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Crippen looks to the arts for a different way to protest / 14 December 2010

A little while ago I did a round robin email to specific folks that I know who are concerned or who are involved in the cuts protests going on around the country.

It seemed to me that we needed to think of a way that we can protest without switching people off and being associated with violent confrontation, whilst at the same time getting in people's faces and making an impact. In effect cutting through the stereotypical perception that the general public have of us crips and putting an end to the apathy that seems to grip people in times of crisis, including many disabled people.

We have a huge resource in the shape of a large disabled artists community. We should be able to utilise this talented group and come up with some pretty unusual ideas with which to attract the general public to our cause. At the same time we should be able to provide a vehicle that those disabled people who haven't yet become involved could identify and join in with.

One of the best demos I've seen involved environmental protesters dressed in black, moving slowly through the streets one evening carrying large canisters. They all eventually converged on one of the large oil companies HQ's and proceeded to dump the oil they had in the canisters on the doorstep of the building. Nothing was said and the protesters remained expressionless. Then they all turned around and walked slowly away in all directions. This had such an impact and was covered by the press and television in full the next day.

Imagine several hundred (dare I say thousand) disabled people all gathering at one point and all doing something so imaginative that it would make the whole country sit up and take notice. It doesn't have to be elaborate; just different enough to grab people's attention.

I then gave a few examples of different ideas and waited for the responses ...

Well, I wasn't disappointed. My inbox is still gets several responses in it every day and they are still coming in. So the time has come to try and get all of these ideas out for further discussion; which is why I've created this blog.

The plan is to winnow out the main ideas and put them up on a further blog here for further discussion. We'll eventually end up with a group of ideas that we all feel confident with and that we can start to recruit crips to implement up and down the country.

The cartoon, by the way depicts fellow disabled artist Liz Crow appearing on the Anthony Gormley plinth in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8th August 2009. She presented a dignified but powerful statement against extreme right wing politics in its worse manifestation. This was also an example of how disability art and disabled people's protest could come together and send a strong, clear message to the rest of society.

Keywords: benefit cuts,cuts to services,direct action network (dan),disabled peoples movement,disabled peoples protest,politics,visual arts


aaron williamson

6 January 2011

Hi Colin, the hi-visibility-vest idea from Barrierman is available for use. They comment on the intended 'low visibility' of disabled people, cost about £2 and are easy to wear/put on. A protest at night with street and car lights reflecting off the jackets would look quite dramatic for media photographers and the like.

Dennis Queen

19 December 2010

I'm working with a few people on an idea for protesting from home for those of us who have been unable to attend protests - will get back to you with it - but we should end up with lots of images for an arts type protest

Lynn Harrison

19 December 2010

Also, target the media selectively, get Laurie Penny, Mehdi Hassan and Johann Hari on board? But we need a clear message that will make people think, it needs to be striking and shocking, we don't need to communicate the finer details to make a point, look at the liedems and tory campaigns.... simple messages using words people can relate to e.g. 'fairness'.

Lynn Harrison

19 December 2010

I think it's difficult for many reasons to involve large groups of people, not least because of people's fear that being involved could lead to them losing their benefits due to being seen as 'fit to work'.

I think that the tactics used by UK Uncut protestors have been very good in terms of not needing lots of people, being spontaneous, different... even witty, getting a succinct message across and getting media attention.

Having t-shirts and placards is one thing but not very newsworthy and takes resources which many of us haven't got.

I feel that the most striking message we could communicate is how the current situation is similar to the nazi propaganda, therefore, smaller demos, at strategic locations with people dressed in striped pyjamas, as in the concentration camps, with black triangle armbands, could be good? Also, another idea, which could be effective at this time, is to deliberately use the 'Tiny Tim' imagery.... disabled beggars in the snow, Victorian kind of thing???

I think we need to use shock and awe tactics to make a point and educate the public and get people on our side because at the moment we are being seen as 'benefit scrounger' and 'not really disabled'


15 December 2010

Nail on the head time Kev. Was that you volunteering by the way?!


Kev Towner

15 December 2010

There's a lot of really interesting ideas here, but I'm not going to add to them on this occasion except to say this.

Whatever we decide to do, there is one vital element missing - co-ordination!! Whether it's DPAC of DAN, there needs to be points of contact. People who can disseminate information at a local level and provide or co-ordinate support. DPO's, both individually and collectively, need to be involved and active in supporting their members to become involved in the struggle - in whatever way is appropriate for THEM!!



