Yesterday I went down to Whitehall to protest opposite Downing Street as part of the National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts. I was a little bit late so the protest was in full swing by the time I got there. So as soon as I arrived my heart broke; there were only about 30 people protesting. I realise that disabled people are seen as largely unimportant by society so I wasn't going to see the 30,000 that come out to protect education, but to see so few was devastating.
When the 12:30pm Downing Street protest wound down a few of us went to grab a pub lunch before heading to Trafalgar Square for the 3pm protest there.
Once in Trafalgar Square DPAC had planned to perform an alternative nativity play under the tree. Trouble was, Mary hadn't turned up. There was much bustle while they tried to find a new Mary (I declined the invitation).
Eventually a Mary volunteered and everyone moved themselves under the tree.
The Heritage Warden getting pushy.
The discussion after the Heritage Warden said he was going to call the police. The police came and said that we were fine there as long as we were quiet.
I missed the first couple of seconds of this speech which places the monologue in 2015.
It was at that point that I left. The rain had soaked through my gloves so my hands were getting cold (over the years I've broken almost all my fingers and when my hands get really cold all those old fracture sites feel fresh). The rain had also soaked through the knees of my trousers (being a wheelie my knees are at an angle to catch every drop of rain that falls) and my boots were moist and heading towards soaked through (and just like my fingers I've broken a hell of a lot of bones in my feet and they don't appreciate the cold either).
My overwhelming experience of the day was disappointment: Disappointment that so few people care enough about our social housing and welfare state. The way I see it, for currently privileged people campaigning to save social housing and benefits is like taking out an insurance policy. You hope you won't need it, but it's there as a safety net in case something goes wrong in your life plan. On Twitter recently there's been much talk among students, trade unions, UK Uncut types and general leftie tweeters about "#solidarity" and I know of many disabled people who've shown support for others facing cuts: Where was the solidarity for us?
A lot of disabled people are not in a strong position to protest against the cuts. Some of us are housebound or bedridden. Some of us have crappy immune systems and this is a really bad time of year for viruses flying round, or are just permanently too ill to go out for a whole day. Some of don't have suitable mobility aids or access to transport that would allow us to get to a demo. Others of us have bodies that couldn't withstand the cold and rain on a day like yesterday. I know my bones and joints would've been happier if I'd stayed home yesterday but I felt that I couldn't sit in my council flat hoping someone would protest on my behalf because if I did I might not have a council flat left in a few years!
Then there are the disabled people who were scared into not coming yesterday. Because we live in a culture where many disabled people are constantly afraid of leaving the house in case they get spotted walking/socialising/shopping and accused of benefit fraud (thanks to campaigns like The Sun's) people are too scared to protest. And apparently if you can protest you must be faking your impairment.
Then there were the people too scared to come after witnessing violent scenes at recent student protest, particularly what happened to Jody McIntyre. A lot of disabled people injure more easily than Joe Average (I myself have got brittle bones) so it doesn't take too vivid an imagination to picture yourself more likely to get hurt than most protesters. And if the non-disabled Alfie Meadows can be left needing brain surgery...
It's quite depressing that the government is not only disproportionately targeting the cuts at disabled people, but they're also scaring us into not using what little voice we have. If the government have got us too scared to protest by making sure everyone thinks we're scroungers and the police have terrified us into not hitting the streets then they can continue with the attacks on us by saying "well, no-one objected."
The next protest is on January 24th 2011 and if you can, I'd strongly urge that you come. Even you non-disableds, whether it's out of solidarity or as an insurance policy for your future.