April 2, 2011
Trafalgar Square Kettle. My personal account from the inside.
At the end of a long day on the TUC march and a well earned couple of pints of Guinness in the pub with my brother I decided to head off home. On the way to the station there were the signs of various amounts of damage to buildings such as Santander, Porsche and The Ritz.
Walking past Trafalgar Square I noticed there was a large number of people in the Square itself. When I entered the Square it was almost as if Glastonbury had paid a visit and had a carnival type atmosphere. Relaxed, peaceful with people listening and dancing to music or sitting around one or two small fires that had been lit. These people didn’t look at all like they had spent the day giving the police the runaround. They weren’t dressed head to foot in black and very few had their faces covered. There were a few police around in twos and threes and were not wearing riot gear. There was also what looked like security people behind barriers around the fountains.
It was against this backdrop that events turned decidedly unpeaceful. There was a disturbance around the area of the Olympic clock. I couldn’t see what was happening and I was told that someone had tried to attack the clock and was arrested. It was after the arrest that several lines of police in riot gear swarmed in down the steps opposite the National Gallery and into the Square next to the Olympic clock and started to lash out. There then followed a certain amount of sporadic outbursts of violence from the police. A flare went off behind police lines although I didn’t see from which direction this came. After a period of relative calm I took some photos and then the police started to get aggressive once more which promoted a barrier to be thrown towards the police lines. It was then that I had to get clear but took a minor whack to my head with a shield for not being quicker at getting out of the way. It was at this stage that the kettle had been formed and no one was allowed to leave. Commendably but naively, one or two groups of people decided to sit down and try to reason with the police.
Oddly, at this stage, there were fireworks zooming up into the air like some sort of November 5th display from the fountain area which was outside the kettle. There was no malicious intent as the fireworks were not directed at the Police.
The police then forced everyone back towards the Nelson Column plinth. From there people were either at the base or on the plinth. There was an empty area between the people and the front police line. A bottle was thrown into this area which fell well short of police lines which suggested it was thrown out of frustration rather than harmful intent.
The previous day the Police said they would let those who have not been causing trouble to leave and would provide water to those who were contained. Needless to say neither of these happened. If they did allow non-violent people to leave then that would discredit the Met Police assertions that the police came under attack by criminals because so few, if any, would actually still be contained and certainly not the 200 or so who were. There was also no access to toilet facilities as the toilet facilities in the Square were outside the kettled area.
Moreover the Met Police website stated:
‘Containment will be very much a tactic of last resort. If it does become necessary, again we have responded to feedback, and now have a dedicated Chief Inspector to ensure the swift dispersal of innocent and vulnerable people and to ensure the needs of those contained are considered.’
I didn’t see a Chief Inspector and obviously the needs of those contained were not considered.
So just to clarify, in a two hour period the only violence I saw from people inside the Square was one flare, one barrier and one bottle thrown. Apart from violent disorder from the police around the clock the only other violence that did occur happened after provocation from the police and after the kettle had been formed. I was lucky enough to get out of the kettle with the help of someone who had a press pass and I heard from a later news report that the kettling continued until 2.45am.
There maybe some that might be skeptical about my account of the events of that night and to those I would say this: the Police were filming what happened on the ground and in the air. There was also television coverage and yet the only violent evidence I saw from that coverage was a barrier being thrown. I very much doubt if anyone else saw coverage of anything else that would even remotely constitute an attack by so called criminals that would warrant such a large containment. The reality is that such an allegation by the Met Police is totally absurd.
March 31, 2011
This was a MAGNIFICENT demonstration of the fury most people feel, whatever their background, at being impoverished by a government of millionaires. My daughter and I were proud and happy to be there, amongst as it turned out, between 250 and 500,000 others.
I came across the Disabled People against the Cuts (DPAC) section of the march, via the website of the Coalition of Resistance. I haven’t been able to be very active in the disability movement for many years now and for a number of reasons. One of these has certainly been my deteriorating physical condition. Nevertheless, I have been so outraged by the decisions of the government, that I was absolutely determined to go on the march organised by the TUC. Additionally, my daughters are now nearly 18 and one of them was free and eager to come on the march and push my wheelchair.
I have to say a little more about my outrage, though. I remember a cartoon postcard I used to have up in my study, which said “To make the rich work harder we pay them more: to make the poor work harder we pay them less”. The millionaires’ (government’s) decisions to make everybody – except the people responsible for the economic mess – much, much poorer, disgusts me more than I can say. Combine that with being able to find enough money to wage wars halfway round the world and I find my blood boiling.
I, like many others, have found that supports that I’ve depended on have been gradually eroded over the years (and sadly not just by this government). A social worker said to me recently that when she first started out, there were eight different categories under which help and support could be given to disabled people. Now there’s one. And we all know that this one is going to shrink even further, as the powers that be define our need almost out of existence. Equally we know that this in turn is going to create even greater need and many tragedies in our community. I meant to make a placard for the march which would read “This government targets help to the most vulnerable”.
Anyway back to the march. We had to travel by train to Waterloo and then get a taxi to the meeting point. I managed to get a permit from the TUC which would allow a taxi to drop me close to where the DPAC meeting point was. My anxiety about not being able to get through the traffic to be there on time meant that we arrived pretty early, before many other disabled people had managed to make it, but that allowed us to get into the mood.
There was already a very festive atmosphere. The stewards were in place (as were the accessible toilets, thank goodness) and my daughter ran around finding placards to attach to the wheelchair. It was a shame that the lovely sunny weather decided that day to disappear behind a blanket of cloud, with a chill wind to keep me from really relaxing, but I was determined to enjoy myself and I did. From her more elevated position my daughter was great at spotting witty placards — and there were many — and drawing my attention to them.
From the very beginning the noise was phenomenal, the usual shriek of whistles rather overwhelmed by the blast of vuvuzelas. I knew my tinnitus would go mad (and it has) but I had to say to myself “so what?”The huge down side didn’t occur to me, until I met up with an old friend of 17 years ago, who is blind. The racket these vuvuzelas made was virtually wiping out the sense on which she most depended and she was horribly stressed. But of course she soldiered on.
It seems a funny thing to say, but it is testament to the size of this demonstration, that actually I saw few of the disabled people from my past. The fact is that there were many of us, but we were thoroughly integrated into the mass of humanity there, even if DPAC had hoped that we would be en bloc. This was for 2 good reasons. One was because so many people had the confidence to join the march wherever they happened to arrive, and the other was that those of us who did start out together soon found that the tide of ‘walkie-talkies’ (as one young friend of mine used to call people who could walk and speak without difficulty) swept in and around us.
Both my daughter and I loved that anybody and everybody talked to us in perfectly natural ways. One man explained that he was retired and fairly comfortably off, but he felt he had to join in (which involved travelling from Chesterfield) because, as he put it, “What is happening is just wrong”. The speakers we heard in Hyde Park, before my back was really too tired to stay any longer, hit all the right notes. We left around 2:30 and were delighted to see people still pouring in.
One last point: whatever your views on the anarchists who used the occasion for violence and destruction, it has incensed me that the BBC’s constant concern seems only to have been about the police not having been able to prevent it. Even the guy in charge of the police operation had to rein the interviewer in and say they couldn’t do more unless we want a police state. And we don’t!
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 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.