14 December 2010

If anyone would like to see a copy of Liz Crow's article about protesting, please send me an email and I'll forward it to you -


Adam via email

14 December 2010

I would love to see if we could arrange for large groups of disabled people wanting to get onto trains, tubes and busses ‘en masse’, this would hold up public transport and block traffic flows, using this with the idea of owning a crossing should work wonders.

The other thing that springs to mind, is for those of us driving from our wheelchairs to all turn-up at major petrol stations and all sounding our horns for assistance and only putting a £5-fiver in and then going round and joining the queue again, this could also be affective on motorway service stations.

RADAR Key holders queuing ‘en masse’ at major department stores for the accessible toilets and in restaurants, I am sure queues of people snaking out into the street should cause a stir or two.

A mass visit to a library, museum or cinema and asking for headsets and wheelchair places and assistance from staff?

A mass visit to the House Of Commons, we could all ask to go to the Strangers Gallery or just go to the Central Lobby and demand to see our local MPs, now that should be fun, especially on a Wednesday for Primeminister’s Questions!

Wheelchair users and assistance dog users walking/wheeling up and down Oxford Street or WestOne Shopping Centre, Lakeside/Bluewater/BrentCross, that sort of shopping mall. Blocking Victoria Bus Station......

Liz P via email

14 December 2010

I'm certainly in favour of thinking through a more constructive peaceful, but proactive way to demonstrate against the cuts. I'm not into violent demos. For me they serve no purpose and hinder voices being heard and are totally counterporductive and irresponsible. I have mixed feelings about some direction action approaches too, but they do achieve results.(and I'm sure influenced the development of DDA etc)

Maybe theres mileage in exploring the parralls of the past the suffragette movement (there was an interesting exhibition

last year that involved Rethink, Rachel Gasden and the Parliamentary Outreach team. I couldn't help but notice the paralls between womens struggles for the right to vote and the disabled people's movement. I'd have been more of a sufragist (for the cause but against some of the direct action that took place) I don't know just rambling. But think there is something

to look to the past...?

So as long as no one was going to get hurt or property damaged, I'd consider being involved.

I agree something needs to happen. I'd probably favour more of a creative approach that can spread the word around out on the street and possibly through digital media. Not sure what this is yet. Perhaps banners, songs, poems that reflect the metaphors of what happening - but force the point forwards. Perhaps a poetry slamm, politicised folk evenings, a storytelling evening (with content that reflects what's happening today), (there are plenty of songs, poems, stories with

messages that support the cause). Perhaps a kind of medititve sit in, accompanied by performances.

anyway food for thought.

Ruth via email

14 December 2010

I don’t think you can achieve ‘peaceful’ protest, especially not with the police tactics that are used at the moment.

I’ll give you an example. In Bradford in 2001, a large group of people gathered peacefully in the centre to protest about

the hasty and utterly stupid decision to cancel the last day of the Bradford Festival – a community celebration enjoyed by

thousands of people – on the spurious grounds that there was a vague threat that some members of the BNP might attend that day and use the occasion to stir up trouble.

The policing of this peaceful gathering led to a night of rioting in the main Asian area of the city, because police

officers on horse back drove people from the city centre to that area (why did they choose that particular area, one asks.

Nothing to do with institutional racism, I’m sure). Lots of guff has been talked about the causes of that particular

Bradford riot (there were two Bradford riots that year, the other one being in a mainly white area, causing just as much damage but no wittering about lack of community cohesion amongst poor white people and so on).

Crowds of people behave in certain ways when triggered in certain directions. As in Bradford in 2001, it suited the

authorities yesterday to goad legitimate, peaceful protesters to behave in non-peaceful ways. This undermines their case, as your e-mail and loads of the press reports and the inane comments from ‘the consensus’ today shows.

We have two options. We can all shut up and put up and act like wise monkeys in the face of repeated assaults on our

freedoms and social justice, or we can gather together to protest against it and bear the flak that we get when it turns

nasty as best we can.

I know which approach I prefer. But then, I’m a nasty anarchist (who would vote for any of the lying cheating two faced

slimeballs that currently inhabit Parliament?) so I would say that.

All best

Dawn via email

14 December 2010

I wonder if we could plan an approach onto the capital with a focus...thus not specifically a demo or protest.

We could decide the issue, petition, event, lobbying thing we have in mind and then people could involve their local press in their campaign to get to the capital to be involved.

It would still be a march, a profile raising event but one which has been highlighted before people have reached the capital and has already gained local public empathy and support, and is seen as non violent, intelligent protest (i..e

playing the media in a way in which the students did not) getting case studies into local press would be a great build up to such an event.

