Northeast Council Leaders don't care!
Newcastle & Gateshead hit - 3 day DAN action May 25 26 27:
The Disabled People's Direct Action Network (DAN), travelled from all over the country and made themselves "at home" in Gateshead and Newcastle for three days last week on their 13th National action. DAN met with huge and emotional public support from local people - at least 1,500 signed a dramatic petition on small white crosses, each one representing one of thier neighbours living in a nursing home.
DAN's core demands to local authorities met with total lack of understanding from local council leaders. DAN's demands are about reducing the numbers of local people who are trapped in nursing homes against their will, by making a commitment to provide more accessible homes and services for disabled and elderly people in the local community. The Northeast is one of the worst areas in the country, although this is a national problem and DAN will be approaching other Local Authorities.
DAY 1: Gateshead Council Leader: NO NO NO NO!
Early in the morning on May 25th outside Aiden House Nursing Home, Gateshead, disabled people peacefully tied flowers to the railings, bearing names of people who have died in institutions. This was in memory of Alice Grant, Isabel Rickerby and Rose Mares who all died there in the last three months. Their suspicious deaths are currently being investigated by the police, Alice Grants death is being treated as murder ("The Journal" May 26, 2000).
DAN then marched into Gateshead and at about noon, 40 disabled activists from the DAN network breezed straight into Gateshead Council buildings to make made four demands to Labour Bill Gordon and George Gill the leader of Gateshead City Council:
1. Convene a crisis conference on housing.
2. Commit to a feasibility study to set up an independent living centre run by disabled people
3. Planned disolvement of the charging for services policy.
4. Set up a mortality committee to identify and investigate suspicious deaths in residential care.
DAN occupy Gateshead offices overnight.
The council leader's answer was no, to all four demands and he felt there were no issues to address offering DAN no commitment to even give it further thought. Very angry at the appalling reactions of the council leader, 26 DAN activists took occupation of the council leaders office for the rest of the day and ran the office for him, making contact with many local council members and the press. They then stayed overnight, some of them risking their health and safety, to give Mr Gill the chance to think about things more carefully.
Day 2: NO from Gateshead - IGNORED by Newcastle.
In the morning after 21 hours of occupation the returning answer from the leader of Gateshead council was still NO, and 26 tired and hungry activists left their offices. Outside they were welcomed by the rest of DAN with placards and banner chanting "Nursing homes stink, they're worse than you think!" and "Free our people!". Disabled activists threw themselves to the floor and formed a human cross and started singing "We're dead, it's the council's fault!". Tyne Tees gave DAN some great TV slots, with a powerful interview with Tom Commerford the local DAN organiser. Tom says of the three days action: "Talking to the council was like talking to a brick wall. We will remove them bricks one by one."
Locals want their 1,053 neighbours to have real choices.
Disabled activists gained hundreds of signatures and messages on crosses from people who work in the Gateshead Council offices, showing support for their 1,053 neighbours imprisoned in nursing homes. DAN then went to Newcastle town centre, collecting hundreds more signatures and messages to the council from local people. Newcastle born Liz Fetes was interviewed for local radio about DAN's campaign.
Newcastle Council leaders take early holiday.
Only that morning DAN were asked to come to Newcastle Civic Centre to collect a letter in reply to an earlier request for a meeting. The letter from the leader of Newcastle Council implied that there are no issues to address, and said that that they would not meet with DAN and they have gone away.
DAN paid a visit to the Civic Centre in Newcastle, the home of their council and social services. Security officers at the Civic Centre closed the doors as soon as DAN came up the road. We went and asked politely if we could have a meeting to talk about the letter. The council refused. They would not let even one of us in, insisting there would be no-one there that day who could help us. Apparently the council paid for by the people of Newcastle were having a day off. Not a good day to die in a nursing home if they were all out! Funny DAN thought the bank holiday was Monday !
TRAPPED! Civic Centre workers take consequences for bosses.
