Saturday 26 March 2011

The Great Unheard

I won’t be marching at the March for the Alternative on Saturday, I won’t even be sitting at the static protest. My disability means that even if I got there and turned straight around I’d be feeling the effects for days, maybe even weeks or months. And in that I’m far from alone. As disabled people we have restrictions on our ability to protest that mean it is far more difficult for us to get out there and tell our stories, to put a human face on the people hit by the cuts and demonised by the press and the government PR apparat.

Previous marches have seen problems for disabled people, most visibly the brave boys in blue from the Met hurling Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair not once but twice, but even more passive policing can be threatening to disabled people. The Met is in love with the idea of kettling as a responsible form of crowd control (no matter its criticism by everyone up to and including their own Commissioner), but whereas able-bodied protesters may be able to physically withstand an indiscriminate decision to hold them in the street for hours, whether they have done anything against the law or not, many disabled people would have their health threatened, even endangered, by being held in the open. Then there’s the stewarding of disabled protesters by both police and march organisers to consider, a friend’s description of the Birmingham march sends shudders down my spine making me grateful I wasn’t there. Not because of any trouble, or overt police action against protesters, but simple cluelessness about how to make sure that disabled people are able to protest without being endangered by those charged with protecting them. Simple basics like how long the march was, where it was going appear not to have been communicated to people, and decisions were made on the fly to reroute protesters that could have endangered disabled people if the disabled people themselves hadn’t actively taken charge of ensuring everyone, whether mobility impaired, sensory impaired or whatever was able to safely extricate themselves from the situation police and stewards had created.

Sadly this cluelessness appears to have permeated planning for the March For the Alternative. There’s something badly wrong when individual disabled people are being asked to determine how many of us might turn up and inconvenience the police by being disabled in public, because the Met are clueless and have dumped that responsibility onto the TUC, who are equally clueless as to the answer, but at least know some real disabled people. Anyone else can spontaneously decide to turn up at the march and exercise their right to protest, but if we’re disabled then apparently we were supposed to fill in a form at least a week prior to the march (giving name, address and vehicle reg) in order to ensure we can be given a permit to be let through into our own private kettle. If that’s not a clear sign of our inequality then I don’t know what is. Even a day before the march it is possible to find disabled people who’ve only just been told that the coach bringing protesters from their local disabled people’s organisation won’t be allowed into Central London, that they’ll just be dumped out on the station concourse at Stratford and expected to negotiate the (barely accessible) Tube to central London on their own.

So, however many hundreds of thousands of people turn up at the protest tomorrow, remember that somewhere between one in four and one in five of the population are disabled, that those of us who are most disabled, most desperately in need of support from the government and society, have been selectively targeted for the cuts, deliberately demonised to the general public to justify them and that, no matter how many of us would want to be there, for tens of thousands of us it is simply physically impossible. We are the people hit hardest, yet least able to take our message to the public. We are the great unheard, the silent victims in the government’s war on those who don’t fit its mantra of work or be damned to you.

(And as if to emphasise my message, I’m writing this hours later than intended because my body’s reaction to a half hour trip into town to pick up a repeat prescription was to demand that I curl up and sleep for six hours).


  1. I'm sorry you could not attend, thousands there will be thinking of you and others who should be there. More should be done to help the disabled protest safely.

    I know it may not be much consolation, but this may be of some interest to you:

    There are links to various 'virtual' marches etc.

    Solidarity :)

  2. MARILYN FETCHER26 March 2011 at 10:01

    I'm with you, here at home (I have advanced cancer) and although I'm "on the map" at, equally frustrated at not being able to SHOUT in person today. xx

  3. @anonymous: I'm on DPAC's map, though the other two links were new to me -- we still aren't quite there with the communication to ensure everyone knows what everyone else is doing.