Could we even make it 'our' event as in a arts/music festival in the park type of thing?

Dennis via email

14 December 2010

lets throw flowers. like in the banksy image, but make paper ones so nobody can be hurt? (its a war related image - stop

attacking us?)

And red paint is good ... although one of the most dramatic things I've thrown is toilet roll - hold one end - lob. quite

pretty like streamers (full of shit / lying in own shit type ideas - we had a toilet on that protest). made fake shit and threw that too, but the toilet roll was more fun.Anyway something less tasteless would be nice

Kaliya via email

14 December 2010

Thanks for this... we've talked about it a little bit previously amongst the Broken of Britain team (I'll forward this mail to everyone & get it on the forums) and we think our strenght as a group is in our knowledge of the internet and social media, we have one member with experience of previous disability rights campaigns but as a group we seem to be pulling in the poeple who are very new to this. We're trying to come up with some ideas for campaigns people can participate in without leaving home as most aren't able to get out to protest and that we can target at the mainstream pretty much cheap and splashy.

The social media means we can effectively spread the message via twitter (especially as we have lots of media followers) so perhaps it'd be worth putting some basic 140 character messages together that we can tweet alot on wednesday? It seems that journalists find it particularly easy to source stories through twitter, it's probably the lazy way to do it and we've noticed that issues will make it into the media if a disproportionate amount of twitter traffic can be created. One simple strategy is to ask everyone to join twitter and just retweet the information we're putting out there. It's easy, quick and free for those who'd like to support but can't really be bothered to actually do anything themselves.

Col via email

14 December 2010

Police used similar tactics on the the DAN demos I went on...

I think the idea of doing some kind of Live Art demo would really take them by surprise. Aaron Williamson in Liverpool cut off traffic down main roads, closed down The Tate, closed off shopping areas all with the use of a yellow jacket, yelow and blacktape and a few orange cones - very inspiring stuff! Just have a look at the way he handles the police!

You can see a film of his action on

Let's have a think and share ideas


Nabs via email

14 December 2010

Disabled people's protest march

"What the Con-Dem government means for Disabled People"

Processession begins say at Tory or Lib-Dem parties H.Q. Maybe two groups starting at each place simultaneously. Other starting places open to suggestions.

Disabled people, some pushed in borrowed hospital beds accompanied by musicians playing the "Funeral March" escorted by

non-disabled people wearing uniforms of the medical profession and Nazi guards, armed with buckets of red paint (water-

based, I would advise) and sponges.

The March processes to the House of Commons Upon arrival outside Parliament, the disabled people are ordered to line up

and face the non-disabled escorts. The disabled people are then ordered to strip naked (I strongly advise not now, during the snowy winter but late Spring / Summer). When the disabled people have totally striped, they are bombarded with small sponges dipped in the buckets of red paint. As disabled victims are hit, they

collapse and "die".

The final tableaux should be a "bloody massacre" of disabled people. Of course, the police may try to halt this piece of

non-violent protest street theatre.

George via email

14 December 2010

I'm not comfortable with active civil disobediance. But what would be cool is flash mobbing of disabled people, particulary at places which are know to be unwelcome or inaccessible to disabled people. Can you imagine what chaos 50

wheelchair users can do to a resturant or shop? A Cripple Flash Mob!

Regardless of the current situation, I do genuinely believe that its about time we got off our cripple arses about civil

rights for disabled people. And I think the only way is to unite in a common purpose similar to the black civil rights

movement in America in the 50's.

Yes, we have the DDA and we've had the "year of the disabled" back in '81, but its a bit pathetic really. Because at the end of the day any government can (and now has come along) that can pull the rug from under us. Change the benefits system, withdraw funding for care, use the 'reasonable adjustment' clause to say access to work or services is not viable. and we are screwed.

It's only funding that's stopping us slipping back to the 60's and 70's where many disabled people were stuck in homes or hospitals. I ain't going back! And sadly I think relying on groups like the students or anybody else is a poor idea. Because they are not interested in us. And if things went really bad I think for most of the population would give a regretful shrug and help wheel us back in to homes. Support for disabled people is still just considered 'A good thing to do' the right thing to do. But if push comes to shove I'm not so certain. When times are tough the vulnerable get hit the worst.

I have always personally believed in non violent protest. Resorting to violence is very similar to just swearing at someone

because you cant articulate your emotions - so much for the so called educated young person.

As I have mentioned to you before, the issues surrounding students and tuition fees and disabled people facing cuts in

benefits and support services, like care budgets and respite care, are completely different. This issue of tuition fees is

more a question of lifestyle and choice, where as withdrawing care because of a lack of cash is certainly not.

