Three-day FREE OUR PEOPLE Action:
2nd, 3rd, 4th April 2001
Disabled people from most corners of the UK gathered in London for three days in April to lobby and take direct action. As Mike Higgins says of the three days of protest, "This was perhaps our most creative, imaginative and successful National Action in a long time."
DAN made some powerful and shocking demonstrations against charging for care services and the right to live independently, not in institutions. Jen Dodds comments on the attitudes of the powerful to our actions, "This action proved that no matter how good our reasons or creative our tactics, the Government and the mass media will still turn their backs to us."
DAY ONE: Meeting MPs & Gatecrashing Parties
...Where have all our MPs gone?
At our Monday morning meeting, disabled activists waited for the 300 MPs we invited to discuss DAN's human rights demands. Not one MP turned up, but we still discussed the issues we were there to draw attention to. The only party rep there (not MPs) was fellow activists Simone Aspis (Disability Spokesperson for the Green Party).
They wouldn't come to us, so we had to go to them!
(PHOTO 1: DAN block off Conservative HQ.)
We weren't meeting very far from the party headquarters of most MPs, so we went to see them. Liz Carr describes what happened: "We visited the main political parties asking for meetings before the election. To make sure the grass roots, the representative, the real issues of disabled people are included in manifestos and future policies and election campaigns."
We simply couldn't be ignored again we made their entrances inaccessible while we waited. Simone Aspis said this part of the action was "Partly successful with proposed meetings with Lib Dem's spokesperson. A Labour Senior Policy Worker ensured DAN's demands were sent to all their members. Conservative was a no, no."
(PHOTO 2: Blockading Labour Party's Millbank office)
...DAN attend Minister 'for the Disabled's bad taste dinner
Sue Brackenbury sets the scene for the evening action... "Later that night, we went to a party. It was held in a very nice hotel. But guess what, we got there early so we all had a pick of where we wanted to wait for the other guests to arrive. So a group of us had a nice look around while they where setting up the tables for the champagne dinner. But when has DAN ever needed an invitation? We were dressed for the occasion in our very best wear; DAN t-shirts and jeans."
Liz Carr describes the dinner we came to disrupt, hosted by Margaret Hodge (Minister for the disabled): "The great and the good were meeting 'in honour of disabled people and the organisations representing them'. Most attending were non-disabled; the guest list was like a 'Who's Who' and included Tony and Cherie Blair. So while disabled people live literally on the breadline, many of these people were celebrating all the bread they earn from us: blocking the event, calling for people not to cross the 'picket line'. A list of people did leave, but traitors like David Blunkett chose to scold us ungrateful Disabled people in a red-faced performance where he lost his cool..."
David Blunkett, after trying to force his way through our human barrier, declared that Margaret Hodge would meet us shortly. Beulah of People 1st neatly sums up the minister's total effect on our lives as ordinary disabled people, asking, "David... who is this Margaret Hodge woman anyway?!" Pretty soon 'our' minister arrived, lasting only a few minutes cowering behind Blunkett before she lost her patience and took the back entrance.
Blunkett promised that if we moved, he would meet us at 6pm the following day. But, as Liz Carr recalls, "Needless to say, we didn't move but partied on as the official guests locked themselves in and disabled people desperate to take part were hoisted up by the fire department!"
Blunkett was reminded the next morning about the meeting, but we had no chance - it was purely conditional on our letting them forget about Disabled people's struggle while they enjoyed their posh dinner and back-pats.
DAY TWO: DoH & Leonard Cheshire
...The shit hits the fan at the Department of Health!
Phil Reynolds explains our dramatic action: "The second day started with probably our most high profile action this time: the 'decoration' of Richmond House (Department of Health). I was asked by Radio Suffolk whether what we did there made us look ridiculous." Phil's response was "...it's sometimes necessary to look ridiculous to get noticed!" Sue Brackenbury explains why this action is so important: "They charge us to go to the toilet, so we thought we would take shit to them."
It has to be reminded to some that what DAN do is tame compared to what is being 'done to' us. The DoH had just finished a poor access consultation about how (not if) disabled people should be charged for their 'care' packages. Other citizens are not taxed extra for the services they use (such as schools, health and police). Charging for care could mean some disabled people can't afford to survive, and for some disabled people this will mean leaving work. The charges are being dropped in Scotland too!
Liz Carr describes the mess we made in order for the DoH to realise our outrage: "At the Department of Health, the shit hit the fan and as we chanted and called for the toilet tax to be flushed. Fake shit was thrown on the front of this high profile building down Whitehall. A toilet basin jammed the door open... toilet rolls strewn around... all of us armed with fluffy handcuffs in assorted colours and piercingly powerful whistles, there were still no arrests."
(PHOTO 3: D.A.N. Decorate DoH with shit.)
