Netroots UK: reflections as a disabled participant
January 11, 2011
I am still mulling over the Netroots UK and what we should take away from it. I thought DPAC should have a presence there because disabled people are the hardest hit from the savage cuts. I wanted to know what strategies the other anti cuts organisations would have and if we could be part of the solidarity on offer/if any.
So I tentatively suggested a lunchtime fringe discussion –
Crips vs Coalition: In Solidarity and Support
In 2010 we saw how one young disabled protestor, Jody McIntire, can turn the tables against the police. Disabled people are the worst hit by the savage cuts by the Con Dem coalition. Disabled People against Cuts have been leading protest marches in Birmingham but they have not turned out physically in numbers because they have many barriers. We have set up virtual forums where they can express their anger and protest. But we have barely started on our fight yet – make no mistake, we are not fighting for tuition fees now, important though that is, we are fighting for people’s lives. We want to share strategies how in using solidarity and mutual support we can fight against the Coalition!
It was quite well attended (I wasn’t sure if anybody would turn up apart from Rob Droy from Southampton Centre of Independent Living and Lisa E from Wheres the Benefit?) and when the discussion went to how we can get mainstream attention, at least 3 of the journalists (including Kevin Maguire from Daily Mirror and Johann Hari from the Independent) who were there said we had use direct action which would have to be attention grabbing. Well, I guess I myself used the example of Jody McIntyre and the media attention he had. Later on in the main workshop, How to make sure the media delivers for us they made the point that we had to get all our information ready to hand plus all terminology such as Disability Living Allowance comprehensive and easy to understand.
Yes, to be successful at any campaign we need the media and publicity (‘bad publicity is better than no publicity’ we were told). We need allies. We need people to protest and in great numbers. The question we pose is how disabled people do it – with all the barriers and the fears. It was said ‘disability issues are not sexy’. But we can fight back – because we cannot afford not to. One of the conference attendees wrote that our session was the most interesting/shocking for him it was mentioned (by Lisa) that many disabled people are considering suicide because of how they’ll be affected by the cuts to disability benefits but also how there was no moral outcry…
At any conference I go to – I find it duty bound to question access and accessibility and I resent that. Sometimes I get cross and sometimes I want to reserve my energy for other issues – and when I mention access people think because I am a wheelchair user, I mean level access and ramps and mobility. But I am an access adviser by training and that conference was barely accessible for wheelchair users, it would have been impossible for anybody with a hearing impairment for example. Signage was horrendous – I kept ending in the wrong lift. None of the tutorials were accessible because the lift to the 3rd floor was out of order – good thing I did not want to learn about video making. However I have offered my services for future conferences and should I make it easy for them?
Those journalists said that they need instant access to information about benefits which affect us – like the loss of DLA – what does DLA mean and why would we be so badly affected? Many disabled people do not understand themselves how they could be affected, changes are threatened and the consultation questions are so convoluted that even disability activists are at pain to take make sense of them (Read Bob William Findlay’s article on this consultation) . In the same way, disabled people are always asked to explain their needs as if we are aliens. Heavan help those whose impairments are not as visible as mine – as a wheelchair user.
Let’s return to the conference itself. One of the morning sessions was Theory of change: Planning your campaign. I didn’t get to voice my views because I wasn’t chosen even though I did put my hand up to speak – maybe it was because I sat at the back or because I was not assertive enough in raising my hand. Anyway part of the discussion was on movements and campaigns.
Sunny Hundal said in his article :
Our plan isn’t to have long-winded discussions, but create useful spaces where people can discuss strategy drawing on their experience of local campaigns: what works and what doesn’t. We need to help build people’s skills and connect them up so they can get involved in the issues they feel passionate out. We need to create new movements.
Do disabled people need a new movement? For DPAC we feel it is new that we are aligning with trade unions and other non disabled grassroots organisations such as the Right to Work campaign when we march together and we are planning with them and running a workshop to organise for the big TUC event on 26th March.
It is our obligation to organise and build coalitions to fight for disabled people: for disability rights that have been fought so hard for. We have the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Rights not charity and yes, we can see the damage that the “equalities industry” has caused the movement to move away from its grassroots identity to big charities all fighting for the government or local authorities’ contracts. We cannot depend on them to fight for us.
But in reaction to the savage cuts we should not abandon the disability movement or forget disability history. As a result of past disability activists’ struggles for civil and human rights we ended up with the DDA and fought to make improvements to what is an inadequate and still oppressively framed piece of legislation. Benefits as Disability Living Allowance came from past campaigning. And one of the legacies is the social model – and we abandon it at our peril. And we must not forget that disability includes people with non visible impairments, learning difficulties and neuro diversity.
However maybe now more than ever is the chance to set the motion for diversity and inclusiveness? Professor Beresford said way back in 2006 when he pondered the future of the disability movement (Identity crisis)
Tackling the issue of diversity doesn’t detract from solidarity, as is sometimes suggested. Instead, it reinforces it as policy makers find it more difficult to divide different groups and set them against each other.
And this brings back to the Netroots conference – in the ferment of social networking, left wing politics and anti cuts campaigning, how do we forge our own revolt against the present government? Disabled people are the most vulnerable – not in terms of being the stereotyped victims – but that we have the most to lose alongside women, children and carers. And disabled people have multiple identities – they are women, children and carers too.
The discussion amongst ourselves is to question what infrastructure we’ll need and the long-term battles we must begin to organise, the cooperation and alliances we must make.
– Eleanor Lisney
Here are some videos from the conference –
http://www.netrootsuk.org/video-coverage/ Main coverage
From the Guardian ‘We need the Tories in power to unite the Left’
Bibi van der Zee heads to a Netroots UK event to talk to people about the new shape of grass roots politics, and whether having the Conservatives in power will actually empower the Left