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!
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.
March 30, 2011
Shan’t attempt to give a broad canvas of Saturday’s march, as the day didn’t pan out that way for me. No, the event was a veritable whirligig of wonderful snapshots; a kaleidoscope of different activities fused together to create one of the most successful labour movement demos ever!
After several incidents on the way to the event we were led out by the march stewards and invited to take up positions behind the lead banner – you know, the one held at about chest height. The TUC had allocated me a steward for the march, Karl a Unite organiser and good Comrade; and, Karl spotting the last remaining place along the banner’s length pushed me towards it.
There had been an agreement that, due to the disproportionate punishment we were receiving by these cuts, disabled people should visible at the front of the march.
So far so good; however, as I put my arm forward to hold the banner, as if from nowhere an elderly woman rushed past me and hopping over my legs and footplate gripped onto the remaining section of banner.
Not very comradely; and, of course now there was no visible representation of disabled people at the very front of the march; something we’d been promised. The banner snatcher being taller blocked me from view.
For the sake of solidarity, I won’t name the sprightly 76-year old Vice President, and London Region secretary, of the National Pensioners Convention; but may I ask next time, please pick on someone your own size!
Sean’s speech at Hyde Park
WHOOPS – SORRY WRONG GIG!
Hello Comrades, I’m Sean McGovern, a disabled trade union activist; and, I’m honoured to be here today part of this anti-cuts movement. Which is growing daily!
Comrades, disabled people are fighting for the most basic of human rights.
• The right to work;
• the right to a living income for those who can’t work;
• the right to sustenance;
• the right to decent care support;
• the right to live without hate crime; and
• the right to dignity!
May I congratulate some of our popular media? Well done the Daily Heil, the Sun and Express, you purveyors of disablist propaganda. Along with the rubbish-end of TV and attention seeking politicians you’ve managed to demonise disabled people.
In times of recession and economic downturn governments and their media hounds need a scapegoat; history has shown us this; today it’s the turn of disabled people – who’s next?
No wonder hate crime against disabled people is on the rise.
While the bankers caused this economic crisis disabled people’s support and benefits are being blamed.
So much so that we are feeling the brunt of the ConDem ideological cuts.
They say these cuts aren’t ideological – liars!
• Replacing Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment, with predicted savings of 20% – naked ideology!
• Introducing a draconian set of Work Capability Assessments – viciously ideological!
• Migrating disabled people from Incapacity Benefit to poverty level JobSeekers Allowance – driven by ideology!
• Removing hundreds of items from Access to Work; a scheme that earns 20% for every pound spent! – stupid ideology!
• Supported employment schemes such as Remploy under threat; thus adding to an ever-increasing unemployment queue and benefits bill – misguided ideology!
Not content with attacking our jobs and benefits they’re bent on depriving us of life enhancing resources. And calling it the BIG SOCIETY!
Day centres are closing. Council care is being cut. Direct Payments bills slashed as eligibility criteria are squeezed to critical only.
Comrades, every day disabled people are dying due to ConDem ideologically driven policies. They must go!
Today the struggle shifts up a gear! From here we must return to our cities, towns and villages to organise everyone against this ConDem regime; these enemies of disabled people, these enemies of the people – our class!!”
March 29, 2011
First published at This is me blog and republished with kind permission from Jack.
On Saturday 26th March, Emily, my mum and I made our way from her flat in Woolwich to Savoy street near the Embankment to meet up at the disabled meeting point with the WTB crowd. Lisa had kindly sorted and ironed on transfers to tshirts that we wore at the protest. After we started getting going we had to make our way through the crowds up to the front, which was rather challenging trying to get the people in wheelchairs past the massive amounts of people that were in the way. This was rather poorly planned in that respect.
Due to my own bad planning I ended up having to take my crutches for the day, I never normally use my crutches for that long in a day, only for short distances. I must admit that I stupidly pushed myself far too hard trying to keep up with everyone, trying to get through the crowds I was jostled about quite a bit and I spent most of the parade route with my joints not really in place. Instead of listening to this pain I kept on going way beyond what was reasonable, and I am certainly paying for that now.
Despite all the hype in the media, what I saw was on the whole peaceful. It was really inspiring there was such a diverse crowd of people, people of all ages, races, religions, disabled, non-disabled and so on. After we got to Hyde park we made our way over to soho square, but by that point I was in so much pain I was on the verge of passing out, I was having some pretty major pots issues and I needed to stop. This meant that I missed out on seeing the comedy gig which happened in soho square in the end, and I really wanted to be there, but I just wasn’t up to it. Mum, Emily and I went off and had some lunch before making our way back to Hyde park.
