Yesterday I was spokesperson for ATOS DEMO, the day started with a home interview on local radio at 8.00 am, which in my world meant getting up at 5.00, to allow my drugs enough time to work for me to coherent; I then had 2 hours to recover to attend my local demo at Leicester.
Arriving slightly early to meet up with my fellow organisers, we were immediately approached by a police officer with a community support officer, asking who the organiser was; we informed them there was no one person locally, we were a group of ATOS survivors protesting about the companies role in Welfare Reform. This really surprised them, I really don’t think they’d come across a protest that wasn’t organised by a Party or group before; on refection the age of both officers might have something to do with this, they were too young to remember what genuine community activism is – the coming together of individuals against/for a common cause, without a Political agenda. Later during the Demo, my carer was speaking with them about the day and reasons behind it; he says the were actually interested and not only sympathised with us, but were impressed by our campaign, I believe this showed in the way they remained at a discreet distance through the programme.
The Demo started promptly at 11 am, and was reasonably well attended with approximately 50 people all with a story of ATOS treatment to tell; Nick, another of our organisers had put together a great 2 + hour programme of speakers, poets and singers, if you’re interested the whole thing was captured by Down Not Out, an amazing local homeless project; and made the local press. It was also fantastic to meet up with people from different groups in the City who came out to support us – Unite, Left Unity, TUC, and others I admit I’ve forgotten the names of. But what doesn’t make even this fantastic coverage were many of the horror stories I heard when speaking to people there, personal tales of humiliation, sanctions, suicide and more; what makes it even more tragic (if this is possible) is the Fact, we’ve all heard it all before, not once but over and over.
I passed out about an hour after I got home, the price I pay for less than 3 hours out; and today I feel I’ve wrestled with the Olympic Judo team; In truth the day has seriously cost me in terms of energy and pain but…was it worth it YES YES YES!!!
The fact that 2 young police officers learnt something from what we did says to me that this type of collective peaceful protest has a positive empowering effect not only on those involved but others around, and I remain convinced this is THE way forward. The video and press coverage we achieved will forever remain in the ether of the internet, and can be utilised to maintain the spirit of the day. We will, as DEAEP and through Down Not Out, be able to offer appropriate support to those people with personal issues with ATOS and DWP; and the organising group of the Leicester Demo has already booked a venue for a follow up meeting to continue the campaign for justice and equality with vulnerable people locally.
The only other thing I want to say is THANK YOU – to Tom Smith, who had the idea and called for this day, to Each of the Host organisers at the Leicester Event, to ALL involved in covering the day & most importantly to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who attended, including those who stopped to listen,even for a while – YOU made MY Day xx