April 7, 2011
I arrived at the Embankment tube station at 10.40am and joined the Unison group. I felt totally exhilarated as I saw all those people at the station, who have come together to support each other and to say no to the appalling cuts, which continues to have a detrimental effect on all sections of the community.
The march from my end was peaceful and continuous. We sang as we marched and talked about why we were at the march.
Our campaign was about bringing about change in policies and for the ConDem coalition to stop the cuts and listen to the people.
I also met up with a friend during the march, David Rosenberg who was there campaigning with the teachers union. We all joined up together. I needed up in his group as well.
Although I felt tired at times, I was determined to stay on the march for a while. At about 4.30pm, as we came down to Trafalgar Square, David had to leave the march and go and meet up with a friend and I decide to go home because, I was in a lot of pain, backache and I was also told that by the time we reached Marble Arch the speeches would have been finished by then.
Although I did not get to meet up with my colleagues from DPAC, I was there to show my support and to show that we are not going to be voiceless.
I would like to end here by saying that, as I a disabled Pan African woman I hope that we can continue to ensure that our campaign continues and we tell the ConDem coalition that we are here to stay to ensure that our needs are met. The civil rights movement was about change and the struggles of that change is still ongoing today. I hope that we can engage in similar struggles to bring about change.
As Liz Carr tells us that we must not allow ourselves to be divided. We must continue to ensure that we are heard, because we are a section of the community which is deemed as voiceless. Let’s continue the struggle and bring about effective change.
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
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)
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 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.
March 27, 2011
A day in the life..of an armchair protestor
(republished with kind permission)
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.