Coat of Capacity.
Wednesday April 5, 2017
: thinking about dead mums and legacy; well dead anyones actually, but mum’s in particular as it is a year today since mine died. By legacy, I don’t mean dosh, I mean what has made me different, stronger or whatever, because she was my mum and we spent sixty years in each other’s lives. Last night, or should I say, this morning, for it is one am, (about the time she died), I am wide awake and thinking about her, still alert after an evening of splendid choral music by my bro’s choir. Early this evening, as I wriggle uncomfortably on the hard pews at St Martin In The Field’s church, I drift into the depths of the music, I think about mum and how she would be following the notes with restless fingers, her throat shaping the vowels, a little hum escaping from time to time, under cover of the swelling voices, very much as I am doing. I have such a desire to get up and conduct, I often find myself engulfed in such urges, but resist, firmly pressing my rather sore bottom into the unyielding wood.
And at one in the morning, as I wander round the garden, my mind turns to the blog I put up yesterday about 3rd April being “Happy Blind Day”. I know she would appreciate the thought, for she was not someone who could be set back for long. Life was often hard, things did not always, even mostly go her way, after much loud protesting, agitating, arguing, persuading, goading and persistently going on about whatever it was that bothered her, her mood would swing round, her practical mind would bend itself to the problem, and she would as like as not, come up with a way of dealing with it. If she had the where-with-all, she’d roll up her sleeves and sort it. If it was too big for her to change, she’d think about who should, what the nature of that change would be, and how she was going to persuade whoever to do it, make it, legislate for it or grow it. In the end, there was always a way. “I’ll have some of that”, I think, stroking a drooping hyacinth, flopping over the garden path, … Hmm, perhaps, a handy twig propped just so, ah like this (I bend to tuck said stick under the tired flowers head) will help that little flower keep it’s chin up, … just like I should keep my chin up, no matter that I miss her; and our “this is how we change the world”, conversations.
Perhaps I’ll model that “finding a solution” coat she used to wear (K reaches out, picks it up & swings it across her shoulders, plunging hands into sleeves, wrapping it’s capaciousness around her, – ah yes it fits). So here I am in her coat of capacity, it’s a tattered white lab-coat btw, wearing it, I can put the world to rights in my own way, oh yes I can! “Happy mum’s legacy to me, happy mum’s legacy to me.” I hum, tapping a wind chime, “ping”, stroking a clump of damp sage, breathing it’s savoury sweetness in, and noticing how very still the garden is, not a breath of wind to be felt.
Coat of Capacity.
Happy Blind Day! Monday April 3, 2017:
Today it is 45 years since “darkness fell upon me at the age of 16”. 45 years since I woke to find Bob Dylan’s face on the poster ON MY BEDROOM WALL, had melted into a smudge of many greys. It’s 45 years since other people seriously, purposefully, ignorantly, started limiting the things I was allow to do, aspire to, struggle to make happen.
Looking back, as a talented painter whose worst fear was of going blind, the worst as I thought of it then did happen, and I didn’t die. Heaven knows there have been times when I wished I had; but they have in the main been provoked by unhappy love affairs, harassment at work and despair brought on by the exhaustion of having to fight my way into the world of life.
Aged 16, I had already learned to argue loudly. I argued my way out of hospital, out of the day centre they dumped me in; lost the argument about having to go to a special school; (hijacked by my own fear of travelling to and from my mainstream school in the dark of the winter of 1972). I then argued my way into and through art school and post grad art school, (the first blind person to have done so in the UK.) I’m still arguing, after a long career in local government, an equally long career as a non-executive advisor, and now as a politician.
In all this time, fatigued though I was often by the struggle to live my life the way I wanted; I was very clear, as I am now: being blind is not in itself inherently painful. The restrictions I face are, because of other peoples decisions, others discrimination and negative actions. I am not pained because I can no longer feast my eyes on the blue spring sky, the freshness of the world slowly beginning to green, the pastel froth of tree blossoms, and all the other prettiness of today’s smiling weather. I am pained by how significant numbers of non-disabled people perpetuate their false limiting beliefs about who I am, what I can do and what I should be allowed to do. On what authority do they do this?
So, 45 years blind, I mark this milestone reflecting on the battles and the blocks so that I can count, celebrate and remember how I won, and am still winning. The proof of my victory is that I won’t shut up. No one can stop me singing! HAPPY BLIND DAY
Fake News Kills Community Cohesion.
