The Disability Action Network carried out many protests against the lack of accessible transport (amongst other things) during the latter half of the 1990’s. Peter Street recalls some of the action and shares some of his dramatic photographs.
The DAN thing was bizarre in so much that I was part of it, yet I wasn't. I was on the periphery snapping away. I kept thinking this is mad - this will do nothing - a waste of time. Yet since those DAN days the issues that we were demonstrating for like access to buses for wheelchairs is happening, at least around where I live in the Greater Manchester area where I see prams and wheelchairs getting onto buses that now drop down to the kerb.
I had been refused entry to a local college on a photography course because the tutor said there might be a problem with my epilepsy in the dark room. That gave me the determination to get a decent camera and become a freelancer. So I thought I would take photographs of us, showing how strong we are. And no matter what the tutor said I was going to become a photographer.
My first demo was in Bury it was great to see so many activist. I had not seen some of the guys and girls for years but they really welcomed me. It all felt like we, no matter what our impairment was, we had come together - we had become the one. With it came our strength. I saw one demonstrator wearing a t shirt with the logo ‘Piss On Pity’ I kept thinking any minute he is somehow going to be arrested for being so blatant - so in their face. He wasn't. I remember thinking I wish I had had the balls to wear that shirt. That's been one of the images that has stayed with me.
London was bizarre in so much that the police and other officials of that kind seemed to know we were hitting town. The roads had been blocked off. The streets were coloured blue with all leave cancelled (that's what I heard from a police officer later). Surely we were not so strong, so dangerous? We were just being us: a group of disabled activists who were demonstrating for access rights. Then they came for us. Johnny Crescendo was the first. They probably thought that if they took out the leader then we'd all fall. How wrong could they be. Johnny struggled and it took three police officers to lift him out of his chair into a waiting van. And we carried on. One by one the leaders were lifted and taken away for a few hours. We kept going on and on and I kept on snapping until we decided when we would end it.
Derby was next. It’s where we were all given a lesson in cool. Cool on that day was Stella Ryan. She had handcuffed herself to a bus then she lit a cigarette while waiting for the police to arrive. The police came upon us in a pincer movement. The streets of Derby turned blue that day. Blue carrying large bolt cutters. Blue with some of the language that was being aired from all sides. Unimpressed, Stella lit another cigarette and puffed and puffed away as though she was on the prom in Brighton while they cut her free.
In another part of Derby demonstrators stopped a bus and crawled underneath and when the driver got out to protest an activist climbed into his seat and pretended to be a bus driver. Irony was on our side that day: the police couldn’t find keys for the cuffs. I suppose it was wrong to giggle but we did.
I think DAN made a massive difference. It changed things.