Archive for April 2nd, 2013

Is Resistance Futile?

The 1st of April has been referred to as Black Monday by many campaigners  Over the next couple of weeks we will see many of the changes outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) come into effect;

  • the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit starts being rolled out, 
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being abolished and replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), 
  • Legal Aid stopped being available for welfare matters, 
  • Benefits will only be uprated by 1% for the first time, 
  • Council Tax Benefit is now being controlled by local authorities and many are reducing the assistance given, 
  • the Benefit Cap hit’s in limiting all benefit payments (including housing benefit & child benefit) to £500 per week 
But… the 50p tax rate is being abolished so millionaires get a tax break. PHEW. Not all bad then.
All in all it can feel pretty bleak. Stuff like this can easily lead to people feeling; depressed, like they don’t have a voice, like no one is listening, apathetic, like fighting is pointless, angry, frustrated and bitter. All those feelings are totally valid reactions to what is happening. A point I would like to make is that these kind of policies are in part designed to make people feel that way. Like there is no point struggling against them any more, that (to borrow a Star Trek quote) resistance is futile.
I say sod that. 
We have come a massive way in the last decade and our campaigning power is still building. Social media and the internet brought us all together, many of us who up until then had felt isolated and alone. We shared stories, offered support, nattered about spoon theory and developed friendships. We talked about our experiences with welfare, prejudice, access to health, access to housing and access to work & employment. We started to see that we were not alone when Atos & the DWP declared us to be fit for work against all medical reason. We were not alone in struggling to access transport. Many of us started to see first hand that there are injustices in the world that effect us all. Then we got angry about it. That anger fulled a desire to challenge and change society. Unhappy with the representation that had been given by politicians and charities a new surge of grassroots activism developed.  
Now when reforms happen that will effect us thousands of disabled people swing into action to make sure the largely non-disabled media remembers us. We write reports. We read and analyse reports. We lobby MPs and local councillors. We talk on the TV and radio, not asking for pity but calling for society to be better. We look beyond our own backyard and talk internationally. We blog, we tweet, we raise awareness, we campaign, we talk, we act. 
I went to a mini-conference run by the Labour party in Birmingham. I asked a question which included some criticism of Atos and the whole ESA process and people gave me a round of applause. When I said “Atos” you could hear a collective “Ugh, they are terrible” style groan from the audience. I wasn’t in a room of disability rights activists, I was in a room full of people from all walks of life yet they knew what Atos was and what it means. That’s amazing! In 2009 if I said Atos to a room full of strangers hardly any ever knew what I was talking about, now most do. We did that! Our awareness raising is clearly working. In 2009 there were no stories in the news about the effects of anything from hate crime to ESA on disabled people, now there is. We did that! In 2009 I rarely heard other civil rights groups, like feminists for example, talking about intersectional disability matters, now they do. Our rising profile has done that. 
Fighting for societal change is a long game and takes time. Sadly the chances that one petition or one campaign will dramatically alter the socio-political landscape are pretty slim. That said, lots of petitions, lot’s of campaigns  not giving up and not going away can. So without further ado, for those who want to keep fighting I’ve got some ideas for you. I’ve tried to include a range of things that are accessible to most people.

Want To Do Your Bit To Change Society?

Well, here are some ideas for those who want to do activism/campaigning work – especially around disability issues – but are not 100% sure how to go about it or how best to get started.

Get a Twitter account – a lot of campaigning springs up on sites like twitter, if you want to get involved getting a twitter account can be very handy. You can tweet ideas, links to information, jokes & pictures to keep peoples spirits up, you can simply send occasional supportive tweets to other campaigners to inspire them to keep going. Be careful not to spam people though, most folks don’t like getting impersonal tweets and twitter will suspend your account – in fact, read this post by LatentExistence.

Start a blog – sites like blogger and wordpress allow for the quick and easy production of blogs. People, whoever they maybe, like to read peoples stories. Twitter only allows for 140 character posts, which can make explaining the importance of a cumulative impact assessment or your experience of a work capability assessment (WCA) pretty hard. Being able to link to a blog post you’ve written on the subject is invaluable. Once you have a blog you can use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, G+ and others to spread the word. You can do lots with a blog, some examples are;

  • Posting your stories
  • Posting your pictures/art
  • Posting template letters so people can copy them & send them to politicians (see the next section)
  • Posting lists of lots of different pre-written tweets on a theme so that people can copy & paste them onto twitter if you are doing a big action
  • Updating people with your progress
  • Explaining complex ideas
  • Introducing people/concepts
  • Celebrating success!
  • Giving readers a chance to talk/feed back via comments
  • Keep all the important information about your work in one place
Contact your MEP (Europe wide issues), MP/MSP/MLA (national issues) or Councillor (local issues) –  Firstly you need to find out who they are! I like to use, you can just enter your postcode and it tells you who they are and allows you to send them an email. These people are human and often (unfortunately) ignorant of or in denial about disability issues, so trying to be polite and making sure you explain the points you want to make can be very helpful. You should also try to ensure that you contact the right people. Your local councillor doesn’t have a say in the House of Commons, nor does your local MP have a vote in the local council. If you want to talk about national government policy then talk to your MP. If you want to talk about how local services are being run then talk to your councillor(s).

