From the archive: Protests and government extremism

Kate Belgrave /   September 5, 2013 at 8:36 PM 1,197 views

power

From yesterday’s DPAC, Black Triangle and Mental Health Resistance Network action in central London:

So interesting that the Taxpayers’ Alliance got a free, media-wide pass yesterday to bitch again about people on benefits – on the very day that disabled protestors turned out in numbers in central London to demonstrate against the benefit and care cuts that are excluding them from work and from life (let’s not forget, what with all this Tory-Lib Dem-Labour faffing about the joys and rewards and glories of work, that some people can’t work, but still deserve and want to live. Which means they’re entitled to benefits). So. Pity, really, that I didn’t see Matthew Sinclair skulking round Westminster yesterday (I presume he lives in this country, or at least visits it). I may just have walked on over and offered to shove the morning’s various ironies right up his arse (I speak metaphorically, I am sure).

Another time, perhaps. Hopefully, even. In the meantime, here is some video from yesterday’s DPAC, Black Triangle and Mental Health Resistance Network protest in central London. This one is outside the DWP and starts with the line of underpants that people left out the front for Iain Duncan Smith. I gave some thought to leaving IDS the sweaty pair (was a hot day) of knickers I was wearing – on which I would have written that plenty of us (taxpayers all, btw Mr Sinclair) are happy to pay for social security, thanks very much. We certainly would rather pay for social security than for the chance to bankroll Iain Duncan Smith into pissing away whatever’s left of the exchequer on a second pass at Universal Credit.

There was a good turnout at the protest and clever targets, just as the BBC was a clever target on Monday. Yesterday, protestors paid visits to the Department of Health (to make the point again that Hunt has no mandate to cut and sell the NHS and that social care cuts, particularly to vital funds like the Independent Living Fund, will prevent people from participating in exactly the work and independence that the Taxpayers’ Alliance so publicly excites itself over) the Department of Transport (to campaign for the accessible transport which would aid independence in a way that endless government lip-service re: inclusion does not), the Department of Energy and Climate Change to protest about the fuel poverty many must live in while energy companies hoover up unreal profits, and the Department of Education to oppose government attacks on inclusive education. And last, but by absolutely no means least, the Department for Work and Pensions.

A few words on extremism

People carried and wore signs which read “proud to be an extremist”: a reference to the comments Paul Maynard made earlier this year: “Pat’s Petition, We Are Spartacus and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority.”

I like to mention this so-called extremism in relation to many of the protests I attend these days. If I say so myself and I do – the things I have to say on this aspect of protest can’t be said often enough. It seems to me that we’re fast reaching a point where a mere objection will be described as extremist: a raised voice, or a sit-down protest (I thought of this when I watched a small group of anti-fracking protestors superglue themselves to the Bell Pottinger building a couple of weeks ago) is somehow translated by the mainstream as galloping insurrection (not that I would mind a bit of that either).

I make a couple of points here. The first is that sitting outside a government department and holding a banner which outlines your objections to service cuts is not extremism. It really isn’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It really, really isn’t. Occupying a pavement outside the DWP and stringing up a row of underpants on which you’ve written a few rude words and drawn Iain Duncan Smith’s face (see video below – his face works brilliantly on an arse part) is not extremism. As I said during last month’s anti-fracking protests – gluing yourself to a building and refusing to move in protest at corporate plans to devastate your own planet is not extremism. It’s actually a very logical response to corporate plans to devastate your planet. By comparison, selling a public health service to your private sector mates when you’re in government – now that is extremism. It’s an extreme act. At the very least, it’s grand larceny. Taking public money from people who need public services and can’t get to work, or college and/or through life without those services, and giving that money to private companies – that’s extremism. Blowing big bloody holes in the planet with fracking gear is extremism. Those are actions that are likely to deliver extreme (read dangerous) results.

So.

The second point is that these protestors surely do speak for a majority. They speak for people who object mightily to the government’s cutting and selling of the NHS – see the Save Lewisham Hospital protests over the last year if you want to get a feel for that. They speak for people who are forced to watch as their fuel bills rise and rise as energy company profits grow. They speak for people who believe that social security ought to be a safety net for anyone in need, as opposed to a gravy train for the likes of Serco, Atos and Capita.

The problem is that more people need to hear them speak. This is where one of the major challenges lies. The political class does not want to hear these people and it absolutely does not want anyone else to hear them either. It was no surprise at all on Monday to find the BBC ignoring the protestors who’d shut down the BBC’s very own front entrance in protest at that broadcaster’s appalling “reporting” of benefit cuts, public sector cuts and austerity. No surprise either to find that yesterday, the enormous number of government and press worthies who inhabit the Westminster bubble and literally never leave it managed, somehow, to miss a large procession of people in wheelchairs, carers and supporters protesting in said bubble. A lot of tourists worked out that something was going on and asked questions (“what is happening? Is it a protest?”), but the silence elsewhere was loud.

The day finished with a lobby to deliver a disability manifesto – in, of course, a spectacularly inaccessible parliament committee room. At least half of the people who wanted to attend had to sit outside in the hall in their wheelchairs. That said it all, to be honest – a big bloody Up Yours from the government to everyone.

Courtesy of Kate Belgrave

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