Sunday, 10 May 2015

We Can't March

As an indeterminate number of protesters took to the streets on May 9th (the precise figure apparently depends on how right-wing the paper you're reading is), disabled activists took to Twitter under the hashtag #WeCantMarch to make their voices heard. The hashtag was started by Twitter user @hnahhnah, who is organising further actions with other activists, and others.

Tory austerity measures have been particularly harsh on vulnerable groups, with disabled people bearing the brunt of an onslaught of cuts to social welfare. It's harder than ever for many of us to access the financial support we need in order to survive. Those of us who have suffered - some disproportionately - under the Conservative-led government may want to show our opposition in some way, but the standard method of attending rallies is inaccessible to many of us for all sorts of reasons.

How does EDS prevent me, personally, from attending marches?
- I can't walk the kinds of distances usually covered by protest rallies.
- I can't remain on my feet for longer than about 10 minutes without severe pain.
- Were I to use a wheelchair on a march, I would risk being tipped out of it.
- If I am kettled, I will not be allowed to take the measures - sitting, lying down, stretching - that will keep my pain levels at least bearable.
- If I fall while marching I am at disproportionate risk of injury, either by being trampled or by being helped to my feet (thanks to joint laxity in my elbows, wrists, and shoulders).
- If I am arrested, I risk injury when being manhandled by police and may be denied access to essential medication. This might sound like an exaggeration, but it's happened to a lot of people.
- If I am injured in a kettle, I may be denied access to medical treatment.
- Large crowds carry a disproportionate risk of personal injury and excessive amounts of stimulus, which in turn gives me panic attacks.
- If I do attend a march and nothing bad happens, it will still take me at least two days to recover to the point where I can do basic daily tasks again.

Does this mean people with EDS and other disabilities should be locked out of protest, when austerity measures are causing us so much suffering? Of course not. And this is why #WeCantMarch is so important. We can't march, but we can organise. We can help produce information pamphlets and make signs. We can provide food and water for protesters, and catering for after marches. We can provide telephone and Internet based support to arrestees. We can lobby the media to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate coverage of rallies. We can boost your voices while adding our own. The hashtag lists a wealth of other ways in which we can support people at rallies 

I have these words on this page. I cannot march, but I can still shout. Let me in. If you're organising, take some time to think about how you can include people who can't march - not just people with disabilities, but people who are at greater risk of violence (such as ethnic minorities, immigrants awaiting asylum decisions, and people who are visibly queer or trans), and people who can't afford to travel to major cities, and people whose caring obligations or professions take priority over risking arrest, and countless others too.

We'll be over here, organising and doing what we can. Join us, and let us join you.

Recommended reading:
Caroline Lucas writes in the Independent about the likely impact of cuts to the Independent Living Fund.
[Trigger warning - suicide] Investigations of suicides linked to benefit sanctions are ongoing.
Report on the case of David Clapson, who was found dead in his home after benefits sanctions.
[Trigger warning - suicide] Black Triangle lists benefit claimants who died after sanctions between February and October 2014.

I welcome suggestions for other resources, particularly on barriers to protest for people who are nondisabled but belong to other vulnerable groups. Comment, or tweet me @theviciouspixie, and let's get a conversation going.

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