DPAC: Where We Stand
January 28, 2011
Disabled People Against Cuts as a campaigning group was established by disabled people who came together to protest at the Tory Party Conference against the so called emergency measures later announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Within our ranks are people who have a track record of working within both mainstream and disability politics at national and international levels.
DPAC firmly sees the issue of disability as being a political one; where people with impairments are subjected to ‘unequal and differential treatment’ as a result of social relationships found within society. From this political perspective DPAC believes the campaign against the cuts has to be understood within the context of the overall struggle against injustice and inequality – not only do disabled people cover all the equality strands, their unnecessary exclusion from mainstream social activities means many have been denied the right or opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with non-disabled people. Whilst the cuts themselves will have differing amounts of impact upon individual disabled persons’ lives, DPAC believes the cumulative effect upon disabled people’s lives will mean a removal of human and civil rights and the deepening of the experience of social oppression.
There is an old saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, however there are real dangers lurking within this crude logic. Not all who oppose the cuts are doing so for reasons which benefit all people or to support disabled people in particular. DPAC is willing to work with a broad spectrum of forces who are in opposition to the cuts however we will not support or work with campaigns or organisations we believe are a threat to disabled people’s rights and where we see disabled people being used as a stepping stone to further these bodies own interests at disabled people’s expense.
In a similar fashion DPAC fully accepts that probably the majority of disabled and non-disabled people have never viewed disability as a form of social oppression or wouldn’t necessarily support what DPAC stands for.
Since the 1980s the politics of the Disabled People’s Movement have been characterised as ‘not representative’ especially by Government who, in the very next breath, have turned towards the disability charities to discover what “is best for disabled people”. The Disabled People’s Movement has been typical of most social movements for change in the sense that it has progressed through various stages.
Some of the most political elements within the Movement warned in the early 1990s that the Movement put itself at risk if it put all its eggs in one basket by focusing solely on the struggle for anti-discrimination legislation. It has also been said the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act was a “victory” for the Movement however all the evidence suggests the exact opposite – this feeble piece of legislation became a major disabling barrier to real social change. New Labour used it to cause deep divisions among the disabled community and as a consequence the Disabled People’s Movement fragmented and went into steady decline.
What has this to do with DPAC and the current battle? We believe the last few years have weakened disabled people’s collective voice. Many individuals and organisations appear to ‘talk the talk’ in the language of the Movement but their practices show they no longer ‘walk the walk’ and it has become increasingly more difficult to make a distinction between them and the traditional disability charities who have stolen the clothes of the Movement but never the less continue to oppress disabled people in their residential homes and services. Other disabled people have undergone a 180 degree shift and now align themselves with these charities against disabled activists and their organisations. The weakened collective voice also means a fracturing of the ‘politics of disability’ – there is a whole generation of disabled people who have no idea of the battles won and lost. Basic ideas behind the politics of disability have become either watered down or lost completely. It isn’t something DPAC wants to admit to but it has to be said: disabled people are fighting for their lives from a position of weakness – oppression has always held us back, but the de-politicisation of the Disabled People’s Movement is a further hurdle we are being forced to overcome.
In the present climate simply by staying grounded within the politics of disability DPAC risks being characterised as “extremists” or “sectarian”. We would argue that the drift towards pandering to dominant representations of disability and disabled people and the accommodation of traditional disability charities leaves us no choice but to draw a line in the stand and be critical of people who might be viewed as “fighting alongside” disabled people. It is also important to understand what sectarian means. It usually means only prepared to work within narrow framework. DPAC wants to work with and support opposition to the cuts and we certainly aren’t asking anyone to recite the social model of disability to us or follow a specific ‘political line’ before we engage with them, but it is equally the case that we will not work with or support any organisation or campaign, no matter how well intentioned or popular, if we believe the rights and interests of disabled people – not just our own – would be damaged by our involvement or by the messages being conveyed and actions undertaken.
We will evaluate each and every approach made and ensure our decisions are based upon serving the best interests of disabled people both in terms of the fight against the cuts and the wider struggle against disablism. Where we feel there is a need to be critical of others we will attempt to do so in a reasoned manner and by the same token DPAC will pay our utmost attention to any criticism aimed at our campaigning.
Finally, we know there is another old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. We are aware that not all organisations with charitable status or campaigns not led by Disabled People’s Organisations are out to do disabled people harm or damage their interests. DPAC will not aim a size nine boot in the direction of everyone who utters a disablist word or fails to remove disabling barriers immediately! We are here to help make a real difference and that includes supporting others to understand the implications of their actions or inaction. Disablism has a huge influence within society and its harm is not always obvious.