Freedom News

Disability and autonomy

Andy Greene of Disabled People Against Cuts writes on the ways in which anarchist and disabled interests and actions dovetail in the face of State oppression.

Anarchism and independent living are two concepts that may not immediately seem related. But as many people reading this will know from personal experience, they share a common thread: a desire for autonomy, self-determination and a DIY culture. In the context of changing anti-protest legislation, the relationship between these (sometimes though not always) two communities becomes particularly relevant.

There are disabled people who don’t believe that the State is inherently oppressive (I’m not one) but also accept that individuals should be free to make their own decisions without interference from external institutions (I am one). This isn’t a million miles away from the core politics that birthed the Independent Living Movement.

Independent living is a movement that seeks to empower disabled people to live as independently as possible. It promotes the idea that disabled people should have control over their own lives and have the right to make their own choices regarding issues like housing, employment, and healthcare. Both groups revel in a healthy disregard of governments.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of governments around the world passing anti-protest legislation. This is particularly true here in the UK. Let’s be honest, not being able to revert to type and kick the shit out of disabled activists without public scrutiny has thrown all 40-odd of the police forces here into a tailspin.

It hasn’t stopped them trying. Ask Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair by the Met during student protests in 2011. Ask disabled activists who had their wheelchair and shoulder respectively broken outside the Department for Work and Pensions. Ask the anti-fracking disabled activists who (along with being beaten, groped and arrested daily) were reported to benefits agencies and social services, lost mobility cars or were sectioned following collusion between police and these other State institutions. The ultimate forms of State violence.

But this wasn’t enough control for some. In the last few years a whole raft of laws restricting the ability of individuals and groups to assemble and protest against government policies or actions have been passed. From the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and its fucked-up offspring the Public Order Bill, to laws covering migrants and trade unionists – control is the watchword.

Control over the ability to decide what a response looks like, how it manifests and who gets to do so are a significant threat to freedom of assembly, speech and expression.

All of these laws represent a direct attack on our shared values and beliefs. Our communities rely on the ability of individuals to come together and organise in order to effect change.

Disabled people and cop watchers have both been at the forefront of protests against these (and other) laws. We have long been involved in protests against the State, we aren’t about to let this or future governments further consolidate their power and suppress dissent.

Along with our shared opposition to these shit laws, our communities also share a commitment to direct action and civil disobedience. Whether it’s blocking city centres or occupations we have found effective tactics which have both challenged State power AND challenged ableist ideas and practices.

Anarchists/disabled people also share a long-time commitment to mutual aid, supporting one another directly, without relying on outside authorities or institutions. We see mutual aid as a way to build stronger, more resilient communities that are less dependent on the State; and as a way to provide support systems outside of traditional support systems.

Despite some half arsed, council-run covid response versions during the pandemic, mutual aid has become increasingly important. As governments crack down on protests and dissent, individuals and groups will have to rely once more on themselves and each other.

Nobody’s coming to save us. Nobody ever was. Anything we’ve won, we’ve won with chains, D-locks, flames and often with blood. The mood music might change. But the song remains the same.

That’s why DPAC, anarchist groups and every other group out on the streets need to find ways of working alongside each other in ways which iron out the wrinkles and make the most of our skills and experiences. By proactively engaging, by recognising what each other have to offer and dovetailing our energies – we know we have the skills, knowledge and creativity to make these laws unworkable. We can make the streets ungovernable. Safe in the knowledge that we can rebuild in our own image.

And what a sight that will be. See you in the squats and squares!

~ Andy Greene

This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Freedom anarchist journal.

Pic: Andy Greene, by Phil Robinson

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