On May 8th, in Brighton, I woke up to the crushing news that the Conservative Party would again be forming the next Government, this time with an overall majority. Straightaway I determined to turn my great sadness at this outcome into positive action. I also made a note in my diary of the first national demonstration against austerity in June.
That protest, organised by the amazing People’s Assembly, took place today.
My support worker Olive arrived this morning and immediately got to work on my outfit, turning a plain jumper into a demo-ready wearable placard.
I wanted to celebrate something I love but which is being destroyed – but there’s a lot to choose from. For starters, there’s The NHS, social care, the Independent Living Fund and children’s services, but in the end I decided to go for Access to Work.
Once I was dressed we headed off to the City, which was thronging with people gearing up for the start of the march. Loads of people I know were heading there too, but I was keen to march with the DPAC contingent – Disabled People Against Cuts.
There’s an element of Tourettes that involves saying or doing the most inappropriate thing in any situation, and Olive got a swift introduction to this early on. To get to the meeting-point we had to walk past a line of riot police vans, packed with officers. I stuck my finger up at every single one, and to their credit all I got back were smiles.
In fact throughout the whole day only one officer pulled me up on my swearing and he apologised, and thanked me for explaining as soon as I let him know I had Tourettes.
This may have been because of the good-natured vibe of the whole protest –250,000 people and only five arrests – or because the police themselves have been affected by savage cuts.
The march was huge, so it took a while to get started which gave me time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. If you’re imagining that there would be a specific type of protestor at this demo, think again – every age, background and area of the country seemed to be represented.
While the march was peaceful and had a festival feel, the anger and resolve of marchers were not in doubt. The crowd were united by the conviction that the Government’s austerity agenda is deeply, dangerously, damaging. And that’s a view shared by two thirds of economists.
My tics quickly got into the campaigning spirit:
“Just say no to cats.”
“Cats kill, kill cats.”
“You cut, we revolt, cats piss in the fridge.”
“Love cats, hate cuts.”
And it turns out I wasn’t the only one protesting about cats.
Some familiar chants got a Tourettes re-working too:
“You say sheepdog, we say lumberjack.”
“No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, Care Bears in beach huts.”
“Fight, fight, fight back. Duck, duck, duck butt.”
I enjoyed rolling through the City, I only wish the need to do so wasn’t so catastrophically awful.
As a disabled person I felt a particular responsibility to be there. The rights, choices and equality of disabled people have already been hugely undermined in the last five years. And with more duplicitous policies on the way, the lives of many living, breathing, loving, wonderful, human beings will be diminished and made insufferably tougher.
I know that many disabled people will have been unable to be there in person due to lack of support services or because of ill health. We have to do everything we can in the coming weeks, months and years, to resist these attacks and prevent lives being reduced to statistics, media stereotypes and economic fodder.
Mass protests are part of this resistance but they’re never likely to be enough on their own. We need to get creative, get organised and join in. Now’s not a time for fence-sitting, silent disapproval, or apathy.
If you believe:
• In a publicly-owned National Health Service
• That people in crisis should be supported, not sanctioned and left to die.
• That children in one of the richest countries in the world shouldn’t be growing up cold or hungry
• Or that we should be building equality of opportunity, not dismantling it
please don’t wait for someone else to take a stand. Don’t be lulled into thinking that political decisions can’t be challenged. Find out what’s happening in your local community, or about actions being taken to save the NHS, to stop the bedroom tax or to support disabled people.
When we reached Parliament Square the scale of the demonstration became fully apparent – it was vast, with the Square completely full, and even more people backed up down Whitehall.
The BBC Online headline for today’s protest read:
There’s a huge difference between ‘thousands’ and ‘a quarter of a million’! But I know why the scale of this demonstration is being played down – I felt the power of this mass of human energy and the determination it represented.
The next five years are not a done deal.
If you’re unhappy about what’s going on or even just unsure, please resist the temptation to turn away or hunker down.
Listening to the speakers in Parliament Square I felt inspired by their ideas and beliefs. They convinced me that together we can challenge and change the story of austerity and build a society that benefits the majority, not just a tiny super-rich minority.