Contact newspapers – Journalism is less the sleuth style investigative journalism these days and more the publishing of stories that are sent to papers. If there is something going on that needs exposing then there is little point waiting for a journalist to come to you, you really need to go to them. Sending an email, tweeting them a link to so information or giving them a phone call can work wonders. Did you have a shocking experience at a WCA? Contact your local paper and give them the scoop. Think that they’ve not covered a story from a disability perspective? Contact them with details about why it would make a good story. Have you done a report? Write a press release (around 250-500 words explaining what you’ve done, what you’ve found, why it’s new, why it’s important and what your contact details are) and send it to local journalists. You can also send these things to national papers too. How do you get in contact with a paper? Well, if you go to your local papers website they will normally have a “Contact us” section, if you can’t see it use the webpages search function. My local paper is the Birmingham Mail and they have information on how to contact them & send a story at the bottom of the home page. If you click these links you can get details for the Guardianthe Independentthe Mirrorthe Sunthe Times and the Telegraph. Do try to remember that there can be negative as well as positive consequences to giving your story to national papers. You can also contact other news outlet too, like the BBC, Sky and Channel 4 news.

Take part in TV & Radio phone ins – If you hear that the radio station or TV show you are watching wants to take calls/emails/tweets/comments about a subject you are campaigning around why not give them a call? You might get 2 mins to get your point across to a wider audience. If you don’t feel up to doing it personally maybe you could share the information with others who might do it instead?

Join a political party and lobby from the inside – For example, if you want to see Labour develop better policies with regards to disability then one way of doing that is joining the party and lobbying for change. You’d get a vote on policies, you’d be able to meet other politicians and explain why some ideas they may hold about disability are possibly inaccurate and you could even try to arrange to talk at party conferences.

Talk to your friends & family – Let people know what’s happening, challenge them (politely) when they say things like “You don’t have to be worried, only scroungers will be effected”. Don’t go over the top, people tend to start avoiding you if all you do is rant at them about politics (something I wish I’d known at 24!). Try to be as polite as you can manage. If someone is insults you then you have every right to be upset, offended and angry at them. But try to bear in mind that many of these people are just repeating hear-say and media spin because these myths haven’t been effectively challenged. If you shout at them for saying benefit fraud is really high chances are they will get defensive and you’ll just end up having a fight and getting nowhere. I get the tone argument  and I really do hate people saying “I know he just insulted you a lot but don’t be angry” it can feel invalidating and silencing. At the same time we do have to remember that if you want to argue effectively and win someone over to your cause then you are more likely to stick around to listen to you if you are not actively insulting them. This post covers my point better than I can manage right now.

An important thing to remember is that preaching to the choir isn’t always very helpful. Five disability rights activists agreeing that PIP isn’t great may feel nice but doesn’t actually help spread the word or do anything to challenge the status-quo. When you are raising awareness have a think about the people you want to be talking to and the people you are actually talking to. Often you’ll find they are different and you’ll need to look for different ways of approaching them.

Join up with a grassroots group of activists – There are loads of groups out there campaigning for change and I think they’d all love more help. Here are just a few off the top of my head;

Create a campaign – if there is something that’s not being covered then by setting up a simple blog along with a twitter account and facebook page with links to (to email politicians) and a petition (on a site like Change or Avvaz or even a government e-petition) you have the start of a great campaign. Remember to include contact details if you do!
Lobby other civil rights groups – plenty of disabled people are also women, LGBTIQ, children, non-white British, and a whole lot of other things too. Remind feminist groups that they should campaign for issues the effect disabled women, remind groups campaigning for ethnic/cultural/racial rights that they should be campaigning for disabled people too. The easiest way to do this is to join them and ask them what they are doing for disabled members – be sure to bring suggestions for improvement with you!
Use your artistic side – if you can make clothes, art work, cartoons, web comics or write stories do so! A painting can express more than 10 blog posts, a light hearted webcomic can draw more visitors & raise more awareness than a petition if done well. A quilt displayed in a supermarket or town hall can raise a lot of awareness.
Be seen – put yourself out there, online or offline. People assume only 1 in 100 have a disability because so many of us stay quiet about it or aren’t visible. By simply “being” you raise awareness.
There are a whole host of other ways you could campaign too – be imaginative!
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