On Saturday 28th June 2014 I was proud to take a part in a legal non-violent demonstration the purpose of this demo was two-fold:
1 To shame the Coalition to reverse their shameful decision to close the ILF (Independent Living Fund) later this year. There rationale is that it will save money and make life easier for users, we all know it given to people with high-complex support needs and we all know we will be imprisoned in our own homes as nearly all Local Authorities do not have the funds to provide the current level of support we require. He funds release will not be ring-fenced and will in all probability be swallowed up. Meaning we will be given call out care packages.
2 To publish our position to the general public and in doing so gain their support.
This the precise reason why after months of planning we decided to choose Westminster Abbey as the site of our camp. The reasoning behind this being that we figured that as the Church of England had repeatedly voiced their concerns over the way in which the government’s austerity policies where having a detrimental effect on the most vulnerable people in society (vulnerability is placed on you by actions of others rather than your own actions) we concluded they would support us by allowing us to camp on their land, i.e. Westminster abbey. How wrong this assumption would prove!
Let met point out that the plan was to ask Church officials to allow us to camp out for 3 weeks until Parliament closed. This was always a DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) action, organisations such as Occupy and UK Uncut were only there to support DPAC. Believe it or not but when it comes to pitching tents crips are crap at such tasks.
We met up early and it was always our aim to pitch up (excuse pun) and take over site at 4pm. Thus causing the least trouble to any member of the general public visiting the Abbey that day.
However when we arrive it was obvious that the security of Abbey had been forewarned, because they had begun to lock gates early. This obvious curtailed our plans. However, we still managed to get a number of activists into the grounds, who secured gates by locking together both and to gates. Thus allowing our support team from Occupy to raise the camp.
Whilst this was happening our negotiation team contacted the Dean of Westminster (Rev. [honestly] Rob Hall) to ask permission to encamp. It became clear within seconds that we where not going to get the desired response. According to my colleague who was there. His reply went something like this: “We at CoE support the theory of standing up against austerity cuts and how they affect everyone. However the Church can’t support any form of Direct Action and we want you to leave immediately.
Before I continue I feel the need to point out to the Rev. that he needs to remember his history. What were the Crusades if not Direct Action?
Anyway back to Saturday’s events not only did the Dean request us to vacate his grounds, he called in the police to extract us. They arrived on mass. We estimate that around 300 police arrive and kettle the 100 or so demonstrators. Apart from surrounding the makeshift camp, they stood on tents and ripped the only accessible tent.
I was one of the DPAC protesters left outside the gates. We asked one of the Officers why they thought the need to come out in such force his response was “that we are. Not here for you but because of UK Uncut Blackblock and Occupy”
I repeat what I said earlier, the part played by Occupy was solely there in a supporting role. This can be evidenced by looking at all pictures and video at no time have I see any banners or signs mentioning any other group or cause other then DPAC and Save ILF
Which leads you to ask the question how did the police know who was there?
During this time the first arrest of three occurred, a person was accused of assault a police officer.
There for a time a situation of tense stalemate the Police kept the protesters inside the cordon and just outside the fence taking to the press and general public.
At this time I found myself sat outside the gate situated to the left of the hot drinks cabin. Whilst I was there one of the protesters came over and asked my PA (Personal Assistant) to get his holdall which contained his medication. Once we got his bag we tried passing over the bag to him. At this time Sgt. Dodd XB 50 decided to step in, pushing the bag back over stating that: “No bags where going to enter.” When performing this task he aggressively pushed both my PA and the owner of bag. You can imagine tensions arose and I and many on street side of gate challenged his right to with hold vital medication from people. There was no leeway given by said Officer Sgt Dodd (or as I told him they miss-spelled name Sgt. Godd). He is pictured below.
Due to the fact that the security of Westminster Abbey was so fast to respond to the “danger” we represented not all resources where able to be sent in. This included bags with meds, food and water. As the policy of police under the direction of the Dean of Westminster Abbey was to deny access of said provisions, disabled people where denied food, water and medication.
During the afternoon Armed Response Police Units appeared to mingle within crowd. This raised tensions even further as it was complete over the top policing of a peaceful protest of disabled people standing up to save them from being returned to institutions.
It has been denied that they were there and imagines removed of them from websites. Below is pictorial proof.
As afternoon turned into evening it became apparent that any overnight sleepover in Abbey grounds was impossible, the people within the cordon discussed the best exit strategy. Rightly it was agreed that the ILF users should have the last say. So it was decided that they would be the last group out. However this was countered by the police saying they would arrest everyone left. So after more discussions it was decided to all leave together.
At 9pm everyone left together triumphantly. Yes triumphantly because we had a victory. I say this because we showed the establishment we won’t go away quietly. It was a great publicity coup that brought the public on our side. We proved that we can work with other groups to achieve our collective goal SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR ALL.
On that subject a BIG thank you to our allies Occupy without who none of Saturday’s action would have been possible.
We can claim a moral and physical victory. The institution that loses most face is the Church of England. Their action on Saturday proves they are the Church of England’s establishment not its people.
THE FIGHT GOES ON!
by Rob Punton