who and what we are. They cannot include us in their speeches because they have nothing meaningful to say about our lives or how the cuts will impact upon our lives. It was left to Sean McGovern, TUC Disability Committee Chair, to spell out the real issues for disabled people – sadly, I was heading back to Euston by the time he came on! I wasn’t however surprised by our absence from Ed Miliband’s speech, Labour after all begun the attack on disabled people that the CONDEMS are now implementing.
So you see, for me there wasn’t an ‘alternative’ presented; it was the same old story with the TUC and mass media not really interested in disabled people’s involvement in the day. Disabled people remain at the margins of both society and the struggle against inequality and injustice.
Next time we need to seize more control and ensure we aren’t left ‘invisible’. I’m not sorry I went, disabled people were there and we did contribute. Despite the mistakes and frustrations I’d rather see disabled people keep forcing our way into the mainstream rather than see us go cap-in-hand to the disability charities begging them to organise on our behalf!
March 30, 2011
I set off around 9.30am to find parking at the Southbank, to then cross over Waterloo Bridge. The streets were empty, eerie almost, as I drove past Ludgate Circus. Streets closed, police starting to gather. Protesters too were evident in the chilly grey morning, the sun pushing intermittently to lighten the day. The Southbank didn’t let me down and once parked up, I wheeled over the bridge, along with growing numbers of protesters. Quite a moment to look down and see the large gathering already there, noise emanating, banners flying, along Victoria Embankment.
There was some confusion at Savoy Street. I suppose I had naively expected some sort of meet and greet! Instead there were several TUC stewards and numbers of disabled people – many of us feeling a little disorientated. I bought a whistle and had my own banners taped to my chair. People I knew started to arrive, along with many I didn’t. We were quite a mixed bunch but very happy to be congregating at the beginning of the march.
There was noise – drumming, cheering, whistles, those vuvuzela things. It created an atmosphere that was expectant, celebratory almost, and very intense. At times it was very daunting to think of the thousands upon thousands gathering behind us.
Eventually we were lead through some of the crowd with a personal escort of TUC stewards. These guys were great and I feel it was a thankless tasks. There were simply so many people, huge, huge numbers. So it seems the main group of disabled people became splintered into smaller groups and although we were taken to march behind the lead banner and the band (the very fab Bollywood Brass), somehow, this situation didn’t last.
I lasted the long steady journey to Hyde Park. At times it was cold, it drizzled and the streets became so stuffed with people I thought I’d have an anxiety attack. But I got there, head stuff full of memories that need to be distilled and ordered.
In the park I met Eleanor who was live Tweeting. I never made it, sadly, to my friends and colleagues of Islington DDPAC or the main DPAC group. I heard Ed Milliband waffle a bit, some good, some dull stuff. I noted that disabled people in any sense other than recipients of ‘welfare’ or NHS services, were not very much mentioned. Maybe we are not considered great union material! By the main stage/screen, there was also only one rather basic accessible portaloo with no useful grab rails and no covered area for crips, and no supply of chairs.
But I feel loathe to gripe, as I am glad I went, glad I came out to be counted and bear witness to the cruel attacks being made on us all. We did give the message, I am sure it was noticed. We will NOT be an easy, quiet and compliant target for these savage cuts!
Finalist, Emerging Artist DadaFest 2010
Films and Spoken Word
Penny’s photos of the rally are here.
March 30, 2011
Shan’t attempt to give a broad canvas of Saturday’s march, as the day didn’t pan out that way for me. No, the event was a veritable whirligig of wonderful snapshots; a kaleidoscope of different activities fused together to create one of the most successful labour movement demos ever!
After several incidents on the way to the event we were led out by the march stewards and invited to take up positions behind the lead banner – you know, the one held at about chest height. The TUC had allocated me a steward for the march, Karl a Unite organiser and good Comrade; and, Karl spotting the last remaining place along the banner’s length pushed me towards it.
There had been an agreement that, due to the disproportionate punishment we were receiving by these cuts, disabled people should visible at the front of the march.
So far so good; however, as I put my arm forward to hold the banner, as if from nowhere an elderly woman rushed past me and hopping over my legs and footplate gripped onto the remaining section of banner.
Not very comradely; and, of course now there was no visible representation of disabled people at the very front of the march; something we’d been promised. The banner snatcher being taller blocked me from view.
For the sake of solidarity, I won’t name the sprightly 76-year old Vice President, and London Region secretary, of the National Pensioners Convention; but may I ask next time, please pick on someone your own size!
