Bob Williams-Findlay’s account
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!