Disabled People’s Protest In Oxford Circus

This morning I got up very early and (with help from my wonderful partner & carer) got dressed, drugged and ready to catch a train to London.

After the normal mess around with trains and alike we made it to Euston station in a fairly bright mood. We decided to save some money and roll down to the DPAC meeting point (MacDonalds on Regent Street at 11.30am) which took a while. Luckily for me, the first face I saw was that of blogger Latent Existence which was a lovely surprise, especially when it transpired we had actually met at an action in Birmingham ages ago. There was a bit of milling about whilst the plan was explained to us;

  1. Collect a D-Lock and keys.
  2. Get into place at Oxford Circus (where Oxford Street & Regent Street cross).
  3. When the lights change UK Uncut activist would run across with a chain which would have each end attached to a lamppost.
  4. Wheelchairs were to roll over to the crossing and line up along the chain.Ā 
  5. Lock the wheelchair to the chain and start protesting!


Whilst waiting for it to begin I spoke to a few journalists that had found us and explained my reasons for being there;

I wanted to protest against the both the Welfare Reform Bill and the cruel way it effects disabled people & children as well as the associated vilification of the disabled, poor and vulnerable. The government has decided to combat a fraud rate of 0.5% that they will take 20% off Disability Living Allowance by re-branding and reforming it into Personal Independence Payments (PIP). In doing so they are removing the assistance from DLA/PIP from 199 genuinely disabled people for every 1 ‘fraudster’* they catch. So they can remove so many they have made the criteria for PIP even more stringent than with DLA and they are including regular repeat assessments – regardless of whether your disability can ever improve or not. I wrote about how important my DLA is to me and the struggles I had obtaining it recently. The Responsible Reform Report (dubbed the Spartacus Report) details many areas of key concern better than I could here and it makes interesting reading if you fancy it.

The Conservative led government has done what it always does when they want to cut benefits to the poor and the vulnerable. First they leak press stories vilifying the targets, then when public opinion is on their side they strike with cruel reforms & cuts. We’ve been watching over the last couple of years as more and more horrid and twisted headlines about fake disabled people, scroungers and those seeking an easy life on ‘lavish’ benefits have filled up our press. I’ve popped some examples of recent press headlines on the right. All of these are real and all of them have helped shape public opinion. We’ve seen disability hate crime soar up by 75% and most I’ve spoken to have noticed it. I blogged this December about my experiences at the local Christmas market and I’ve been stopped in the street by strangers who ask me “Do you really need that wheelchair or are you just pretending?”. It’s both annoying and painful but still, I’m lucky that I’ve not been on the end of some of the violent abuse that many others cite having experienced.

To make it all the more poignant, yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. A day during which we remembered those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi party. The party wished for racial purity and in 1933 began forcibly sterilising disabled people under the “Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring”. By 1939 they began “euthanising” children born with severe defects and within months the criteria for eligibility for “euthanasia” was both relaxed and extended to older children, adolescents, and adults. But before this started happening the Nazi propaganda mill tried to make sure that the public were on side with gems like this poster:

A German propaganda poster from 1938″60000 Riechmarks, this is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the Community of Germans during his lifetime. Fellow Citizen, that is your money, too.” It’s so similar to last years tabloid headlines it chills my blood looking at it.



That’s why I joined the protest. That’s why I and many others chained ourselves in our wheelchairs across Oxford Circus. We see what is happening, how our rights are being eroded away and how thoughtless government propaganda is ruining our right to live free from fear and intimidation. We see all this and we are angry. We won’t go down without a fight. Even if it near kills us.