Sean’s speech at Hyde Park
WHOOPS – SORRY WRONG GIG!
Hello Comrades, I’m Sean McGovern, a disabled trade union activist; and, I’m honoured to be here today part of this anti-cuts movement. Which is growing daily!
Comrades, disabled people are fighting for the most basic of human rights.
• The right to work;
• the right to a living income for those who can’t work;
• the right to sustenance;
• the right to decent care support;
• the right to live without hate crime; and
• the right to dignity!
May I congratulate some of our popular media? Well done the Daily Heil, the Sun and Express, you purveyors of disablist propaganda. Along with the rubbish-end of TV and attention seeking politicians you’ve managed to demonise disabled people.
In times of recession and economic downturn governments and their media hounds need a scapegoat; history has shown us this; today it’s the turn of disabled people – who’s next?
No wonder hate crime against disabled people is on the rise.
While the bankers caused this economic crisis disabled people’s support and benefits are being blamed.
So much so that we are feeling the brunt of the ConDem ideological cuts.
They say these cuts aren’t ideological – liars!
• Replacing Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment, with predicted savings of 20% – naked ideology!
• Introducing a draconian set of Work Capability Assessments – viciously ideological!
• Migrating disabled people from Incapacity Benefit to poverty level JobSeekers Allowance – driven by ideology!
• Removing hundreds of items from Access to Work; a scheme that earns 20% for every pound spent! – stupid ideology!
• Supported employment schemes such as Remploy under threat; thus adding to an ever-increasing unemployment queue and benefits bill – misguided ideology!
Not content with attacking our jobs and benefits they’re bent on depriving us of life enhancing resources. And calling it the BIG SOCIETY!
Day centres are closing. Council care is being cut. Direct Payments bills slashed as eligibility criteria are squeezed to critical only.
Comrades, every day disabled people are dying due to ConDem ideologically driven policies. They must go!
Today the struggle shifts up a gear! From here we must return to our cities, towns and villages to organise everyone against this ConDem regime; these enemies of disabled people, these enemies of the people – our class!!”
March 29, 2011
First published at This is me blog and republished with kind permission from Jack.
On Saturday 26th March, Emily, my mum and I made our way from her flat in Woolwich to Savoy street near the Embankment to meet up at the disabled meeting point with the WTB crowd. Lisa had kindly sorted and ironed on transfers to tshirts that we wore at the protest. After we started getting going we had to make our way through the crowds up to the front, which was rather challenging trying to get the people in wheelchairs past the massive amounts of people that were in the way. This was rather poorly planned in that respect.
Due to my own bad planning I ended up having to take my crutches for the day, I never normally use my crutches for that long in a day, only for short distances. I must admit that I stupidly pushed myself far too hard trying to keep up with everyone, trying to get through the crowds I was jostled about quite a bit and I spent most of the parade route with my joints not really in place. Instead of listening to this pain I kept on going way beyond what was reasonable, and I am certainly paying for that now.
Despite all the hype in the media, what I saw was on the whole peaceful. It was really inspiring there was such a diverse crowd of people, people of all ages, races, religions, disabled, non-disabled and so on. After we got to Hyde park we made our way over to soho square, but by that point I was in so much pain I was on the verge of passing out, I was having some pretty major pots issues and I needed to stop. This meant that I missed out on seeing the comedy gig which happened in soho square in the end, and I really wanted to be there, but I just wasn’t up to it. Mum, Emily and I went off and had some lunch before making our way back to Hyde park.
It was while we were eating our lunch that we saw a few masked individuals run up to Oxford Street, but there seemed like there were very few there not really enough to cause such a big fuss that was all over the media. It definitely felt like there were way more police than there were troublemakers. While we were on the way to the underground we went past a mcdonalds that had broken windows and looked like it had a paint bomb thrown at the windows. Even then the damage didn’t look that extensive, that being said it was still pretty early in the day at this point so the situation could have got worse after then.
We got to see some of the people speak at Hyde park and Emily took a fair few pictures from that day which was nice. There was even a disabled speaker which we managed to catch. After Hyde park we made our way back over to Victoria where we were getting our coach from, at that point I couldn’t even put any weight on my left foot which was rather swollen and deformed so we had to sort that out before getting on to the coach.
