Penny Pepper’s account
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.