It was while we were eating our lunch that we saw a few masked individuals run up to Oxford Street, but there seemed like there were very few there not really enough to cause such a big fuss that was all over the media. It definitely felt like there were way more police than there were troublemakers. While we were on the way to the underground we went past a mcdonalds that had broken windows and looked like it had a paint bomb thrown at the windows. Even then the damage didn’t look that extensive, that being said it was still pretty early in the day at this point so the situation could have got worse after then.
We got to see some of the people speak at Hyde park and Emily took a fair few pictures from that day which was nice. There was even a disabled speaker which we managed to catch. After Hyde park we made our way back over to Victoria where we were getting our coach from, at that point I couldn’t even put any weight on my left foot which was rather swollen and deformed so we had to sort that out before getting on to the coach.
We got home around 11:30pm in Bristol and it had been a rather long weekend. It was really worth it to see the WTB people and to get to the march, sometimes it really is worth the pain. That being said next time I really need to arrange a chair as I was in a lot of pain from a couple of mins in, it was only adrenaline and a boatload of painkillers that kept me going that weekend.
March 29, 2011
Originally published on Lisy Babe’s blog and republished with kind permission from her.
Based on the TUC’s access info I’d planned to meet a bunch of other WtBers in Savoy Street for 11am. This was supposed to be the gathering point for disabled people to have a “safe space” at the front of the march. I have brittle bones and I was with 2 people whose joints dislocate easily so the notion of a “safe” space where we wouldn’t get smacked around was pretty important for us to protest, you know, safely.
The pink cross on the map shows where we gathered and the turquoise line shows how far we had to walk through a sea of people to get to that “safety”. Moving through large crowds as a wheelchair user is not easy at the best of times. You’re at arse height to everyone else and people don’t tend to look down when they move around so they walk into you, trip over you and generally leave you feeling pretty bruised. Add banners, flags and other things that feel like weapons when people hit you with them and it’s even worse.
So that the TUC had us gather some distance away and then walk through the crowd where we got a bit battered was a serious common sense fail. Between the lack of logic and getting smacked around I started off the march really quite pissed off.
This was us gathering in Savoy Street looking cheerful prior to our adventure through the crowd:
This was my view of people’s backs as we were making our way through the crowd:
And it’s worth noting that I took this photo at a point while walking through the crowd when I had enough room around me to actually do so! I spent a lot of the time using my arms to protect my face from people’s backpacks and such.
Eventually we did make it to the “special” spot:
Thankfully once we’d made it through the crowd and the march set off there were no more such access fail dramas. As a result I began to really enjoy myself. The following 3 photos were taken by Emsy during the march:
We made it into Hyde Park at about 1pm (after what seemed like quite a long human traffic jam at Hyde Park Corner). Most of us quickly nipped to the loo and then headed off to Soho Square for the UK Uncut comedy at 2.
I didn’t want to stick around in Hyde Park for the rally mainly because
Mr “I’m in favour of cutting disability benefits” Miliband was speaking. I
feared my anger at him would cause me to regress a few evolutionary steps
and start flinging faeces
I’ve always been disabled, but until about 5 years ago I was perfectly “healthy”; I was free from illness. For many people there’s a massive overlap between “illness” and “impairment”, but there’s also some differences too. So I’ve always had a rubbish skeleton but before I acquired a plethora of illnesses unrelated to my mobility impairment I used to do that working-for-a-living thing.
I used to be a stand-up comic. Yes, I’m aware of the irony of a wheelchair-using stand-up.
On Friday evening while I was in the supermarket shopping for more T-shirts to iron the WtB logo onto a thought occurred to me: “It’s comedy against the cuts. I’m doing all this stuff about the cuts to disability benefits and I have a background in comedy; I should be speaking.” So I emailed the organisers and asked if I could do a short set. The reply I got back was “the line up’s pretty full, but we’ll try and fit you in.” But in the end (and with a little help from the lovely Johann) I ended up on the bill.
This photo by Chris Coltrane who compered the gig shows what the crowd looked like from where the acts were (and makes me happy that I ironed the WtB logo onto the back of my T-shirt):
That’s Josie Long performing. She opened the show. The crowd had gotten much, much, bigger by the time I went on. This CiF piece estimates there were nearly 1000 people watching the show. I wouldn’t have thought there were quite that many, but there were certainly a couple of hundred.