We got home around 11:30pm in Bristol and it had been a rather long weekend. It was really worth it to see the WTB people and to get to the march, sometimes it really is worth the pain. That being said next time I really need to arrange a chair as I was in a lot of pain from a couple of mins in, it was only adrenaline and a boatload of painkillers that kept me going that weekend.
March 29, 2011
Originally published on Lisy Babe’s blog and republished with kind permission from her.
Based on the TUC’s access info I’d planned to meet a bunch of other WtBers in Savoy Street for 11am. This was supposed to be the gathering point for disabled people to have a “safe space” at the front of the march. I have brittle bones and I was with 2 people whose joints dislocate easily so the notion of a “safe” space where we wouldn’t get smacked around was pretty important for us to protest, you know, safely.
The pink cross on the map shows where we gathered and the turquoise line shows how far we had to walk through a sea of people to get to that “safety”. Moving through large crowds as a wheelchair user is not easy at the best of times. You’re at arse height to everyone else and people don’t tend to look down when they move around so they walk into you, trip over you and generally leave you feeling pretty bruised. Add banners, flags and other things that feel like weapons when people hit you with them and it’s even worse.
So that the TUC had us gather some distance away and then walk through the crowd where we got a bit battered was a serious common sense fail. Between the lack of logic and getting smacked around I started off the march really quite pissed off.
This was us gathering in Savoy Street looking cheerful prior to our adventure through the crowd:
This was my view of people’s backs as we were making our way through the crowd:
And it’s worth noting that I took this photo at a point while walking through the crowd when I had enough room around me to actually do so! I spent a lot of the time using my arms to protect my face from people’s backpacks and such.
Eventually we did make it to the “special” spot:
Thankfully once we’d made it through the crowd and the march set off there were no more such access fail dramas. As a result I began to really enjoy myself. The following 3 photos were taken by Emsy during the march:
We made it into Hyde Park at about 1pm (after what seemed like quite a long human traffic jam at Hyde Park Corner). Most of us quickly nipped to the loo and then headed off to Soho Square for the UK Uncut comedy at 2.
I didn’t want to stick around in Hyde Park for the rally mainly because
Mr “I’m in favour of cutting disability benefits” Miliband was speaking. I
feared my anger at him would cause me to regress a few evolutionary steps
and start flinging faeces
I’ve always been disabled, but until about 5 years ago I was perfectly “healthy”; I was free from illness. For many people there’s a massive overlap between “illness” and “impairment”, but there’s also some differences too. So I’ve always had a rubbish skeleton but before I acquired a plethora of illnesses unrelated to my mobility impairment I used to do that working-for-a-living thing.
I used to be a stand-up comic. Yes, I’m aware of the irony of a wheelchair-using stand-up.
On Friday evening while I was in the supermarket shopping for more T-shirts to iron the WtB logo onto a thought occurred to me: “It’s comedy against the cuts. I’m doing all this stuff about the cuts to disability benefits and I have a background in comedy; I should be speaking.” So I emailed the organisers and asked if I could do a short set. The reply I got back was “the line up’s pretty full, but we’ll try and fit you in.” But in the end (and with a little help from the lovely Johann) I ended up on the bill.
This photo by Chris Coltrane who compered the gig shows what the crowd looked like from where the acts were (and makes me happy that I ironed the WtB logo onto the back of my T-shirt):
That’s Josie Long performing. She opened the show. The crowd had gotten much, much, bigger by the time I went on. This CiF piece estimates there were nearly 1000 people watching the show. I wouldn’t have thought there were quite that many, but there were certainly a couple of hundred.
Against all the odds I had a brilliant gig. Look, people were smiling and laughing!
If you look you can even see Mark Thomas laughing along in that pic.
I’m actually quite proud of that as he is, basically, the industry standard to which all political comedy gets compared.
I say “against all the odds” because by rights I really should have died on my arse. It’s 3 and a half years since I last gigged due to becoming too ill to carry on with the comedy thang. Usually if you take a break from comedy for 3 and a half weeks you come back to find your timing’s a little off and your rhythm’s a bit out. And I wasn’t doing tried and tested material, I was doing stuff that I’d written 12 hours earlier because I only had the idea to ask to go on about 18 hours before I ended up on “stage”. I shouldn’t have been “in shape” enough to deal with a heckler and turn around a joke that was a bit of a dud. OK, the heckler was very nice and friendly but it’s still an interruption to your rhythm and you need to regain control and come out on top with a laugh.
Somehow it was all OK. Sure, it wasn’t my best gig ever but given everything going against me it went so much better than I could ever possibly have dreamed of.
