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To Dan, An open letter of love

Dear Dan

I'm home now, sorting through some old photos. I come across several from the time i knew you.

I loved you for the good and bad things that you were to me. I adored the conceit of spelling your name in capitals and the statements that you said it made about you. You said you were Direct, that you took Action and that you Network. You could have been any old DAN but you weren't. You said you were the Disabled People's DAN and they were  like you. They were direct, took action and networked.

I see the faces that were representative of the you that you were. Snaps fall to the floor. My we were serious then, Stern even. Open mouthed, loud, proud, angry and strong. We pissed on pity but we smiled often and sometimes shed a tear. We, together, were all this and more. Singers, players, redolent of culture. We linked with art and artists and came from these. But, we were crafters too and builders. We created traditions and built on values.

Remember Cat or CAT? I do. I met her once in a newspaper cutting or a text book. I'm told she came before us. Was something of a mother to all the little Danners that followed soon after. They say that Telethon gestated the body that you became. I don't know. I wasn't there of cause. But, i was close by. Going through these photos, i find other texts and there is an interview I did with one of the midwives who later became a friend.

And that's interesting DAN because a friend is what you were, You were wise. OK we looked like harbingers of better transport as we rounded up buses, tubes and trains but we built that into a demand for civil rights and we made a poor version of condescending legislation work well enough for some before; itself transmuting. And we were hip enough, when young, to say, that bus that stops outside  our door is a first step to the community we want to put in place, where we are independent, included, free. But, not free alone because we seek to free our people, all the friends we were, all the friends we could become. Brothers. Sisters. I heard you talk about wanting family.

I loved you very much DAN. I see some faces sometimes on these photos that I am sorting, on other social networks. I know their names yet everyone of them said they were Spartacus that day in Whitehall, but they also said they were DAN and many of those DAN's I loved too.

I was with you for the first time DAN. And i may have been there for the last time too. I cherish what we had. You were great. And i think of those times now, as the colour images and the black and white ones shuffle through my hands.

I think you changed your name again DAN and that you have become all multicultural now and hang out from time to time with some other fellow called Deepac.  I hope Deepac puts as much chagrin into the right wing bigots and placatory idiots as you did DAN.

DAN, i'll say it again. I loved you. You were my friend.



Posted by Rich Downes, 25 May 2014

I think of you often. The way you were that day we spent together down by the sea

I think of this picture often. It has entered my personal mythology. I turned it into a story.but looking at it now I can see that I tell the story wrongly.

In my mind I see a toilet entrance and three signs. One saying gentlemen this way, ladies that and disabled people yet another. I think my story tells it better. I am narrating a tale of language and exclusion. Segregation. 'No whites, no cats, no english'. The ridiculousness of it all. But a Nat King Cole Documentary is being shown on Beeb 4 tonight and the press release talks about discrimination. A white tap, a black tap,a white table, a black table, a white room, a black room but where go the disabled folk?

And there's a sub text isn't there. Language. the way it riles you. It's not just how the good folk of Seaford put this blue plaque to the famous sayings together, a man on the promenade told me about the disabled toilet too. I couldn't help but think what might be wrong with it. Does it spasm when you sit on it, have a major breakdown or what? All I know, is in tandem with the rest of the population I tend to shy away from the disabled toilet. I don't want to use it. I exclude it. In my mind I'm as bad as the rest of them.

And another one. Disabled parking..... is that where all the guys and girls with sticks hang out? Or is it one great big bloody hole where your car disappears.

I'm sure all my gentle readers have their favourite words, phrases and photographs. Would love to see some here.

Posted by Rich Downes, 23 May 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 May 2014

On Entering the Save the ILF Postcard Campaign Photo Gallery

I have barely taken to the streets to Save The ILF. I’ve done a little but maybe not enough. It’s not apathy. I always had something else to do.  I campaigned for independent living before I even knew a fund that supports independent living was at risk. I chanted Free Our People with the best of them.

It was more a case of redirecting my energies. I advocated for direct payments. I found employment with Merton Centre for Independent Living. I was committed but further away from the streets than I had been for a while. I created a Sick Note to use as a basis against welfare reform which identified targets but I couldn’t see the link in campaigning for that and stopping the traffic but some activists wouldn’t listen to the voices of those who wanted to do things a little differently. There was a lack of creativity and it annoyed me.

And then the tone changed. The Save ILF campaign saw Independent Liver’s making and posting videos. Penny Pepper wanted to ‘Fuck The Cuts’, Katherine Araniello demonstrated that the Independent Living fund could make art an every day event, Ian Saville contributed a magic trick, Graeae linked the three penny opera to saving the ILF and then out of nowhere appeared a Save The ILF Postcard campaign on facebook.

It looked fresh, exciting. Someone was contributing digital artwork that pronounced Save The ILF. I loved this site. I could participate. My organisation got behind it. Celebrities moved away from the self-aggrandisement  of charity and got behind a rights campaign. Ordinary, everyday people, trade unions, dogs were printing out the postcard, taking selfies and putting themselves up on the page saying I support Save the ILF.

This is something we wanted. I had an opportunity to meet people who were using direct payments, self directed support. They were the same people I had in mind when I was an activist. They were saying yes to this but can’t we do it in another way, without the forms, without the strictures of social work departments who were implementing a system that is unfriendly and unsupportive of independent living. Professionals are soiling the ethos of the idea by removing flexibility, choice, control, and making us ever more subservient to carers and agencies, I was uplifted by their enthusiasm but down pressed by the lack of freedom the system was upholding. What they wanted was the ILF. What people on the ILF were now being offered was a return to this lesser style of  independent living, where hoops were put in place to jump through – eligibility, fair access to care (a real misnomer that one) , the wrong thinking of authority. Fear is well placed. A return to institutionalised living is on the cards.

So I spend time on the Save the Independent Living Fund Postcard campaign. It heartens me. Cheers me. The politics of participation is invested in this artful page. I recommend you visit. The photos are here. Like it.

Posted by Rich Downes, 10 May 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 12 May 2014