Monday 28 October 2013

Secret Grassroots Disability Summit

On Friday a meeting was held at Unite Union's headquarters in London. It apparently consisted of several disability groups and campaigners. One campaigning group described it as a grassroots disability summit aka #GDS13. However, it was neither live-streamed, live-tweeted nor live-blogged. The agenda, what was discussed and what was agreed has at the time of writing, more than fifty-four hours after the meeting ended, not been published. Indeed, the vast majority of sick and/or disabled folk knew nothing of this coming-together. In other words, the summit was 'secret'.

Perhaps some may object to my use of the term secret. Per my computer’s dictionary this means that the very existence of the meeting was “not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others”. Furthermore, I have it confirmed in an email that the session wasn't an open meeting.” QED: secret.

Let us now turn to the term grassroots. Again per my dictionary,  the grassroots are the “ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization's membership”. I doubt very much that the organisations themselves and prominent campaigners can therefore be justifiably described as grassroots. This epithet is therefore a misnomer, or spin as it is now commonly referred to in the vernacular.

A summit is classified as “a meeting between heads of government” or in this instance the leaders of organisations and/or prominent campaigners.

It is therefore quite obvious that a grassroots summit is an oxymoron.

From the tweeting that resulted from the lack of updates about the summit, it was revealed that the planning was ten* months in the making. When several disabled and/or chronically sick folk are dying each day - within six weeks of being advised that they are fit to work within the following six months by the much maligned and hated work capability assessments (WCA’s); when several folk commit suicide each month due to the stresses incurred including mental (stress), financial (sanctions, withholding of benefits) and physical (unable to afford food & heat); when evil stalks our land one would have anticipated all haste and effort to have been expended in reaching agreement on an early date. Certainly, to take ten months to reach agreement appears to have seriously failed disabled folk.

[Update 28th October 20.00 - this was actually a "couple" of months. The misunderstanding arose from one of the organisers' tweets.]

To make matters worse, I have heard from three separate sources privy to the email correspondence between organisations, etc. that many simply dropped out of the summit. All three used the word “egos”. In short diva-like demands, strops, fits of pique, unwillingness to compromise and so on derailed what could and should have been a meeting of those supposedly representing disabled and/or chronically sick folk. It seems, those who shouted the loudest and the longest got what they wanted whilst most of the others shied away.

By now, the reader has probably come to the conclusion that this secret summit was hardly a beacon of democratic philosophy.

In these technological times all meetings can be live-streamed (live broadcast from a telephone- or computer-camera via the internet), live-tweeted (short messages detailing the goings-on via Twitter) or live-blogged (short passages often accompanied by photographs of meetings as they progress). This September and last October I myself live-blogged Blogsummit and Blogcamp respectively and I myself am disabled, dyslexic and suffer dyscognition. It can be done.

One source has countered that the summit did not have the technological nor financial support to pursue the technological avenues. Well, did any one bother to ask for volunteers?

The aforesaid means can result in many more individuals attending meetings that they physically or psychologically could not attend. Obviously a boon to those of us who are disabled/sick and house-bound.

There is a famous disability mantra: “Nothing for us, without us!” In other words, we disabled should be involved in decisions that affect us not have them made for us on our behalf. In fact, this principle is at the root of much that is contained within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPO’s) often cite the UNCRPD in attacks against current Government policies, but here at least have failed to heed it themselves.

I suggest that in future all meetings are open to all with a technological inlet for those who cannot attend. A list of all invitees should be made public along with details of intention to attend and actual attendance. Agendas should be drawn up and each point should be followed by those who agree/disagree/abstain from comment. Minutes of the meetings should be published as soon as possible after the event with full voting details. In this way DPO’s, etc. can be held to scrutiny by their membership and/or supporters.

What #GDS13 managed to do was create suspicion, distrust, a feeling of being patronised and mistrusted by those who supposedly represent us. We disabled are often at the vanguard of change, change that often benefits all. We can choose to behave like the Establishment - top-down, do-as-we-say - or we can develop an alternative, an exemplar of open decision-making, seeking views fromas broad a base as possible. It is up to us to apprise those who represent us of our wishes, demands and priorities.

What follows is the storify I drew together from the #GDS13 tweets of which I was aware. It is therefore not a full account. Some of the tweets have already been deleted.

**Please note there is FOUL LANGUAGE throughout!**

@blacktriangle1 @Dis_PPL_Protest @WOWpetition Morning! Are we having a hashtag?


  1. Wow, what a mess of a non-event! I agree that the meanings and implications of words and phrases in these sorts of contexts are important. The whole thing comes across as a farce :-(

    1. Thanks for your comment, Isha. Appreciated. %)

      The organisers quite literally on a daily basis dealt with demanding and obstreperous invitees. They were working against impossible odds.

      You may be interested in my follow-up blog-post, "Towards Reflective Campaigning"