(Speech in contribution to the Mayor’s Debate on Community Cohesion. Haringey Council: 20 march 2017.
,what role does fake truth play in destroying community cohesion? Lies and myths slither out from the dark places, From the hating hearts, here, in europe and across the world.
Lies pour from the lips of British politicians during the referendum campaign. communities divide, and the hate crimes rise.
Lies oooze from across the Channel, and communities divide, and the hate crimes rise. lies burst from across the pond. communities divide, and the hate crimes rise.
The so called leader of the free world is whipping up frenzy and hatred, and communities divide and divide, and the hate crimes rise again and again, and again.
Division is sewn by Off the cuff remarks, ill-informed opinions, even foolish tweets. These become policy planks.
Accusations are normalised and promoted as truth. Lies divide. They become fake news, and soon it is poisonous truth.
But it seems dispensing with truth telling, deliberately misleading or spreading downright lies, is now the name of the game. important decisions about our lives are taken in the light of such lies. it’s apparently acceptable to assert racist, mthsogenous, homophobic and ablist views, as though they were perfect truth, rather than the haenus views of people with hate in their hearts.
As public servants in public life we undertake to uphold Noalan principles. This includes the principle of honesty. Building cohesion must be founded on truth, an honest exchange of opinions, listening to differences, and working out what unites us, not what divides us.
As politicians, we must strive to be scrupulously truthful in all our work: to show by example, open-hearted honesty, to sew harmoney, no matter how hard it is sometimes for us to speak the truth.
The Price of Lesbian fish
Parli-Out speech 8th February 2017:
I am a long time blind lesbian feminist activist. I’ve been snarling at the patriarchy and agitating for inclusion since 1980. I am a founder member of a mirriad of lesbian led groups including: sisters Against Disablement; Women’s tape-over; Feminist audio Books, and an active member of a raft of other disability, women’s and LGBT rights campaigns.
I seek to cast all I do in a feminist light, believing that women’s struggle speaks to the experiences of all other marginalised groups. Liberation for one group must not come at the sacrifice of another discriminated against group’s rights. As best I can, I have applied these principles through singing, songs, writing and performance. Out in “the world” I have been a board member of Transport for London, the Met Police Authority; EHRC Disability Committee; chair of Inclusion London and vice chair of the Consortium of LGBT CVO’s. Currently I bend my energies for change as a Haringey Labour Councillor; An Independent Member of the Parole Board; and as a member of the board of Stay Safe East, a pioneering disabled peoples organisation dedicated to campaigning against DV and hate crimes experienced by disabled people. When not doing all this, I’m playing my guitar, talking to the trees and fancying birds. I am a lesbian. Lesbians have contributed hugely to the liberation of the LGBT community and to many other radical movements for change. It was a lesbian, Sue Sanders, who, with others in Schools Out, invented LGBT History Month. I remember her excitedly telling me about this great new idea, as we sat in a meeting in New Scotland Yard early in the noughties. Hail Sue Sanders, bossy dyke without comparison, who more than any one else has fronted, championed, nagged, pushed and dragged LGBT History Month onto the national calendar.
so Here we are in Parliament having an LGBT History Month event. Who’d have thought that, 20 years ago? 20 years ago; the end of 18 years of Tory Rule. 1997: The first of three Labour Governments who would be responsible for so many measures that changed the lives of LGBT people. Hail the activists within and without Parliament who made that happen, and especially the lesbians amongst them, Angela Mason, Linda Bellos Caroline Jones and Sue Sanders and so many others!
We are celebrating history here in the Mother of Parliaments, a place where lesbians have not felt able to openly stride the corridors of power until recently. In the seventies,Maureen calhune was forced to resign when outed. Last year, a member of the Government openly declared she was in a same-sex lesbian civil partnership. This year, an openly lesbian MP strove to become leader of the Labour party. We have come a long way; things have changed so much.
So here we are in LGBT History month, 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. But did you know that Lesbian Line is 40 years old this year. Lesbian Line, a response to the invisibility of lesbians, an acknowledgement that even if many people today and back then, would still like to collectively refer to us all as “gay”, the distinct and different concerns of lesbians, was needed then and still needs a place for expression, a place for nurture and celebration, now. Lesbian Line was one among many expressions of that difference.