While some made a mess, others sang, chanted and took pictures. Some activists gave out information about care charges to the gathering crowd and talked to press and TV people. Eventually the riot police arrived and put up barriers to prevent anyone else getting near. At this point, some people drifted away. The police politely asked those remaining, tightly locked up to each other in the doorway, to move. When we refused they cut our cuffs off, moving us into their 'pig pen' for being so naughty. They didn't arrest us, which was a pleasant surprise.
...Feathers Fly at Leonard Cheshire Foundation!
Our next target was the Cheshire Foundation, popular profiteer and friend of the Government. Liz Carr says of this part of the DAN action: "As some of us made our way to the next 'hit', the rest broke their way out of the barricades and joined us in time to decorate the lobby of the Leonard Cheshire Foundation offices. With what seemed like zillions of red feathers... the red feather being the symbol of this oppressive charity, which continues to imprison disabled people in homes."
(PHOTO 4: DAN feathers fly at Cheshire Foundation)
Leonard Cheshire is based in a glass building, so the view was tremendous from outside, the saddest thing being the lack of TV cameras - meaning most people still living through no choice in Leonard Cheshire institutions wouldn't get to enjoy it.
The riot police arrived again quickly. They removed us for the second time in a couple of hours, telling us we were only allowed out of the 'play pen' if we were going to leave. At our leisure, we did in the end, having made our point and snagged an online article by the BBC.
Liz Fetes said of the action: "I thought this years action was more grass roots than I have ever seen. I like the idea of leaving our 'mark', such as the shit, toilet rolls and tons of feathers. At last years action we left 1500 white crosses symbolising every disabled person who is in a nursing home."
DAY THREE: DETR and march on Parliament
...DAN try arresting Minister for Housing!
Liz Carr describes the scenario for our next action. "On the Wednesday, while the rain pissed down, a line of Danners in policemen's hats went to the crime scene that is the Department of Transport the Environment and the Regions (DETR) and blocked the doors... with crime scene tape, placards and bodies in bin bags." The DETR is closest to a national department responsible for housing (housing comes under R!).
Phil Reynolds said "Probably the part of the action I liked best was the DETR. Trying to get a meeting with someone senior (Nick Rainsford for preference) seemed to be going well, but then turned bad again."
We asked to meet Nick Rainsford, Minister for Housing, to discuss our demands for accessible housing for all. If accessible homes were available to everyone, this would mean many people would not end up being institutionalised, and there would be somewhere safe for the thousands of disabled people waiting for homes to live.
We put up placards on the walls and gave out information to the slow-moving traffic and people going past. Riot police removed some of us from doorways for the third time. Those on the front remained. Liz Carr describes how events unfolded: "We were offered a meeting, but not with who we wanted. We decided that the offered meeting for a small group of Danners and a small group of civil servants with no real power would be a waste of time."
"...We did what we did best: we took to the road and slow-marched to Parliament, with whistles, chants and about two police and four traffic wardens for company..."
...DAN march round Parliament square
More information was given out passers-by, and to traffic that was travelling slowly in the other direction as we moved as slowly as possible round the roads. It was nice to see the sights while we were in London, so we did a slow ring round Parliament Square, with some of us jeering and chanting at Parliament for their disinterest. We then slowly moved off again along the roads back to our transport.
Afterwards one copper expected pats on his back for being 'cute and fluffy' with us. He informed us sourly that marching unplanned round Parliament Square when the house is sitting is an arrestable offence. Some of us laughed, some of us said thanks in our most 'grateful crip' voices, and others tried not to swear. We were cute and fluffy too. As Sue Brackenbury said, "Years ago, we would have took the road out and not moved."
...DAN hit home! Three days of protest and no arrests!
Some final words from Danners:
"Well done to all the people that attended the National Action and supported each other." - Sue Brackenbury
"Yes, it was unfocused at times, yes it will be perceived as radical, yes it was sometimes silly, and yes it was very, very powerful." - Liz Fetes
"I don't think I have ever witnessed so much appalling arrogance in my life as I did when encountering police, MPs and various security guards during my first three days with DAN. And you can bet we'll do whatever it takes to change that!" - Jen Dodds
"We made a clear statement that DAN is here, the free our people campaign is here. We're here to stay until our people really are free..." - Liz Carr
"Now we are looking forward to the next action." - Chris Killick
"... Following the DAN, action we have already had letters from the liberal party and the local government association inviting us to meetings on DAN's core issues of free our people." - Alan Holdsworth
In memory of Mark Drew.
With thanks to all who make DAN possible.
FREE OUR PEOPLE!
BBC Online article about day 2 of the action :
More recent DAN reports and information are here (Crip-stirring Culture):
SHIT HAPPENS ON A DAN ACTION - a recipe by Andy Gill.
brown paint, plain flour, salt, water, nuts to taste (oops for texture).
stirring stick, 4 eager disabled artists, mixing bucket, water bucket, cardboard tray/ large bowl and surface for rolling, lots of newspaper for protecting room, containers of the kind it's easy to sneak into an action situation.
feathers (from old pillows?) and red powder paint.
same activists, bin bags.
empty powder paint into bags of feathers and shake about til the colour spreads.