In the past I used to mix up jokes about disability issues and other stuff because if I’d only talked about disability I’d never have been able to hold the attention of a non-disabled audience. But given that Saturday was such a political gig and the reason I’d asked to speak was to talk about benefits I did a set solely about cuts to disability benefits. The only reaction I was really expecting was some polite applause when I finished from people thinking “aw, wasn’t that nice the disabled woman telling us about benefits.” I wasn’t expecting such a warm response and to come off stage to have all my friends hug me at once. It was like being mauled by an octopus, but in a nice way.
I’ve always thought that comedy had a wonderful capacity for education, another reason I really wanted to speak. So I was chuffed to bits when I got home to read this in The Guardian’s Live Blog about the day:
I just spoke to two teenagers aged 17 and 19 who have come from the comedy show in Soho Square, and they said that what they heard there made them think more than anything they have ever learnt at school. It’s their first demonstration and when I asked why they came they said they realised that the demonstration is about more than just the UK.
They can understand the connection between the shops and the banks that people are targetting and the global situation that is effecting everyone. They’ve heard Mark Thomas and a disabled comedian and Johann Hari speak. For these teenagers the protest is absolutely opening their minds to a much wider picture.
Noa, who snapped that pic of me in action, said:
you rocked it woman, it was FUNNY and also very disturbing to learn a few of the stories you shared. many thanks and please keep healthy and get back on stage where you belong!
I’m absolutely thrilled that I opened some people’s eyes to what’s going on for disabled people in the UK. There’s a couple of extracts from my set in the Laugh Out London podcast.
I left Soho Square on such an adrenaline high. I’d taken a huge gamble in asking to do a set but it absolutely paid off. I would have skipped home if I could, you know, skip.
Then came the sadness. I love doing stand up so much. It’s such an amazing feeling when you’ve got hundreds of people laughing at jokes you wrote, and Saturday was a reminder of just how thrilling it is. It’s so painful that I’m not well enough to perform any more. I have good days and bad, Saturday was obviously a good day. But the sheer frequency of the bad days means that I can’t book gigs more than 14 hours in advance because I can never guarantee that I’ll be well enough to show up. It doesn’t matter if you have a legitimate reason for not showing up to a gig, if you let a promoter down they’re not going to book you again and will very possibly bad-mouth you to other promoters. I have this thing that I love doing, and Saturday reminded me that I’m actually reasonably good at it, but my health prevents me from pursuing it. And the government and tabloids really think I’d rather be stuck at home claiming benefits than out following my dreams?
The other element of sadness on Saturday night came from watching BBC News attributing the Black Bloc protesters smashing things up to UK Uncut. UK Uncut are a group of peaceful protesters who’d given me this wonderfully enjoyable afternoon of comedy in a park. And here these lovely people were being falsely accused of violence and vandalism. It was deeply disappointing.
Despite the day starting with access fail and ending in sadness I don’t think I’ll ever forget that chunk of a few hours in the middle where I had the best time I’ve had in years.
Cross-posted at Where’s the Benefit?
March 29, 2011
Saturday Match the 26th – it was the D-day, I was out the night before and had too much to drink so I was quite surprised when at 7AM sharp I awoke….( I pride myself on the ability to wake up early if I need to without setting an alarm). I got dressed and ready to rumble. My mate called me around 9pm to wake me up! (I had the day before begged her to wake me up at 8, just in case the alcohol knocked me out!) She apologised that she forgot and wanted to know how ready I was…I’m ready baby was my response.
9:40AM – My mate collected me and we headed for the march, I was feeling excited and at the same time apprehensive, the previous demos have been riddled with issues, the police being naughty and incompetent and all that, my mate also narrated how the night before she spent hours just trying to get info on which roads were closed and how f**ked the metropolitan online map was. To make matters worse the police operator wondered why she wanted to be near the demo – you guessed it – because according to her they were expecting trouble and a disabled woman should not be nowhere near Hyde Park.