The tough point for all disabled people currently supported by the state (either through benefits, indirect or direct care, access grants, or equipment) is that they are all are going to be affected by the coming changes, whether we like it or not. The challenge for us is how to actually perhaps turn this from a bad thing in to something good.

1. we need a clear understanding of goals.

2. we need to decide what is negotiable and what is not.

3. what ever is not negotiable we need to be clear and consistent in our arguments why.

4. on those things which we feel we can negotiate we need to be positive and co-operative.

5. you need consistency between need groups (see below)

6. Violence is a no no. see also below

7. affective lobbying ... Non political ...

5 Expanded.

The problem with disability (if I can put it like that) is ironically one of its strengths. Diversity. But diversity does

create a problem. Typically in my day to day work with the website I work with every group - physical disability

(acquired, from birth/genetic, health related and age related), LD, Sensory impaired (deaf, blind) and mental health

(Alzheimer's etc). Wow that's a broad remit isn't it? And I have probably left some out!

Each group has their own interest - and rarely cross over into each others territory. The deaf generally never get

involved in physical access issues, wheelchair users don't work well with the blind and rarely (unless they are very

seriously disabled) do physically disabled people know what's going on in the LD world. Going up the tree to smaller branches you get greater fragmentation ... I hope you get my point (?).

Because 'we disabled' are so diverse there is a constant struggle between ourselves to protect each groups interest. This fragmentation has held back the disability movement for 30 years. Over ten years ago I wrote a piece for the Scope mag(which was rejected by the way because it was to controversial) entitled "Do we need a King?" Essentially I argued that

the black civil rights movement had a lot to teach disabled people about their struggle for equality an acceptance. And

without going in to it now, I still think that it still true. But we must find a common voice.

As a campaign name I seriously suggest this tag "one Label one Voice"

6. Violence is a non starter. Look at the students! As soon as they resorted to violence they lost all credibility.

Besides, as soon as they became violent it just hardened the governments resolve. Imagine if they had capitulated? What message does that send out? Violence gets you what you want? The government could never give in to that, whatever colour they are!

But equally I think its important to understand that their hard stance of "no" with no negotiation was a mistake too. As is suspect that if they had negotiated the could of raised the earnings before payback to 30,000 instead of 21,000 and

could of got the repayment don to 5% per year instead of 9%.

7. Finally .. Effective lobbying ...

Peaceful protest. letter writing, blogging, petitioning, using the media, celebrity endorsement ... Everything! But all legal and non violent. It may be possible to also get health workers etc involved and make alliances with groups But insist peaceful protest. If violence occurs have a recognised voice to disassociate ourselves from it and publicly condemn it.

Non political? Yes. .. well technically non partisan, but more about that another time perhaps.

But I think its important that this is our protest. The problem with the students is and was that even if we are let in we were only ever going to be the 'poor relations' and that muddies the waters.

It taken hours to write this and I could say a lot more if you want to here it. But for now the conclusion:

We can't stop the changes, but we might be able to turn some things to our advantage. We must never shut the door on negotiation and constructive input. Your cartoon the other day put it nicely - if we don't leave room to talk the government are just going to tell us what they are going to do anyway!

Penny via email

14 December 2010

In Spain a couple of years ago, after the Basque seperatives had bombed a train and killed lots of commuters, the whole country rose up in protest. Everywhere there were crowds of people in town squares with one hand painted red and the other hand painted white (or wearing a red and a white glove). They all put their red hand in the air at the same time and shouted "no more blood" followed by their white hand whilst shouting "no more violence". It was very powerful, especially in Madrid where several thousand people filled the square. There have been no more bombs planted in Spain since then.

We could use this idea - red symbolising "no more cuts" and white symbolising "free our people". Imagine hundreds of disabled people chanting this together!

Kirsten via email

14 December 2010

Just reading about ILF cuts and how loads of DP will have to go into institutions .Can we do something using bars perhaps?

Oh even a zoo? Exotic crips in cages and their keepers are people masquerading as Cameron and the like? Some DP will become rare creatures never seen out in the world as they’ll all be in homes and as their mobility component of DLA will

have been cut, they’ll not be able to get out. I once sat in a cage made of white sticks = it was the IYDP way back in 1981. It attracted a lot of press attention. Can’t remember what the message was though.

So if DP end up in homes or housebound wearing nappies because they can’t get help to go to the bog in the night, could we do something with that. What could we do with loads of Inco pads and some brown paint perhaps? What about constructing a

cage made of them? Or we could just throw them (dipped in brown paint) at government offices; deliver a huge pile of them onto the doorstep of a government office …???Oh my mind is running to some interesting slogans... but perhaps we’d better not go there!

