Monday 24 January 2011

A Silent Protest

Up and down the country today, protest groups, concerned activists, sick and disabled people have been protesting outside the offices of ATOS against the disgrace of ESA and DLA cuts. As yet I've seen nothing at all on the national news about this, despite the internet being literally drenched with coverage. 

An able-bodied friend recently pointed out that until disabled people chained themselves to Osborne's legs or dragged themselves from their wheelchairs and hauled themselves arm over arm past Maria Miller (Conservative Minister for Disabilities) and the entire BBC news team, sick and disabled people would remain the untold story. 

He's right of course, and once again, this triggered a little thought that has been niggling at me for months : Could our greatest challenges now present our greatest opportunity?

Just imagine for a moment, hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people wheeling themselves, dragging themselves, limping and stumbling with gritted-teeth-determination through the sharp, cold London morning. Imagine them doing it without making a sound. “The Silent Protest” of a group with no voice.

A “march” if you like, but by a group who it costs so dearly, the country couldn’t fail to sit up and take notice. Armed with their oxygen tanks, their callipers as shields, armies of the deaf, regiments of the blind. A raw intake of willing warriors. 

It doesn’t matter how long it takes to march. Do you remember the story of the soldier, Phil Packer who took 26 days to complete the London Marathon? He raised nearly £1 million for Help For Heroes. Despite suffering a spinal cord injury in Iraq, he had a point to make, and nothing, nothing could have made it any more forcefully than showing people the effort it took him to get through that 26.6 mile course. (I don’t suggest a marathon though, obviously!)

Of course most disabled people, by definition can't go to rallies or march with placards. Some can't even leave their homes and others are incapable of understanding what is being done in their names.

I have been dreaming of a solution. If you’re too physically disabled to leave the house, if your mental health problems made it impossible, if you’re too frightened to attend and be labelled a "cheat" or too sick, then you could send a representative. We could ask friends or carers or loved ones if they would go for us. They must wear all black and if possible carry a banner saying “*** has MS” or “***is too frightened to march”. Or “***is having dialysis” etc. As these black clad, able-bodied shadows joined the disabled marchers they would only highlight just how voiceless we are as a group.

Right now, there may be nothing to lose. Since the CSR, sick and disabled people face losing almost everything anyway.  Politicians and trolls can say that if a few hundred of us make the trip, then we can make it to work, but they can’t say it about a million. Or two. Or three. 

Now, an event like this costs a lot of money. It needs armies of physically able volunteers and wealthy friends with deep pockets. It needs iron will and determination from people who realise that “This could be me”. These days, it needs a sprinkle of stardust and celebrity supporters, as well as some prominent political allies. Well, lucky old coalition! The sick and disabled have none of those things. 

But ideas can become campaigns and campaigns can attract powerful friends and friends can ensure humanity triumphs when we most need it to. Every anti-cuts group and disabled charity and loyal activist and progressive campaigner would need to come together, take a little of the strength they were so lucky to be born with and lend it to the weakest. 

1 comment:

  1. When police drag wheelchair bound people on a 'march' out of their wheelchairs, I despair that there is any democratic law. There is a growing legal acceptance of excessive force. Anyone who is disabled who is thinking of peacefully demonstrating, needs to have very able carers with them to protect them.

    I understand your point. A thought for the day questioned whether the disabled and severely disadvantaged should be the big society requirement for..... 'Us all to be in this together'.