If the council would let DAN come to them we would try and make them come to us. At about 3 p.m. angry disabled activists took the car-park so nobody could leave in their cars, chanting "We're DAN, you're trapped, get used to it!". Part of the car park was public, part private - DAN blockaded all the entrance and exit barriers to the private car park and they were switched off. Many wrapped in black bin-liners to keep dry from the appalling weather, Disabled activists chained or handcuffed ourselves and our wheelchairs to each other and the barriers, chanting "We'd rather go to jail than, die in a nursing home!". The workers in the building wanted to go and it was pouring with rain, cold and windy. DAN let some mothers go in their cars, who were very distraught and two people on their way to hospital. DAN asked the rest of those working in the building to please support their 1,052 neighbours trapped in nursing homes by complaining to their bosses for ignoring us and by either getting public transport, or a taxi home, or waiting until we were all arrested for obstruction by the police.
UNISON support DAN's aims.
The local leader of the trades union UNISON Kenny Bell, came out to negotiate. He asked DAN to allow people to go and collect their children in return for meeting with local UNISON about the campaign, because they support our demands. Mr Bell could not help DAN with our demands to the council or social services directly today, so he was asked to show his commitment to our campaign by asking us to be arrested by the police and meeting with local activists at a later stage. Mr Bell agreed and will be meeting with local disability rights activists in the near future.
No arrests - no fuss: but they couldn't move us!
The police presence presence grew and officers assured us there would be no ground gained by our obstruction and they would not arrest us for this. After a few hours in the rain, then said they would physically move us if we did not leave. DAN made it clear no-one would be leaving and police started to physically remove everyone they could while the rest of the disabled activists still attached to barriers carried on chanting in solidarity. Cars started to leave the car-park through the available exits but come the third barrier, the police were stumped and getting very wet. Disabled activists were so well chained up to the barrier and to each other they could not budge any one more than a slight turn. In the end the police gave up in defeat and left DAN activists singing victoriously.
Day 3: DAN March for Justice
DAN congregated again at the monument to the reform movement in Newcastle centre to get the last few hundred signatures and messages from local people. Disabled activists, including Richard Bullard who has lived in an institution, gave speeches to the people of Newcastle about DAN's campaign for better services to enable the freedom of our people. We were well supported by all the people, young and old. Radical local band The Fugitivs shared some of their music about Day Centre life and had everyone chanting "We want rights not charity!" and "Let's Riot!".
Over 100 singing and chanting disabled people and supporters then paraded round the town centre in single file along the Saturday city centre roads with the 1,053 white crosses, each signed by a local person, some with a message to the local authority, many with multiple names. The march ended at Eldon Gardens and around the Justice statue, disabled people, of all kinds, from all backgrounds, from all over the country, ceremoniously planted 1,053 white crosses, each representing and in remembrance of a person who lives in a nursing home locally through having no choice. It was a moving display as disabled activists, slowly planted each cross into the grass, some using their sticks and crutches to bang them into the firm soil, watched by a large audience of local people whose children joined in support. DAN thank the local people for their support.
When I saw how many crosses there were I imagined the same number of people all here with us on the outside. I cried from the screaming pain of knowing any of those 1,053 who do not want to live in institutions will not be free for some time, in anger at the local councils - and in the joy of knowing their neighbours and other disabled people care, even if their council doesn't.
clair lewis, Disabled activist (firstname.lastname@example.org) FREE OUR PEOPLE!
Message from National DAN:
"We'd made a splash and opened some doors. We are at the beginning of the campaign and we don't always get our demands met. The councils hid behind local organisations inferring that disabled people in the Northeast don't want accessible housing, want to pay for services, don't need a centre for independent living and don't care about their brothers and sisters in Nursing homes dying or being abused. We in DAN know that's bullshit and we call on all organisations in the Northeast to prove it by telling your councils now. Believe me when I say that the door is open and that you have their attention.
I would like to pay homage to all the activists who took part in this struggle for our freedom. I know at times it was painful and difficult but that just makes us stronger for the next time. It was also brilliant how we all worked together and supported each other creating bonds between us that will last a lifetime."