Ever since the Olympics started i must admit i have been a little bit obsessed. I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen, i have a history of being pretty apathetic about large sporting events. That it was being held in a city i lived closed to and had just started working in i expected the whole thing to be a bit of a hassle but i think the opening ceremony drowned any pessimism or apathy i may have had and from then on i was gued to the television watching these amazing athletes and feel a bit of pride slip back into our lives as British people.
I always knew though that when the Paralympics started i would be much more invested. Not only have my own mental health problems frequently been referred to as a disability, i have numerous friends with varying levels of disabilities. This became an even bigger part of my life when i began a relationship with someone with a long history of teaching SEN children and then when i worked for 18 months as healthcare support worker for children with complex physical needs.
I would have loved to get tickets, especially for the Paralympics but alas i have been far too busy and not nearly organised enough.
Last Friday however i found myself at a ceremony, not your usual one either, but the Closing Atos Ceremony held in protest of ATOS and their participation in the Patalympic Games (they are one of the biggest sponsors of the Games). Well not so much found myself. The minute i heard that this protest was being held so close to my place of work that i could get there and back in a lunchbreak i knew i had no excuse. I had to go and be counted.
Now i’ll admit i am politically minded, to be honest, in our society i think you have to be. I know my rights and fight for the rights of others. So it was understandable that i would gravitate towards such an event and understand the roots of its frustration which is an area that only affects me but the lives of my loved ones and the profession in which i work.
However what surprised me far more than the sheer number of people that descended on the headquarters of Atos on Friday, was the number of people, when i explained myself plans, asked “what’s ATOS” and were completely unaware of who they are let alone what they stand accused of by many.
So let me give you a little introduction to the cause of the outrage, a kind of “Blood on your hands 101”.
Some will claim they are only doing their job; for me that sounds a bit too like “I was just following orders”. The tests that are being used are deeply flawed and this is having a huge consequence to the lives of thousands across the country. By branding people on benefits en masse as “scroungers, cheats and thiefs” you have poisoned society towards some of the most vulnerable people in our society who often had little enough to begin with. Hate crimes against the disabled are soaring while help is being slashed. People are literally dying over this.
Unfortunately with my lunch break fast drawing to a close i had to leave and as i was a van and several more police officers were arriving. By the time i got back to the office i found out via Twiter and UK Uncut that protestors has barricaded themselves into the Department of Work and Pensions and things were starting to turn a bit nasty.
By the time i got back home i was sent footage shown on both ITN & Five News.
This is more a general overview of the protest
This contains scenes of some of the more heavy handed behaviour displayed. And shows two women pushed out their wheelchairs. Personally i found this footage extremely upsetting, not in the least because i met and talked with several of the people you can see in the video. So pleased be warned it is pretty ugly and may well be upsetting so please bear this in mind if you chose to watch it.
And a live feed from the day.
But my experience of the event was entirely positive and i am devastated that what everyone protesting hoped would be a peaceful, creative event was marred with arrests and violence.
What i saw was a group of fiercely passionate, proud people who stood in front of the gates of their personal hell and demanded to be heard. Spirits were high, people were talking to each other, engaging, dancing even!
I was interviewed by the Socialist Worker. I was asked if i thought this was a turning point in rights for the disabled.
I had to reply that this is something, this is a good thing but it’s not the start and it won’t be the end. Anger & discontent has been rising for a long time now and i have been attending similar protests for years, i have been to several Hardest Hit marches and regardless of the number of people that turn up and shout until they lose their voices its hard not to feel ignored. We have to keep fighting in order for our voice to be listened to, not just heard, and for things to change for the better for the most vulnerable in society.
This was definitely a sentiment i heard repeated over the day, we are here, we will keep coming back, we will keep making our voices heard.