Homophobia and transfobia, drives the oppression we face as LGBT people. It’s what unites us. Misogyny, sexism, racism, ableism and discrimination on the grounds of class, education, faith, are what divides us from each other, especially when the oppression comes from within the LGBT community. This diversity within our Movement is important to celebrate and respect, as richness, as beautiful, for it’s what makes us truly magnificent. Look at me! I am an unusual creature. I’m a disabled lesbian who occupies positions of power and influence. I well know who I am and how hard it is to be me, thanks to other people’s discrIminating ways. I am loyal to the LGBT community, but I know my safest place is often among the lesbians, and particularly my disabled dyke sisters.
But nothing I say today makes sense unless you understand this: forever it seems, disabled people have been blamed for existing. We are shunned, excluded and our right to exist challenged. challenged by attitudes that see us as less, inferior or even unaffordable. You need go no further than the assault on social care, equality and human rights that has been at the heart of government policy since 2010. In a time of austerity, we, disabled people, are so it seems, expendable. Benefit scroungers, malingerers, they call us, and the hate crimes rise as we are insulted, attacked and sometimes killed.
But the truth is this, it’s the world in which we live that puts up barriers to stop disabled people being equal, not our impairments. Being disabled isn’t the problem, it’s more the way the world is designed. . medical labels package us for non-disabled convenience and we are denied a right to exist.
If we want full equality in society, we must remove the barriers that deny inclusion and not attack disabled people for existing. Then we’ll have an equal world.
“Nothing about us without us”, we say. Yet others still speak on our behalf. “;Rights not Charity” we cry, as we are forced to again beg because what we had has been taken away from us because of the cuts. and the UN condemns the UK for violation of the human rights of disabled people. Whatever next!
What’s all this got to do with the price of lesbian fish I hear you say! Listen, This is all part of my history as a Disabled lesbian. When I came out as a lesbian, way back in 1982, I thought I was the only blind dyke in the world. Nowhere could I find signs of inclusion; Disabled dykes were consequently very thin on the ground. But not for long.
I soon found other disabled dykes. most often, I’d find them sitting outside the pubs, discos and conference, or within such events, existing on the margins, struggling to be included and feeling incredibly disempowered.
But you know, when disempowerment turns to rage, this fuels action. The Dyke led Sisters Against disablement, was formed to challenge that exclusion. Our aim was to make an inclusive world for disabled and non-disabled women. Our anger took political form; (pickets and articles) and our anger took practical form; (SAD access code).
The values of the women’s movement and of the lesbian feminist scene in which I was involved, tried to embrace the inclusion of disabled women. There were some lamentable failures; (Lesbian sex and sexuality conference and Feminist Book Faire); And some resounding successes; (audio versions of the London Women’s Liberation Newsletter, and using the SAD access code to plan events such as the Lesbian Line 10th birthday Social). The personal is political, and the political personal, the women’s liberation movement declared. The who we were was at the heart of what we did. This is why when we argued, it was so very painful. Our very identity was being challenged or so we felt.
As the eighties rolled on, I found myself working more and more in mixed Lesbian and gay campaigns. I had become a professional lesbian, (working for the Haringey Lesbian and Gay Unit).
Section 28 reared it’s ugly head. We united; we had to do something to stop it. It was necessary to compromise which I did for the sake of the greater good. For we were all in it together weren’t we?? After years working with gay men and trying to make events such as Pride London more inclusive of LGBT disabled people, what I found was that the compromise was made mostly on my side and we were as excluded as ever. They just didn’t get it.
They didn’t get it that the problem was the world and not us. Tied to their fiercely symmetrical, slim fit young look, anything that rucked up the smoothness of that image was and still is forbidden.
History tempered by our memories is always being rewritten. It’s fashionable to remember the last Lesbian Strength march as that time when dykes fought each other, over what, I’m not precisely sure, even though apparently, I was there. It’s fashionable to decry the whole of the second-wave women’s movement as a force for exclusion rather than what it was, a revolutionary movement for social change, responsible for so much that is positive about women’s position and rights today. It’s fashionable to believe that when we say LGBT, we really mean us all, but do we and does it. Does it really include lesbians, or have we been subsumed into some pink gay branding?
Our liberation as lesbians is every bit as bound up in the need to smash patriarchy as it is about our love rights. That’s what divides us from the gay bit. When we challenge patriarchy, whose outward manifestation is male domination, which is still at the heart of how our society organises, we set women free to love whom so ever we want, to dance fully with ourselves alone, with one or more partners, in temporary or permanent connection. when we challenge patriarchy, we set people free to be who ever they are on the continuum of gender identity, from female to male and back to female again and all points in-between.
