stop the welfare bill - civil disobedienceTagged as: bill cuts disabled dpac reform ukuncut welfare
disabled activists, pensioners, and ukuncut staged a spectacular blockade at oxford circus today, blocking the northern junction of regent street for more than two hours. 200 people showed solidarity whilst 20 wheelchair activists chained themselves across the road. there were no arrests and after a consensus decision protestors left together peacefully and in solidarity shortly after 2pm
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the action, under the banner "message from the invisibles", was originally called by 'disabled people against cuts (www.dpac.uk.net) but they gained support from pensioners organisations and ukuncut. their aim was to create a media event and a symbolic challenge to the government in the form of a mass act of civil disobedience.
on top of the current controversial 'welfare reform bill' that the government is trying to force through despite massive opposition, disabled activists point out that cuts to grants, the voluntary sector, legal aid, and other social funds also impact upon disabled people disproportionately, because they affect many services that are relied upon.
the government tries to characterise the sick and disabled as workshy, claiming there is no incentive for them to work because benefits are too high, but they simply don't appreciate all the other obstacles to work in the form of discrimination, lack of support, poor urban and transport planning and ingrained attitudes.
as the gap between rich and poor grows ever larger, the disabled often find themselves at the bottom of that gap, marginalised, isolated and in abject poverty. and yet disabled people are not such a small minority - they are a sizeable part of society, as much as 1 in 7 in london for instance!
so today's action was aimed to be a high profile event showing that disabled people can come together and fight back against the cuts, supported by, and in solidarity with other justice, rights, and anti-cuts organisations.
ukuncut called a meet at holborn tube this morning at 11.30, a slight own-goal in that the station isn't wheelchair-accessible, however this was noticed beforehand and disabled activists with mobility problems were invited to arrive a little earlier and were helped by stewards and buddies who organised alternative transport to the target site.
that site turned out to be oxford circus, and as the hundred or more activists disgorged from the circle line, they saw that an earlier phalanx of disabled protestors had already begun a blockade, with rows of wheelchairs chained together across the northern junction of oxford street at the junction with regent street.
traffic was backed up along regent street to the north, and there was a row of abandoned buses. it was unfortunate that a tourist coach was caught at the front of the queue, but eventually police facilitated the clearance of the road, and finally the white coach backed up and found a different route, leaving regent street eerily empty for a busy saturday afternoon.
police formed a barrier in front of the protestors, preventing them from any further incursion into the junction, and traffic and bus routes were diverted to other roads to avoid the blockade.
although the police operation appeared good-natured and 'softly softly', the chief inspector and inspector were observed briefing a technical team in near-by cavendish square, ready to cut through d-locks and chains to effect an eviction. there were also additional TSG waiting in that square.
however, and despite the cold, the protest continued for a couple of hours, with spirited chanting, some short speeches, and some uplifting samba all contributing to the jubilant atmosphere.
an attempt by the police to make a public announcement over a loudspeaker was met by genuine confusion, as even to those nearby it was largely unintelligible, but by 2pm it was clear police were warning people that they were causing an obstruction of the highway and that they risked arrest.
some activists not wishing to chance an arrest were persuaded to move to the pavement, but the majority stood their ground for a further 20 minutes while the tension began to mount a little, until finally a consensus decision was reached, and an announcement 'mic-checked', that the protest would end together and leave as one.
by the time the road was finally clear, and police were able to allow traffic through, the protest had successfully blockaded the junction for well over two hours, attracting much independent and some mainstream media attention, with thousands of flyers distributed among passers-by.
the next events planned are vigils and lobbies of parliament on the days that the lords vote on welfare reform bill and that MPs vote on lords' amendments. these are 31st jan and 1st feb respectively (next tuesday and wednesday). all are welcome to join the protests in old palace yard opposite parliament from 1-3pm on both days.
see dpac.uk.net and globalwomenstrike.net for more details
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