Yesterday saw a daring campaign led by disabled protest group Disabled People Against Cuts with support from UKuncut. Wheelchair users chained themselves together across a road blocking the link between Oxford Circus and Regent Street in central London.
Video footage is available here from ITN and this powerful, moving film made by the Guardian's John Domoko's. There wasn't a great deal of mainstream media coverage, perhaps because unlike the student protests or riots there was no violence or mess left behind, just organised 'delicate disruption'.
The protestors chained themselves together at approximately midday*, and were soon surrounded by slightly bemused looking police officers. It was heartening to see Sky News report the views of protestors, and include the statement from one gentleman that he 'wished no animosity to the police' but to explain the sweeping cuts to disability services, from social care, to the scrapping of the ILF, to welfare cuts meant his ability to live independently was at risk and that he'd "rather die than go back into an institution" This report was particularly moving because the gentleman speaking appeared to be old enough to have either lived in institutions or to have grown up with the threat of being forced to live in one.
There were no reports of arrests; the Met police appeared unsure as to how to deal with the situation, and from the coverage available online they seemed extremely reluctant to intervene further than politely requesting people to move. Watching I could only think back to a conversation with a Met police officer I had about this around a year ago, where he explained that if disabled people wanted to protest then many of the Met would want to support them. (obviously this is not a formal view of the Met police!)
However, moving 20 wheelchair using protestors would have been a problem as there were no accessible police vans to put people into, and there was a particular comedy moment when the police tried to issue instructions via loudhailer and were politely asked if they had a British Sign Language interpreter available. They did not!
At 2pm, having made their point the protestors unchained themselves and dispersed.
This protest was only in part to do with the welfare cuts. They are just one of the issues currently creating a 'perfect storm' facing disabled people. Regardless of your beliefs about the deficit and welfare cuts, this protest was particularly intended to highlight how the media representation of disabled people has changed over the past few years, that public perception of disability has altered as a result of that to be less sympathetic to the needs of disabled, sick and older people, and that in the past 12 months alone disability hate crime has risen by a horrifying 75%.
It was incredibly powerful and moving to see the disabled community coming together to protest in this way after the successes of campaigns like The Broken of Britain, Where's The Benefit and the more recent Spartacus Report. Although people did not know each other before these protests the sense of unity, community and belief that if one of us is hurt, all of us are hurt was strongly evident throughout the day.
* time corrected thanks to @sisyphusa