A March In March

I think it’s fair to say that yesterday was a very interesting day indeed. A week or so ago, I was invited by my friend Sue to go to a DAN protest up in Westminster. Truth be told, I didn’t quite know what to expect, but never having been to such a protest before I wanted to see what it was like. I have heard a lot about the historic actions of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN): how, without their political activism in the seventies, eighties and nineties, guys like me wouldn’t be enjoying the freedom to live independently that I do; how, without them, public transport would still be totally inaccessible. The fact that yesterday was my birthday aside, I wanted to go and show my support for this historic movement.

I wasn’t disappointed by any means. I got there fairly early, giving me a chance to look at the statues. It had been a while since I’d been to Parliament Square, as every time I went I kept getting angry at the pro-brexit morons protesting there. Luckily yesterday they were gone, and the square was nice and peaceful. I waited a bit, before I began to spot other people in powerchairs arriving. I went to join them. I didn’t know them, but we instantly got chatting. As I said in my previous entry, it was a great chance to network.

Sat opposite the Houses of Parliament, close to the statue of Churchill (which sadly didn’t wave), we waited a bit. Before long, more crips arrived and the march got going. There were about twenty of us in all, with a wide range of disabilities. Sue Elsegood is a historic DAN activist of some renown, so she was asked to head the march. Escorted by two police officers, we headed from Parliament Square to the ministry of Health. There the plan was to deliver a list of demands and concerns to the Ministry, about the disproportionate impact COVID has had on people with disabilities. It hadn’t previously been clear to me that that was the purpose of the event, but nonetheless it had my full support.

Outside the Ministry we waited for a bit. The hope was that someone would come out to receive the list of demands, but it soon became clear that nobody was available. We were there for about an hour, blocking the doors: while the lives of many disabled people are a great deal better than they once were, there is a lot of work still to be done, making such provocative, direct action necessary. A lot of people with mental health conditions are still institutionalised, for example, making them especially vulnerable to things like COVID. I think it’s thus essential that we, as disabled people, keep alive the spirit of activism which got us to where we are.

After the protest, the plan was to meet up for a social at the BFI on the Southbank. Unfortunately this proved more complex than it should have been, but eventually most of the protesters met in a bar for a drink. Fascinatingly, I got talking to the producer of Then Barbera Met Alan, the forthcoming TV drama I mentioned a couple of days ago. By then it was getting late though, so I couldn’t stay long: I had dinner to eat. As I rode home on the tube, I reflected upon what a remarkable day it had been, the friends I had made and the networking I had done. It was my first proper experience of a DAN protest, but I hope now to get more involved in it. DAN is a truly historic, important movement: it has already won many battles, but it has a lot of work still to do. I hope I can now help it achieve it’s goals.

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