IF YOU SUPPORT BLACK TRIANGLE AND DISABLED PEOPLE AGAINST CUTS (DPAC) PLEASE EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org AND TELL HIM: ‘I AM DISABLED AND I SUPPORT BLACK TRIANGLE/DPAC ~ WE ARE ALIVE AND KICKING! SEE YOU AT THE PARALYMPICS’!
YOU ARE THERE IN YOUR THOUSANDS! IF ALL OF YOU EMAIL PATRICK BUTLER – MAYBE THEY’LL SEND A REPORTER!
~ BLACK TRIANGLE CAMPAIGN
I have written and email to Patrick about his article….we need a multi-pronged approach to activism if we are to effect change. Here is a copy of my email. Thank you for writing your article about Disability Activists.
I agree that the “We are Spartacus” campaign was an important point in disability activism. The work that Sue, Kaliya and others carried out in order to produce the Spartacus Report was heroic and the result did indeed take government ministers by surprise. The Lords were also surprised by the volume of mail that they received from the many disabled people, who wrote to them in order to draw their attention to the Spartacus Report and to tell them about their personal concerns about the Welfare Reform Bill.
The “We are Spartacus” campaign was a direct response to the proposals of the Welfare Reform Bill and consequently it needed to be in a report format. It was wonderful that the talented Sue Marsh et al were able to do this and to also follow it up with interview and attendances at debates and conferences.
However I don’t think this approach to activism has superseded the need for more ‘traditional’ forms of activism, rather it is just another approach that works in concert with it.
Campaigning groups, working to bring social change throughout history, have have always used a diverse range of approaches to activism. The most successful campaigners have been those that used a wide range of techniques and those which worked in collaboration with other groups. (“Counterpower – Making Change Happen” by Tim Gee).
I do hope that Sue and the Guardian appreciate that a multi-pronged approach to the problem is necessary. The work of Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle Campaign are also of great value. I believe that it is very important that disabled people continue to undertake visible protest on the streets and that mainstream journalists continue to report the varied and creative actions that take place.
As you point out, social media is a great tool for activists of all types but particularly those with illness and disability. However I do not believe that on-line activism has superseded the need for real-world direct action or face to face collaboration between disabled people.
The writings of political bloggers, like Sue, are inspiring and informative but so is seeing photos or film of disabled activists chained together across the road in Oxford Circus. It is also likely that main-stream media reporting of direct action will reach a different section of society from the readers of political blogs and reports.
I do hope that your article does not herald a change in the Guardian’s approach to the reporting of disability related issues and that future direct action will go unreported. It may well be more convenient for journalists if we confine ourselves to online activism but it does keep disabled activists isolated. During protests we meet other disabled activists face to face, friendships develop and we feel empowered.
We go on protests knowing that we will suffer physical pain because of it. We go on protests with our carers, medication, wheelchairs, hot-water bottles and sometimes even our beds. If we can “screw our courage to the sticking-place” in order to agitate on the streets, then please can the Guardian Journalists and photographers leave their offices to report it.
Disabled activists protest because we must. We are courageous, highly motivated and often driven by desperate circumstances. We believe that challenging the government on the streets with direct action, to ‘fight back’ , is better to than giving in to injustice and despair.
Please join us sometime.
‘To some the Spartacus movement’s pragmatic approach may seem to lack the radical boldness or grandeur of the great campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. But as disability consultant and campaigner Jane Young points out, these are different, more defensive times, requiring different methods.’
Shame on The Guardian for marginalising OUR VOICES!
THIS IS REVISIONISM AT ITS WORST!
While there are fears that traditional methods of disability activism are on the wane, a new campaigning spirit is been forged using the social media revolution.
The past 18 months have seen the first flowerings of a new network of activist groups and a shared, inclusive approach that has thrust their engaging campaigning style into the public eye.
Galvanised by the government’s draconian welfare reform agenda, the new activism arguably is helping to renew a disability movement thought by some to have lost its way in recent years.
The staggering Twitter-driven success of the “We Are Spartacus” campaign in January announced the emergence of this new wave. This carefully planned viral campaign steered by a tiny band of activists almost single-handedly put the previously arcane issue of cuts in disability living allowance on the public agenda.
Winning support from celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell, the campaign took both the mainstream media and government ministers by surprise, and brought disability benefit cuts to the attention of hundreds of thousands of people. Two days after it launched, the coalition lost three votes in an evening on welfare reform in the House of Lords.
By the end of the week the media – which had almost uniformly ignored the Hardest Hit march on London – the biggest ever march by disabled people, three months previously – had begun to sit up and take interest. By the end of the week, one of the leading lights of the Spartacus campaign, Sue Marsh, was live in the BBC Newsnight studio debating welfare reform with employment minister Chris Grayling. A new activism had begun.
This was not a traditional campaign – one that had started with a letter to the Guardian or a meeting a in dusty civic hall and grown through charity lobbying. It grew rapidly and lived through social media networks bringing together and giving a voice to tens of thousands of people who were excluded from mainstream media and politics.
Marsh says the approach is different from the old-style “chain ourselves to the railings” approach. It was partly a recognition that traditional activist techniques no longer guaranteed traction with politicians and the media, and partly pragmatic – the knowledge that illness or disability meant many activists were confined to their home for all or some of their life, but were able to engage productively through social media (Marsh calls it “bed-tivism”).
(Speak for yourself Sue ~ Black Triangle)
Twitter has given talented “accidental activists” like carer Nicky Clark the chance to change attitudes, most dramatically when she persuaded the actor Ricky Gervais to stop using the word “mong” (which she argued was an abusive term for people with Down’s syndrome). Activist Kaliya Franklin’s “ambush” of Labour leader Ed Miliband over the use of “scrounger” rhetoric (and the subsequent viral distribution of the encounter) had similar effects.
To some the Spartacus movement’s pragmatic approach may seem to lack the radical boldness or grandeur of the great campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. But as disability consultant and campaigner Jane Young points out, these are different, more defensive times, requiring different methods.
She notes that one of the most recent Spartacus campaigns has been over contentious proposals by Worcestershire county council to cap social care expenditure, potentially forcing many disabled people currently living in their own homes to move into institutional care.
It links current campaigners back with their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s who fought so hard to win independent living for disabled people.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010