A day in the life..of an armchair protestor

(republished with kind permission)

Steven Sumpter

Steven Sumpter

I am exhausted. I’m so tired that I can’t get out of bed right now. This is because I spent yesterday supporting the March For The Alternative and UK Uncut in any way I could from home.

My living room became a media hub. Along with my sister (@apricotmuffins on twitter) I watched multiple TV news sources, twitter, blogs, emails and news websites. To do the job we had four computers, six screens (including the 32″ TV) and phones, laptops etc. Both of us had Tweetdeck running with six columns of tweets and hashtag searches.

Late on Friday I was drafted in to help out with the virtual protest map from Disabled People Against Cuts. This is a map of many people that could not protest because of illness or disability. After a chat on Skype with the organiser I got to work adding emails of support to the map, eventually getting to sleep after 3am.

Saturday morning, I had promised to spend an hour with my wife over breakfast. I stuffed myself full of painkillers around 9am, and drank coffee. I sent my wife to take coffee to my sister (who lives next door) and wake her up ready for our day of virtual protesting.

A quick check of twitter showed that my automated scheduled tweets about the protest map were being retweeted at a good pace, drawing attention to it. I replied to a couple of tweets to clear up some confusion that my scheduled tweets had caused – people had assumed that I was awake!

Then at 10am I staggered out to the Lantern eating house for breakfast with my wife. To resist temptation, I handed my phone ever to her to keep it away from me! We enjoyed a nice breakfast and I managed to talk about things other than the protest.

Back in the house at 11, my sister and I set up for our protesting. She moved her computer into my house while I frantically tried to fit an extra hard disk into my PC to handle all the TV recording that I would be doing. Unfortunately my new gigantic heatsink was making this difficult! Finally at a little past 11 we were up and running. I sat at my desk with my PC, my old iMac on a table behind me. I set my PC to recording Sky News, and my iMac recording BBC news. My sister was watching on the main TV, switching between channels as they showed anything relevant.

Our biggest task of the day turned out to be keeping the DPAC map up to date. Logging in to the email account showed 54 messages waiting to go online, with more pouring in. I set my sister up with the email and map and showed her how to add people, and we attacked that task. I did the ones with pictures myself as it was a little more involved. Some where frustrating, since they didn’t include their location which made it difficult to add them to a map! Others had misunderstood and sent us long messages, promotions for events and other things which were not suitable for our map of solidarity.

All the while we were carrying out this task we were also watching twitter and the TV for updates about the march. Any time an interesting comment, update or insight came up on twitter I retweeted it to my followers. When the TV showed us anything interesting I reported that on twitter as well. As the day developed, I started to grab screenshots from the TV news and put them up on twitter. Although I was recording everything, the only clip that I managed to get online was a part of Ed Millibands speech. I’ve got hours of footage that I hope to publish a bit more of later.

This whole process was very intensive. I have to admit it was very difficult for anyone else to speak with me since I was completely immersed in what I was doing. Our atmosphere, much like the march, was one of excitement. Unfortunately this was all very draining for me. I eventually had to stop for a rest, in spite of the constant supply of caffeine and codeine. My first rest was 10 minutes on the sofa but still watching the TV. It wasn’t really a rest for me, but it was enough to keep me going a bit longer. My second rest was rather forced on me since I had completely run out of my ability to stand or walk, was scrambling up bits of what I was writing, and forgetting what I was doing. Lots of drugs, tea, and half an hour flat on my back in pain, and then I forced myself back to the computer for the final stint.

For the final part of the day we were retweeting as much of UK Uncut as we could, although there wasn’t a lot available. I put together a blog post with some text and a lot of screenshots from the TV news. I wanted to produce a report on UK Uncut but I just didn’t have enough information, and the photo sharing site that they were using seemd to have crashed under the load.

Finally, I was just too tired to continue. I stayed at my computer a little longer, watching twitter but mostly zoning out. I eventually went to my bed around 8pm, and spent a lot of the evening drifting in and out of consciousness.

This was my day of protest. I can only hope it made a difference somewhere.

Kirsten Hearn’s account

March 27, 2011

Kirsten Hearn

Kirsten Hearn

I’m giving some feedback which I’d really like you to take forward to any review you might do. I will be raising these issues also with the police in my capacity as a member of the MPA(Metropolitan Police Authority).

Unfortunately, the TUC access arrangements for disabled people seemed to go wrong somewhere.

I turned up at Savoy Street at 11:15 am to find it empty.  I went down to the march on the Embankment, thinking you must all be gathered there. I was met by a seething mass of humanity that it was darn near impossible to get through.

When I finally found a steward who had even heard of a disabled people’s safe space and knew where it might be, they said the accessible bit of the march was at the front.  I then had to fight my way through but before I got to the front, the march started off and I had to run. The whole experience was very frightening and I was in a terrible state by the time I got to the DP space.

Had I known that the assembly point for the march was at the front, I would have gone straight there. It is my long experience of working with other March organizers that the safest place for disabled people to be is at the front of the march, behind dignatries. This is so we can set the pace and be easy to find.  The pace yesterday was going at a fair lick and I had to run!

Wearing my police authority hat, I had the opportunity to review the march plans in advance, including what ops disabled people had to be part of it. Ruth Bashall tells me that not only did the assembly point not work at Savoy Street for her either, but that the St James’s  Street marching  joining point for older and disabled people did not work either.  She could find no one who wanted to join the march and no way of getting on at that point. She finally joined me just before we moved into Hyde Park.

I wonder who made the decision to move the assembly point?  It would be good to talk about this some time and to find a way of feeding back. Was it the police who suggested the various assembly points and entry points? If so, I can deal with them!

I feel that I was put in danger yesterday. I was nearly crushed. I was completely deafened by the vuvuzelas (not the organizers fault) and I was absolutely terrified that I would be trampled , lose my p.a. and be alone in the crowd. I then had to hurry at a speed which was difficult for me to catch up with the front of the march, all the time fearing that I would fall.  I was in such a state by the time I got to the front that it completely ruined the day for me.

Kirsten Hearn website

Kirsten’s recent interview as a blind solo traveler on In Touch

On Saturday 26th March, yesterday, there was the biggest rally organised against the stringent cuts from the Coalition government. Disabled people are the hardest hit by these cuts and despite many barriers, disabled people have participated in the march. They came on trains and coaches from all over the country – from Scotland and Wales as well.

DPAC negotiated and campaigned the TUC to provide access so that disabled people are also included in the march and they have responded by providing access as can be seen on the Access and Disability page of the main March for the Alternative website.  For disabled people who really couldn’t make it – we have an online map to show the disabled people who wanted their virtual protest registered. There are many stories there.

The day after the event it is already very obvious that we have very little media attention and for many disabled people this is the first time they have been on such a march. As disabled people,  they went through considerable effort to get there with many barriers not faced by non disabled people. We shall make sure that our struggles are recorded and not lost. We can see that the media are only full of the violence as seen on our televison screens and echoed in all the newspapers. It is important that these stories are collated so that they are part of our history.

Supporters from DPAC, Black Triangle, Disability History Month and London Austistic Rights Movement, Newham Coalition of Disabled People