The protest itself was brilliant. No sooner had we done up our D-locks and settled into a chorus of “No ifs, no buts, no disability cuts!” than the sound of sirens filled the air. The police & some people that I assume were fancy shop security (given the odd beefeater meets bellhop uniforms) surrounded us quite quickly but did nothing. The atmosphere was great, angry yet positive, vulnerable yet strong as steel. We had a wonderful time and met some fantastic people. I spoke to journalists, independent media and radio crews and watched as some amazing people got filmed by the BBC & Sky. We had initially thought we would get an hour at the most before the bolt-cutters cam out and we were either arrested or dispersed. I think that because of the amount of media attention we had the police were loathe to act and risk bad publicity. They also would have had a big job trying to arrest all of the wheelchair users as I don’t think their vans are particularly accessible. Still, by 12.45 the police were telling us that we could either move over and just block one side of the road (the street behind us was strewn with abandoned buses) or we could stay and they would take ‘appropriate action’. Many of those chained up expressed a wish to stay and risk arrest simply to show how serious they were about protesting the Welfare Reform Bill. Sadly we had to leave before the end as we had a train to catch but twitter informed me that everything broke up peacefully at around 2pm with no arrests or trouble.

To finish on a brighter note are some pictures from today’s demo;

The wheelchair line getting into place.

Ā 
Me and my partner fashionably sporting chains and a Green Party flag. (Picture via @HeardInLondon)

Ā 

DPAC protesters – not all of us use wheelchairs (Picture via @HeardInLondon)

Legal Observers – the person in orange was from Green and Black Cross, the person at the back with a camcorder works for the Met.

* let us remember that this term also includes disabled people that aren’t technically ‘disabled enough’ to receive DLA.

Media Links (edited to add more as they arrive):

    1. Brilliant day – brilliant blog!

      Thank you hun. Im stuck here in rural land so couldnt be there so you did this for me and all those I know too…

      Your efforts did NOT go unnoticed!

      Sleep well!

      Like

    2. A HUGE thank you from me. I really wish it was possible for me to have gone.. but it was wonderful to see people out there that could make it, fighting for what is right.
      A great blog and I'm glad it went so well.
      Rest up now x

      Like

    3. Thank you very much. I'd do it again (spoons & funds depending) in a heartbeat!

      Like

    4. Thank you! It's always the problem with disabled people trying to 'physically' protest. I think it's what makes us such easy targets for politicians sadly.

      Like

    5. Glad it went so well, wish I could have there supporting you all.

      As you say, it is far too easy to attack disabled people, and I really don't think the government was expecting anyone to be in a position to fight back. I know many aren't.

      Like

    6. This was a great (serious, intelligent, well targeted & effective) protest. I work in the European trade union movement and I think we can learn a lot from this. Congratulations! It is one thing to have right on your side, it is another to find the the most effective way to make people listen – and then do it!

      Like

    7. So glad you could go when I couldn't. If I had help on a Saturday I might be able to, but I don't. Well done, we all trust your sacrifice wasn't wasted šŸ™‚

      Like

    8. Brilliant, well executed and intelligent. Shame on the mainstream media for almost completely not broadcasting…

      Newspapers, especially the Guardian, gave reasonable coverage/account. ITN is the best clip I've seen so far…

      That shows us that even blocking a street that is part of the Crown estate how hard we still have to fight and how far we still have to go…

      Would love to have been there but personal circumstances didn't allow. Well done all and my gratitude for standing up for all of us xxx

      Like

    9. So many are not, which is a sad fact of disability. had the protest been on friday I would have been lying in bed doped up on Oramorph. But still, look at what we achieved with only a length of chain, 15 wheelchairs and a small group of disabled people and their supporters. It gives me hope that we can at least do similar again.

      Like

    10. Thank you! Your support means an awful lot šŸ™‚

      Like

    11. Thank you very much, your support means a lot šŸ™‚

      Like

    12. Thank you! I totally understand your frustration at the media. It felt at times like they were all waiting for arrests or something similar – a 'bigger' story. I'm just glad we got some coverage in the end.

      Like

    13. I hope you don't mind but I have copied the german poster to my facebook page with a link to the blog. I wrote on my facebook page and my blog the other day that the press and government reminded me of the Nazis with what has been going on lately and I got a couple of people having a go at me for comparing it to the holocaust, maybe this will help them see how near it has become! my blog is http://fibronewbie.blogspot.com/2012/01/whats-next-gas-chambers.html

      Like

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