I’m equally concerned about the violence both from police and some demonstrators and feel that we need to find another way

of getting our message across. About 150 years ago (I’m an old crip); we did some fabulously innovative things at Greenham Common. What Campaign for Accessible Transport and Dan did was also really creative. I also like the ideas you are

suggesting, particularly spiders webs and things that when they come together make a whole message.I do like the idea of the same thing happening at the same time in different places too.

We need a symbol that will become associated with us. We need something like the 'black spot' - remember blind Pugh in Treasure Island? Could our symbol be a black spot that we give people to mark them as doomed? I know it’s silly and that wasn’t absolutely a serious suggestion, but that’s how we need to be thinking to come up with something which we can own and use.

I’ve always wanted to organise a Busby Barclay dance with crips but it’s all seemed a bit too medical model and my SM mind wont let me persue it! I imagine rows of wheel chair users rolling back and forth, rows of folks using walking aids, stepping or hobbling in time with each other, I fantasise about blind people tap dancing along with their canes and deaf people doing synchronised sign, and so on and so on. It could also include crips whose impairments are not visible too, but 50 or so of us all dancing about to some camp but symbolic well known tune would be wonderful.(“I am what I am?” Oh

pleeeeeease!) If there were enough of us, we could be choriographed to spell out a message as we dance. It’s all a great fantasy, but I toss it over to you for thoughts.

I have a partially sighted friend who is a trapeze artist. There may be other crips with circus skills who could do something equally spectacular.

Well done for starting the thinking. I look forward to hearing more about it and am definaitely up for getting together with folks to think up stuff to do.

Mark via email

14 December 2010

Simple idea, but do you remember the red postcards that did the rounds when we were pushing for civil rights back in the 1980's? They were simple,but very effective and lots of people who wouldn't normally get involved were happy to send them back. I know locally one of our MP's got over 100 of them and they definitely helped. Now add one brilliant Crippen cartoon and we have a powerful and simple tool. I'm sure I can get a good price for printing some as we have done with those

designs we commissioned you to do for our conference in March.

14 December 2010

Is there anything we could boycott, as a large group and make our point that way? Is there a way we could interrupt an

official/social gathering by, for example, chaining ourselves together across all of the entrance/exit ways?

Could we own the pedestrian crossings like we did with DAN all those years ago (people just keep crossing and recrossing

them continuously)? If this was done country wide, at the same time and the same day, this couldn't be ignorred by the press I shouldn't think.

One piece of protest art could be gathering as many crips together, all carrying a piece of a large black triangle (some sections would need to be on poles) that they bring together and then dismantle, moving somewhere else close by and repeating the exercise. Leaflets could be given out explaining what was going on - the black triangle is being used as a symbol of protest by disabled people throughout the UK.

What about building a large, ground based spider's web which, as it's constructed, traps various disabled people in it?

leaflets can explain that it's a demonstration of how disabled people are ensnared within the benefits system and how it restricts our lives.

Sandwhich boards carried by crips in towns and cities could generate interest. Especially if the information was split

across several boards that only made sense when they came together. There would have to be a snare employed to get people to come to a gathering place to see what the message was?

How about getting all the people who are going to loose their wheelchairs or vehicles (either leased or purchased through Motability Finance) when their Mobility Component is stopped, do a mass dump of this equipment in the middle of a city (or cities)? Again leaflets available explaining what's happening.


Don via email

14 December 2010

I think if red waterbased paint was used appropriately it could work. How about water bombs filled with red paint to throw

at politicians. The cry could be 'your cuts - our blood!'

Bob via email

14 December 2010

I'm all for meaningful direct action and symbolism - hence I'm thinking of a themed protest over weeks or even months that can work via a range of media.

Under the banner "colourful existence / life" I was thinking of associating a "right" e.g. 'dignity' with a specific colour. Using that colour we would give accounts of progress that have been made and threats we now face to that progress = stories and fighting for dignity and ones relating to cuts taking it away. The conclusion would be a mass protest piece where we would physically 'play out' the CONDEMS 'stripping us of our rights' - each item of clothing pealed in a set order until we're left with 'bare essentials'....

In addition during my student days I was involved with various campus sit-ins. I have an idea I'm not prepared to commit to paper about a venue that's asking to be taken over...

Personally I found the red paint thing painfully childish and pathetic as did most of my disabled friends. I'm all for

creative methods of protest, but to me the paint was a complete turn off.