10:30AM – We approached the meeting point and needed to ask for direction from 2 policemen. Surprise, surprise these officers were very friendly and even moved their cones from a blocked road to pass us through….my mate said she will drop an email praising these guys unlike the patronising woman who responded to her the day earlier. Anyway we made our way to the blue badge parking and set off on our wheelchairs – thank God my mate’s support worker was a special guy, he literally pushed me and luckily my mate was an efficient wheelchair user( unlike me…lazy bones!). We got to the front of the Ritz Hotel, and by that time that crazy guy called “hunger” was nudging at us; however I had another crazy guy to attend to….wee! so while the special one and my mate went to get sandwiches and coffee I went in search of a loo (I was at this time using my crutches so I thought I don’t need an accessible loo) The only place near enough (you would think I will go to the Ritz, I thought…black guy and disabled…nah!) was this old pub. The pub was full of fellow demonstrators having the odd drink and coffee, first of all if I had used my wheelchair there was no way I would have entered the pub, no wheelchair access here folks. I got in with some difficulties and guess what, no accessible loos and the only ones had steep steps that must be under grade 1 listing! So Mr wee had to remain with me for a little longer, I was still too scared to go to the Ritz!
12:30PM – the march had begun and reached where we were, so we joined…. hurrah we are going to be part of history and everything still looked rather like a carnival. Along the way a gentleman John from Norwich offered to push my mate’s wheelchair whilst the special one pushed me, soon Eleanor and her team caught up with us and we went with them. It was a long walk for those with functioning legs; I was being pushed so it felt more like a ride really…. (Cheeky)
We got to the park and TUC had provided several loos for the big crowd, at this time Mr wee just had to get out of my body so Eleanor’s daughter (another special one – the lady special one) offered to push me to the loos where so many people were queuing to attend to their Mr and Mrs Wees!
So back to the demo, I had a good time….the visibility DPAC and other organisations gave us was to me very empowering and this is not to make Eleanor and Linda blush. The speeches were rather too long and I felt disconnected but when the TUC disabled rep took the podium, boy what a speech…his narrative and what the cuts would mean captured the very essence of being at Hyde Park and finally I like the fact that at last the mainstream collaborated with us to sing from the same song sheet, inclusion can indeed be achieved.
March 29, 2011
I was really pleased to be able to do part of the march – it’s often the case with me that I don’t know if I can do something til the day itself, and so it was on this occasion. I decided not to try and travel with anyone else as sometimes trying to fit in with other people’s schedules is more exhausting than just going at my own pace. So I went to Green Park by tube, hoping to meet up with my ‘gang’, Islington Deaf and Disabled People Against Cuts. But when I got there my first priority was to get fueled up, plus there was the always essential loo requirement to be met. So I went in a cafe and had a good dose of tea and chocolate to prepare for the exertion ahead.
Probably as a result of that interlude I completely missed my disabled buddies. In addition it’s so hopeless trying to phone anyone, or hear your phone, on a demo – I have plenty of demo experience and should know that by now! I also missed the main DPAC group. But luckily was then able to meet up with a (non-disabled) friend and her friends and do the march with them.
The walk to Hyde Park was good and uplifting – such a sense of solidarity and so many great banners. I’ve attached a pic of my home-made effort. I would have loved to have been able to walk up through the park to hear the speeches but by that time energy was beginning to fade and I wanted to make sure I got home without a later collapse. So sat with my friend on a bench near Hyde Park Corner for a while and enjoyed watching everyone go by. Got home in reasonable time via Hyde Park tube and went straight to bed.
My two niggles, disability-wise, would be that certainly by the time the march reached Green Park there was no obvious sign of any big disabled bloc at the front. Also that it wasn’t easy to find out about the static protest in advance. I thought about going straight to the park and joining this, but looking at the website found you had to have registered yourself by 18th March, filling in a great long form about car parking, totally irrelevant to me. It would have helped to have had a map of the park showing the site of the protest, so people who weren’t going by car could just go straight to it. I don’t even know if there was a static protest, and would be interested to hear whether it happened and how it went.
March 28, 2011
I arrived at the Embankment about 10:00 to be greeted by a sea of people. I wanted to take some photos of the Hayward Gallery building for a personal project so I popped over the bridge and did that then went to go back over to find that the police were only allowing people over in one direction, the one I had just come, I was given a choice of crossing by either Waterloo or Westminster bridges, I chose the latter.
I found this really quite a pain because I had to walk all the way up, cross and walk all the way back down again and then find Savoy street where I was due to meet the group from DPAC. I finally got to Savoy Street at 11:00 precisely and a lot more hot and bothered than I should have been. Whenever I join DPAC at such events I always try to find Linda (Burnip) since she was one of the people who made me feel so welcome when I started to involve myself with DPAC.
