Saturday, 16 May 2015

People and Personalities

There's an excellent piece at Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind that's relevant to this endeavour: "Tarnished with the same brush..."

For those of you who, for whatever reason, don't wish to click through and read the post, it is prompted by various rumours that are reportedly circulating (which I suppose means they are circulating, as a rumour of a rumour is still a rumour) that Sue Marsh is involved in this effort. Or that the people who are involved are people who worked with Sue, or under the same banner (the entirely accidental 'Spartacus'), and thus automatically suspect.

If that's just made you more confused, a little background seems in order. However, I don't want to open old wounds or invite new discussion of the original controversy, so I'll be brief - and ask you not to re-open this very old discussion in the comments. Comment on it, fine, but let's not have another big argument, is what I'm saying. Also, if I'm factually inaccurate, please don't bother to correct me if it's a minor thing - I'm glossing over some points for brevity.

Sue Marsh was a widely-respected (albeit not universally-agreed-with) and prominent activist on disability issues, especially social security, who emerged after the coalition government formed in 2010, like so many others. She, along with many others (perhaps most notably Sarah Campbell, and less notably myself) put together a report that took apart the argument for reforming DLA and replacing it with PIP. In a fairly successful attempt to make this go viral, it became known as the "spartacus report" - and the name, spartacus, stuck for anything the people involved did again, or that other people did with similar aims and principles (analytical, constructive, brutally honest). More reports, campaigns, and briefings followed, and while, as is inevitable in a large group of people, some activists and groups didn't agree with all methods or ideas from the Spartacus banner, we all rubbed along tolerably.

Then Sue, who hadn't worked regularly for a pretty long time due to her chronic illness, took a job (pretty well-paid) with Maximus, who took over the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) from Atos. The job is to do with improving the experience of people going through the WCA, but a lot of other disabled people and activists felt betrayed. I didn't, personally, but I absolutely understand why other people did, and still do. A lot of unpleasant things were said, which I'm not going to go over now - I imagine that those of you who don't know can imagine at least some of them.

But as the author of Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind says,
"Painting some one with the same brush as another is both cruel and exactly what this government does… This disabled persons a faker so they must all be…"
Even assuming for the sake of argument that what Sue did was wrong, even if we go so far as to say that it invalidated everything she did before, it's ridiculous, and damaging to our community, to somehow extend that to others.

Sue's not involved, to my knowledge. She amplified some stuff on Twitter at one point, but that's all.

But all this is leading up to my real point. This isn't about me, or Sue, or whoever is spreading rumours or speculating. This idea, this organisation we're trying to build (or dreaming of, or sceptical about) is about all disabled people, having the opportunity to come together and work on every issue that matters to us. I don't care if I never have a leadership role in the organisation - I just want to see it happen. I'm not eager to acquire a high-profile figurehead, though support from disabled celebrities is as welcome as it is from any other disabled person (or anyone else, for that matter).

If we make this happen, then we would welcome Sue as a member, because she is a disabled person. She would have no more or less influence than anyone else. I know some people aren't keen on Simon Stevens either, but if he wanted to join and speak his piece, cast his vote, then he's welcome as well. Whoever ends up in leadership positions, on the executive, will get there by convincing everyone (well, a voting majority) that they're right for the job. That's all.

We need to go beyond private (or public) vendettas, beyond personal pet issues, beyond factionalism and internal politics - these things are still going to exist, but we can't let them stop us from uniting as a group who share fundamental common interests. When we've set up this new organisation, even if every disabled person in the country joins up, those pet issues, vendettas and internal politics will still happen - and so will all the organisations and informal groups that are already working so hard for us. But we will have an inclusive, relatively safe space to engage together and direct our efforts, to speak up for us with one voice, admitting our disagreements but saying "we will not sit still" and speaking truth to power.

So don't worry about what Sue Marsh is doing, or what your favourite champion is doing, or what high-profile disabled people like Francesca Martinez or Tanni Grey-Thompson think we should do (though I'd be interested to hear what they think) - think about what you want, what you want us, as a community, to be, what you want us to do, and then I hope you'll see the need to come together and do what it takes.

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