Against all the odds I had a brilliant gig. Look, people were smiling and laughing!
If you look you can even see Mark Thomas laughing along in that pic.
I’m actually quite proud of that as he is, basically, the industry standard to which all political comedy gets compared.
I say “against all the odds” because by rights I really should have died on my arse. It’s 3 and a half years since I last gigged due to becoming too ill to carry on with the comedy thang. Usually if you take a break from comedy for 3 and a half weeks you come back to find your timing’s a little off and your rhythm’s a bit out. And I wasn’t doing tried and tested material, I was doing stuff that I’d written 12 hours earlier because I only had the idea to ask to go on about 18 hours before I ended up on “stage”. I shouldn’t have been “in shape” enough to deal with a heckler and turn around a joke that was a bit of a dud. OK, the heckler was very nice and friendly but it’s still an interruption to your rhythm and you need to regain control and come out on top with a laugh.
Somehow it was all OK. Sure, it wasn’t my best gig ever but given everything going against me it went so much better than I could ever possibly have dreamed of.
In the past I used to mix up jokes about disability issues and other stuff because if I’d only talked about disability I’d never have been able to hold the attention of a non-disabled audience. But given that Saturday was such a political gig and the reason I’d asked to speak was to talk about benefits I did a set solely about cuts to disability benefits. The only reaction I was really expecting was some polite applause when I finished from people thinking “aw, wasn’t that nice the disabled woman telling us about benefits.” I wasn’t expecting such a warm response and to come off stage to have all my friends hug me at once. It was like being mauled by an octopus, but in a nice way.
I’ve always thought that comedy had a wonderful capacity for education, another reason I really wanted to speak. So I was chuffed to bits when I got home to read this in The Guardian’s Live Blog about the day:
I just spoke to two teenagers aged 17 and 19 who have come from the comedy show in Soho Square, and they said that what they heard there made them think more than anything they have ever learnt at school. It’s their first demonstration and when I asked why they came they said they realised that the demonstration is about more than just the UK.
They can understand the connection between the shops and the banks that people are targetting and the global situation that is effecting everyone. They’ve heard Mark Thomas and a disabled comedian and Johann Hari speak. For these teenagers the protest is absolutely opening their minds to a much wider picture.
Noa, who snapped that pic of me in action, said:
you rocked it woman, it was FUNNY and also very disturbing to learn a few of the stories you shared. many thanks and please keep healthy and get back on stage where you belong!
I’m absolutely thrilled that I opened some people’s eyes to what’s going on for disabled people in the UK. There’s a couple of extracts from my set in the Laugh Out London podcast.
I left Soho Square on such an adrenaline high. I’d taken a huge gamble in asking to do a set but it absolutely paid off. I would have skipped home if I could, you know, skip.
Then came the sadness. I love doing stand up so much. It’s such an amazing feeling when you’ve got hundreds of people laughing at jokes you wrote, and Saturday was a reminder of just how thrilling it is. It’s so painful that I’m not well enough to perform any more. I have good days and bad, Saturday was obviously a good day. But the sheer frequency of the bad days means that I can’t book gigs more than 14 hours in advance because I can never guarantee that I’ll be well enough to show up. It doesn’t matter if you have a legitimate reason for not showing up to a gig, if you let a promoter down they’re not going to book you again and will very possibly bad-mouth you to other promoters. I have this thing that I love doing, and Saturday reminded me that I’m actually reasonably good at it, but my health prevents me from pursuing it. And the government and tabloids really think I’d rather be stuck at home claiming benefits than out following my dreams?
The other element of sadness on Saturday night came from watching BBC News attributing the Black Bloc protesters smashing things up to UK Uncut. UK Uncut are a group of peaceful protesters who’d given me this wonderfully enjoyable afternoon of comedy in a park. And here these lovely people were being falsely accused of violence and vandalism. It was deeply disappointing.
Despite the day starting with access fail and ending in sadness I don’t think I’ll ever forget that chunk of a few hours in the middle where I had the best time I’ve had in years.
Cross-posted at Where’s the Benefit?
March 29, 2011
Saturday Match the 26th – it was the D-day, I was out the night before and had too much to drink so I was quite surprised when at 7AM sharp I awoke….( I pride myself on the ability to wake up early if I need to without setting an alarm). I got dressed and ready to rumble. My mate called me around 9pm to wake me up! (I had the day before begged her to wake me up at 8, just in case the alcohol knocked me out!) She apologised that she forgot and wanted to know how ready I was…I’m ready baby was my response.