I found her, handed over some leaflets I had been asked to print for the day and introduced myself to a couple of other people in the group. At about 11:10 everyone in the group made their way towards the front of the rally, a path being ably cleared by one of the stewards to allow the wheelchair users to move through the crowd. We were conducted through a barrier to join some sort of ‘forward’ group ahead of the main crowd (at least that’s how it appeared to me). One of the stewards momentarily tried to block Linda and myself from passing through but we quickly made it clear that we were with DPAC and I know I for one was ready to give the steward a mouthful on ‘hidden’ disabilities if she tried to be more obstructive but she just sort of shrugged and waved us through. We waited under the bridge for some time, about 20 minutes I should imagine. Then we set off at about 11:40 or so.
I had come prepared with the knowledge that the march was going to be quite a noisy experience and it most certainly was. I’m grateful that my Asperger’s Syndrome is mild enough that I can just about tolerate this when need be but it was one of the more trying and tiring aspects of the day. We approached Whitehall and just as we were approaching Downing Street the protesters were guided to just one side of the street, this led to a slight bottleneck and during the business of trying to integrate ourselves into a narrow path Linda and I became separated from the rest of the DPAC group apart from one guy in a wheelchair whom we caught up with around Piccadilly.
The march proceeded past Trafalgar Square (which Linda and I planned to visit later), along Regent Street, past Fortnum and Mason and The Ritz before all the trouble started and all the way to Hyde Park which we arrived at at about 13:00. We met up with some other DPAC supporters by the main stage where all the speakers were. Mr. Milliband came on and delivered his speech which was met with a mixture of cheers and boos. To my personal delight Tony Robinson was then invited to speak and that really made my day. He returned occasionally to introduce the other speakers, all of whom trotted out the usual speeches they deliver on such occasions. A great cheer when it was announced that there were still many thousands of people waiting to even start to set off from the Embankment.
I had loosely planned to meet up with a friend of mine if possible who was due to be on the march but the group she was with didn’t arrive at the park until well after I left! By 14:00 I was starting to get quite hungry and by 14:30 Linda and I left Hyde Park to get some food. We wound up in the McDonalds at Waterloo station. We got the underground from there to Charring Cross and proceeded to Trafalgar Square and we arrived there at about 16:30. We were both in need of a good sit down by then so we found some spare space on one of the benches and did so.
There was a fair sized crowd in the square by that point and lots of police officers milling about, a large number of them were standing on the steps of the portrait gallery keeping a watchful eye over things. The biggest group was huddled around Nelson’s column and once more I gritted my teeth through the noise of amplified bass instruments which happily and unexpectedly stopped around 17:30. News had reached us by this point of the riots in Oxford Street riots the occupation of Fortnum and Mason.
We stayed in Trafalgar Square for some time, Linda met a friend and got chatting and I wondered around listening to some of the speeches and watching some of the young people there start a small bonfire, this must have been with at least some measure of police consent- two officers were standing very near and many more were available yet no move was made to stop them. It got to about 19:30, the temperature was dropping somewhat and I had to make the journey back to Leighton Buzzard so I said goodbye to Linda, conveying my hope that I would be able to make and meet up again at the Daily Mail protest on the 14th of April and left for home.
I got home about 21:30 and watched as news came of the clashes between the police and protesters that had just started in… Trafalgar Square! So I missed all the violent scenes I’m afraid but was pleased to generally favourable reports concerning the conduct of those on the main march (those places that bothered to report it at all rather than focus solely on the violence as so many journalists and papers have done). It annoyed me somewhat the next day that whilst reports of the violence of such a small minority were plastered everywhere I could only find a handful of sites that even mentioned Tony Robinson addressing the vast numbers in Hyde Park and NOT ONE SITE that gave a complete list of all the speakers, but no, even with an MA in librarianship not one! No wonder so many people feel they have to resort to violence to be heard, it’s all the media focusses on.
Anyway I think on the whole it was a very good day, I don’t think for a moment it will make this dreadful coalition alter their disgusting cuts programme but at least I slept easier knowing that I had expressed my opposition even if it will only fall on deaf ears. The next day I read a shockingly ignorant article that Mr. Tim Lott had written for the Independent on Sunday, to quote “What are they protesting against? No one is really sure”. I must say I found this really quite insulting, I know exactly what I was protesting against and could elaborate in great detail if Mr. Lott wishes and doubless plenty of other people who were there could do the same! Cuts kill.
Some of Mikael’s photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/disabledpeopleprotest/5565819577/