March 30, 2011
The weekend of the TUC march I stayed with my friend Marisha who I met a couple of years ago when we occupied a social services office in Birmingham with other DANners. Seeing her again was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. We were also able to celebrate the sad demise of the charity that had been supposed to support her to live independently, the one some of you may know said the reason that her flat was damp was due to her breathing in it.
She was very disappointed not to be able to join the march as she has a broken leg but helped with the work for the virtual protest we had as well.
On the morning of the march I met some other DPAC supporters and a photographer who had arranged to spend the day following me around and we went to Savoy Street with our DPAC banner and some placards that we gave out to others. It was good to join up with people from other disability campaigns and to see people I hadn’t seen for ages.
We were then shepherded away by a steward with about 20-30 wheelchair users all trying to push our way through a large crowd of people to move to the front of the march.
When we did eventually arrive at the front of the march another steward tried to stop Mikael and I joining the disabled people’s section as we didn’t ‘look’ disabled. As I was wearing my DPAC teeshirt this seemed a bit peculiar but….However we did join them together with Jan and Sedley who had our banner and also don’t ‘look’ disabled either.
All went well for a while until we were suddenly swamped by people from UNISON who started to overtake us and then in Downing Street where we had to move into a much narrower column of people I lost almost everyone I was with, including the photographer, plus the banner.
We had arranged, or so I thought, for people from London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) to march with us and provide support if anyone needed it during the march but that didn’t work out either as not ‘looking’ disabled they weren’t allowed into Savoy Street to meet up with us.
Anyhow Mikael and I continued on the march and met up with Terri from Manchester for a while. It was good to see her again too.
We eventually arrived at Hyde Park but had no idea where the static protest or the space set aside for disabled people was. There were no signs and no stewards to ask, however I eventually got a text from Eleanor and we headed towards where she was.
On the way we gave out lots of leaflets about DPAC to anyone who ‘looked’ even vaguely impaired. It would have been good to be able to identify those with invisible impairments too but obviously even for us that’s difficult.
I was very disappointed with Ed Milliband’s speech which didn’t even mention disabled people. Perhaps since it was his party, the Labour party, which began many of the attacks against disabled people he wanted to avoid the issues.
Around 3 pm I headed back to the centre to find some cheaper food than that on offer at Hyde Park and afterwards went to Trafalgar Square. This started to fill up about 5.30ish and I met women I knew from Winvisible and Single Mothers Self-Defence who were there with lots of other women from Global Women Strike.
As I’d lost all my placards by then I borrowed one from them which read “ Tahrir Square, WC2, City of Westminster” It seemed hugely popular and Christine and I who had the same placard were being photographed every few minutes by people passing by.
Everyone in Trafalgar Square was having a peaceful good time and enjoying themselves at that stage of the evening. There was drumming and dancing, some speeches and students and younger people sitting around Nelson’s column singing and chanting. Us women did some chanting too my favourite being “Cuts Kill, Kill the Cuts, Eton Scum here we cum”
A little later someone used their loud speaker system to announce that the media had been sent away and legal observers arrested and 800 people kettled in Picadilly Circus. The police were also lining up at that time to kettle Trafalgar Square and we saw a number of young people being stopped and searched for no apparent reason. After distributing some bust cards to some young people who didn’t have one we decided to leave as were cold (read freezing for that) and tired by then and didn’t want to be kettled for hours.
By the time I arrived back at Marisha’s there seemed to be a full-scale battle going on in Trafalgar Square so I’m glad we left when we did.
Do I think the day was worthwhile? Short of half a million people rushing into the House of Commons and taking it over I’m not sure the government care much about our views and dissent, but it was a great feeling to see so many disabled and non-disabled people united and fighting for their futures against the cuts.
For me it is very, very important that it is us who put forward our views “ Nothing about us without us” and that we campaign for ourselves as disabled people with both visible and invisible impairments. It is important that we throw off the paternalism of being spoken for by the disability charities and work with other disabled people in unions and DPOs to organise for ourselves.
So the fight we started at the Tory Party Conference continued on March 26th but for us I don’t think it will end with the downfall of the coalition government it is the system that exploits us all that must change.
( pictures of the day by Mikael Barnard)