By Ahn Young-choon, Staff reporter
Disabled people in wheelchairs spraypaint their names as a declaration of their humanity, inspired by the movie “I, Daniel Blake”, while demanding a ruling to end to the role of the Social Security Committee, in Seoul’s Seodaemun district, Feb. 15. (by Kim Jeong-hyo, staff photographer)
Protesters decry cuts in welfare benefits and demand an end to the role of the Social Security Committee
Ten or so people were pushing themselves in wheelchairs, each with a sign around his or her neck.
“I’m not lazy or a beggar. My name is Choi Yeong-eun.”
“I, In-hyeon, am not worthless or useless. Please do not insult me anymore!”
In all cases, their demands were listed alongside their name. Those names were symbols, proof of their unique dignity as human beings.
Each person took turn reading off the text on his or her sign. Some had difficulty clearly pronouncing their own names. Others could not read out loud by themselves. Some had caregivers read for them, or input the text in their smartphones to be read by an augmentative and alternative communication device. Declaring their dignity seemed to require a tremendous physical commitment.
The scene was part of a South Korean version of the “I, Daniel Blake” declaration held on the afternoon of Feb. 15 at the Social Security Committee in Seoul’s Seodaemun district.
The main character in the film “I, Daniel Blake” is a carpenter with 40 years of experience who is left unable to work due to a heart condition. He applies for benefits, but experiences only humiliation instead. On the wall of the employment center, he spray-paints the words, “I, Daniel Blake, demand my appeal date [for benefits] before I starve.”
Park Gyeong-seok, principal of the Nodeul Night School for the Disabled and co-representative of the group Solidarity against Disability Discrimination, rolled his wheelchair along the building’s exterior and windows as he spray-painted the words, “I, Park Gyeong-seok, am a human being, not a dog.” He sprayed the letters of his name repeatedly, as if to testify to his humanity.
Claiming major reductions in welfare benefits since an Apr. 2015 national financial strategy meeting where a plan for “welfare finance efficiency” was approved with cuts of 3 trillion won (US$2.6 billion) in the form of “local government project adjustments,” the protesters demanded an end to the role of the Social Security Committee, which has authority to discuss and arbitrate on the social security system, and a full-scale reexamination of the non-recognized local government social security system. An amendment to the Framework Act on Social Security to alter the discussion and arbitration system between the central and local governments has been proposed under the 20th National Assembly, but remains stuck in the Standing Committee at present.
The “declaration of humanity” by the disabled protestors took place in a parking facility adjacent to a high-rise building with a splendid marble exterior. Police blocked the corners leading toward the main entrance. Inside, the building was quiet, and the situation appeared subdued for the organizations operating there. Eventually those workers left, and the building’s cleaning crew went to work. The letters sprayed on the glass were hurriedly cleaned away with chisels, rags, and vacuums. Those written on the marble were covered up with white paper plywood.