Any attempt to recognise the diversity of our community must actively include us all. I am afraid that is still not happening for disabled LGBT people. We are able to speak for ourselves. We have the right to be heard. , no matter how we deliver our message or how hard other people find to understand us.
Despite that, I still want us to reach out to connect with each other, to celebrate what unites us, to respect what divides us. whoever we are. For history is a wise and loving teacher. We’d do well to listen to her wisdom.
And here are seven lesbian “teachers” no longer with us, I want to acknowledge. They helped make me who I am:
. Denese Marshall, who taught me that smashing patriarchy is key. . Caroline Jones, who taught me there is no shame in talking about same sex DV.
. Rowen Jade, who taught me that I don’t have to shout to be heard. . Nasa Begum, who taught me that evidence is powerful.
. Vijayatara Sharon Smith, who taught me that compassion is at the heart of activism.
. jenny Cook, who taught me that inciting revolution from a bed is possible.
. Tina grigg, who taught me that, when in doubt, sing.
Kirsten Hearn 8 February 2017
Sick of Exclusion
I’m sick and tired of having to challenge inaccessible practices within the Labour Party (an in the rest of life too). I’ve got better things to do than be tied up bashing down the doors, so I and others can participate. The discrimination spans all access issues, so all disabled people are targets.
Again, and again, and again, we give guidance on how to make docs accessible. “What part of the words “PDFs are inaccessible for people using text to speech assistive technology, so give us a word doc instead”, isn’t clear? It’s hardly any different in impact from “what part of the words, I haven’t got wings you know so how am I going to get into that riddled-with-steps venue you insist on having your meetings in?”; or “What did you say?” (when a sign language interpreter or an induction loop, isn’t present.
I’ve just opened an email from the Labour Party re the women’s conference tomorrow. Granted, it arrived yesterday evening, but I was chairing a scrutiny evidence session at that time and chose to go to bed afterwards, rather than download my emails. I chose also to do my day job today rather than read my home emails. As a consequence of this, I am only now dealing with yesterday’s backlog. Oh and I have checked, there’s nothing in today’s bunch which provides the accessible document.
Arguing for inclusion within the Labour Party is definitely one of those part time unpaid jobs that I am forced to do if I want to participate in the party. I could use that time instead building a stronger party and working to deliver a Labour Government headed by Jeremy Corbin, in 2020. I don’t care that because of the leadership election and the shadow appointments process, it’s been hard to confirm speakers etc. How difficult is it to produce a word version of a conference agenda, which was initially created in word, anyway? I mean …. !
Providing inaccessible documents is at the very least laziness, but it could hardly be argued that the Labour Party is ignorant, since they have been told. Yes, if poked,, they will deal with access requests, but we shouldn’t have to keep reminding them. It’s not like disabled people have only just been invented; or that we havn’t been campaigning for inclusion since the dawn of time. My question is, why are these mistakes still happening? I don’t know how disabled people can effectively influence party policy, raise the issues of concern to disabled people out there, in the party, if we can’t even get in the door, metaphorically or actually without kicking up a stink. So, not having enjoyed women’s conference last year in Manchester, I thought I wouldn’t go to the women’s conference this year; then when Jeremy was elected, I thought I would, in anticipation that the leader is going to address the women’s conference. Now, thanks to not getting accessible info about the women’s conference, I’ve decided I’m not going. So there will be one less stroppy disabled woman there tomorrow …. and I am sure that lack of clarity about access, belief that things won’t be accessible, feelings that disabled women are not important, are also reasons why less disabled women than perhaps who want to be there, will go to women’s conference tomorrow. And I’ve no doubt that other members of disability labour will have to spent time and energy battling away at conference, trying to fire-fight on access when we could be doing something much more important, like effecting policy, talking about why the austerity agenda, whether heavy or light is the greatest attack on disabled people in our living memory and why labour must not only defend disabled people’s rights but actively promote a disability rights based agenda. Not that I’m repeating myself, but I and others have been saying the above since exclusion first politicised us, in my case for 40 years. When will non-disabled people get it that they can remove disabling barriers if they want to.
If you want to hear more about Disability Rights as human rights, come to Disability labour’s fringe meeting What have human rights done for disabled people?
Monday 29nd September
12.45-2.00, Lancaster Room, Hilton Hotel.
The Human Rights Act 1998 entrenched inviolable rights for disabled people in British law and made them enforceable in British courts. Recent decisions, made in the fields of social care and mental health have used the Act to secure legal and political recognition of the equality of disabled people. The Conservative government proposes the replacement of this Act with a British Bill of Rights.