9:40AM – My mate collected me and we headed for the march, I was feeling excited and at the same time apprehensive, the previous demos have been riddled with issues, the police being naughty and incompetent and all that, my mate also narrated how the night before she spent hours just trying to get info on which roads were closed and how f**ked the metropolitan online map was. To make matters worse the police operator wondered why she wanted to be near the demo – you guessed it – because according to her they were expecting trouble and a disabled woman should not be nowhere near Hyde Park.
10:30AM – We approached the meeting point and needed to ask for direction from 2 policemen. Surprise, surprise these officers were very friendly and even moved their cones from a blocked road to pass us through….my mate said she will drop an email praising these guys unlike the patronising woman who responded to her the day earlier. Anyway we made our way to the blue badge parking and set off on our wheelchairs – thank God my mate’s support worker was a special guy, he literally pushed me and luckily my mate was an efficient wheelchair user( unlike me…lazy bones!). We got to the front of the Ritz Hotel, and by that time that crazy guy called “hunger” was nudging at us; however I had another crazy guy to attend to….wee! so while the special one and my mate went to get sandwiches and coffee I went in search of a loo (I was at this time using my crutches so I thought I don’t need an accessible loo) The only place near enough (you would think I will go to the Ritz, I thought…black guy and disabled…nah!) was this old pub. The pub was full of fellow demonstrators having the odd drink and coffee, first of all if I had used my wheelchair there was no way I would have entered the pub, no wheelchair access here folks. I got in with some difficulties and guess what, no accessible loos and the only ones had steep steps that must be under grade 1 listing! So Mr wee had to remain with me for a little longer, I was still too scared to go to the Ritz!
12:30PM – the march had begun and reached where we were, so we joined…. hurrah we are going to be part of history and everything still looked rather like a carnival. Along the way a gentleman John from Norwich offered to push my mate’s wheelchair whilst the special one pushed me, soon Eleanor and her team caught up with us and we went with them. It was a long walk for those with functioning legs; I was being pushed so it felt more like a ride really…. (Cheeky)
We got to the park and TUC had provided several loos for the big crowd, at this time Mr wee just had to get out of my body so Eleanor’s daughter (another special one – the lady special one) offered to push me to the loos where so many people were queuing to attend to their Mr and Mrs Wees!
So back to the demo, I had a good time….the visibility DPAC and other organisations gave us was to me very empowering and this is not to make Eleanor and Linda blush. The speeches were rather too long and I felt disconnected but when the TUC disabled rep took the podium, boy what a speech…his narrative and what the cuts would mean captured the very essence of being at Hyde Park and finally I like the fact that at last the mainstream collaborated with us to sing from the same song sheet, inclusion can indeed be achieved.
March 29, 2011
I was really pleased to be able to do part of the march – it’s often the case with me that I don’t know if I can do something til the day itself, and so it was on this occasion. I decided not to try and travel with anyone else as sometimes trying to fit in with other people’s schedules is more exhausting than just going at my own pace. So I went to Green Park by tube, hoping to meet up with my ‘gang’, Islington Deaf and Disabled People Against Cuts. But when I got there my first priority was to get fueled up, plus there was the always essential loo requirement to be met. So I went in a cafe and had a good dose of tea and chocolate to prepare for the exertion ahead.
Probably as a result of that interlude I completely missed my disabled buddies. In addition it’s so hopeless trying to phone anyone, or hear your phone, on a demo – I have plenty of demo experience and should know that by now! I also missed the main DPAC group. But luckily was then able to meet up with a (non-disabled) friend and her friends and do the march with them.
The walk to Hyde Park was good and uplifting – such a sense of solidarity and so many great banners. I’ve attached a pic of my home-made effort. I would have loved to have been able to walk up through the park to hear the speeches but by that time energy was beginning to fade and I wanted to make sure I got home without a later collapse. So sat with my friend on a bench near Hyde Park Corner for a while and enjoyed watching everyone go by. Got home in reasonable time via Hyde Park tube and went straight to bed.
My two niggles, disability-wise, would be that certainly by the time the march reached Green Park there was no obvious sign of any big disabled bloc at the front. Also that it wasn’t easy to find out about the static protest in advance. I thought about going straight to the park and joining this, but looking at the website found you had to have registered yourself by 18th March, filling in a great long form about car parking, totally irrelevant to me. It would have helped to have had a map of the park showing the site of the protest, so people who weren’t going by car could just go straight to it. I don’t even know if there was a static protest, and would be interested to hear whether it happened and how it went.