What are the implications of a Bill of Rights approach?
What could be gained from it for disabled people, our campaigns in the Labour party, the disabled people’s movement and wider society?
Dr Vole wonders if Jeremy corbynn would prefer to sing this version? Do join in!
A re-nationalised anthem
Dr Vole, September 2015
This is our broken land.
We need to understand
What has been done.
What has become of us?
Are we oblivious?
Why don’t we make a fuss
Refugees by the score
Flee poverty and war
On deadly seas.
Sleeping without a tent;
Meanwhile in parliament
We watch the one per cent
Do as they please.
And neo-liberals –
They made this mess!
Tories have blamed the poor –
Bring it back to their door.
This must be done before
We can progress.
Time to get serious
On social ju-us-tice
No time to shirk.
We need green energy,
A fairer society,
An end to austerity:
Let’s get to work!
Questions to London Labour Mayoral Candidates
1. Why should disabled people vote for a London Labour Mayor and Labour Assembly in 2016?
2. Economic development: As London’s Mayor what measures will you apply to remove the barriers which stop disabled Londoners getting and keeping jobs.
3.1. As London’s Mayor what will you put in place in a London Health plan, to promote the independence, dignity, choices and rights of disabled people?
3.2. What does a 21st century vision for a London mental health care system look like?
4. Crime, Policing and Justice:
4.1. As Mayor of London what will you do to ensure disabled people get equal access to justice?
4.2. As London Mayor and Chair of MOPAC what will you do to address the policing of Disability harassment, discrimination and disability hate crimes and domestic violence?
5.1. What will you do as Labour’s Mayor for London to solve the London housing crisis facing families which include disabled or older people? 5.2. What will you do as Mayor for London to make sure that Lifetime homes standards are implemented throughout all types of housing in London? 6. Transport:
6.1. What will you do as Mayor for London to promote the “Right to Ride” across all modes and in all parts of London for disabled people? 6.2. As Mayor for London will you work to extend the freedom pass to national rail services which run throughout the whole of the Greater London and in particular where there are no tube or over ground services such as in parts of South London?
6.3. A quarter of London’s tube stations are step free from street to train, what is your plan for extending this to the rest of the underground system?
Questions to Labour Leadership Candidates
1. Employment – What will Labour do under your leadership to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people obtaining and keeping employment? 2. Social Care – How would Labour under your leadership tackle the social care funding crisis, ensuring that levels of support for disabled people with high support needs will be met in light of the Independent Living Fund being closed?
3. Social Security – How will Labour’s welfare plans under your leadership, support the independence, dignity, choices and rights of disabled people?
4. Housing – What will Labour do under your leadership to solve the housing crisis facing families which include disabled or older people? 5. Transport – What will a Labour Government under your leadership do to promote and support better access to public transport, including the “Right to Ride” for disabled people?
Questions to Labour Deputy Leader Candidates
1. Engaging with disabled people:
1.1. Why should disabled people vote for The Labour Party at the next general election?
1.2. What policies will you champion which will assure disabled people that a Labour Government is best placed to promote the rights of disabled people in society?
2. Disability and Diversity: What will you do as Deputy Leader to ensure candidates standing on a Labour platform reflect the diversity that is Britain today?
3. Disabled Candidates: What measures would you implemented as Deputy Leader to ensure that disabled people are able to stand as candidates and hold political office?
4. Activism: What will you do as Deputy Leader to promote the inclusion of disabled members in all areas of party activities?
Questions to ask the Labour Leadership candidates? here’s mine.
1 What policies would you support as leader which will assure disabled people that a Labour Government is best placed to promote the rights of disabled citizens in our society? 2 Why should disabled people vote Labour?
3 What will Labour do to remove the barriers that stop disabled people getting and keeping jobs? How would our right to work become a reality under your leadership?
4 What would the next Labour Government under your leadership do to create a society where good social care truly delivers the independence and inclusion of all disabled people?
5 What will the next Labour Government under your leadership do to address disability harassment, discrimination and violence?
6 what will a Labour Government under your leadership do to increase the supply of homes in all sectors built to Lifetime Home Standards?
7 What will a Labour Government do under your leadership to promote disabled people’s right to ride?
8 12 M Britons are disabled. Under your leadership what will Labour do to ensure the selection of candidates at all levels, reflects Britain today, including disabled people?