Given the results of this general election, it’s more clear than ever that we need to make use of every tool outside of Parliament to stand up for ourselves. To stand up for our rights, our participation, our safety and our sanity.
It’s my feeling that a new national organisation, formally constituted and mebership-based, would be a strong way to ensure the voice of disabled people in politics, in civil society, and in the media. I have nothing against DPAC and Black Triangle, and I hope their work continues. Indeed, the organisation I envisage would hopefully work with them, along with all sorts of DPULOs, and anyone else that it makes sense to work with. The organisation I envisage would be dedicated to constructive policy work and campaigning in all areas, not just political. Inaccessible town centres, healthcare inequality, disabled people’s sports – raising the profile of all these, and more, and saying how we, disabled people, want things fixed – and having the data and policy work to back it up. And yes, that includes working to protect the social security that so many disabled people rely on, but also so much more.
We don’t have to call it a union – it wouldn’t exactly be part of the trades union movement, but I see it working in a similar way. A national executive, policy votes, meetings and similar. Of course, meetings can never be terribly accessible for many disabled people, so we’d do more absentee voting at meetings, and more things by referenda. But we would have a solidly defined constitution, and membership. So it could be called ‘union’, or ‘association’, or ‘fellowship’ – there’s arguments for and against a lot of language options. What’s important is that we do it.
I truly believe that, done right, such an organisation can carry the confidence and embody the unity of disabled people. We won’t all agree on policies, there will be internal politics, but we can see how many organisations out there make this work. We agree to follow our collective will in essentials, even while being free to disagree publicly. Not every disabled person would support it, but if we do it right, enough will. A credible, mature and accountable voice for disabled people on the national stage – with accountability, making it easy for everyone to participate, and allowing for differences of opinion without fragmenting.
I don’t have all the detail worked out, but here’s my thoughts so far. Two-stream membership, with different voting rights – self-identified disabled people as full members, and carers and allies as associate members. Our carers and allies are vital, and they must have a voice, especially carers, but the organisation must be led by disabled people ourselves. A constitution that embeds concern for intersectionality, that we will not discriminate against disabled people on the basis of other characteristics – be it race, sex, education, economic status, national origin (or even nationality), whatever. Not party-political, but admonishing all political parties (and politicians) equally, as merited. Praising that which is good and castigating that which is bad. Caring as much about supporting each other as about making noise and seeking change – providing advice and advocacy would be an excellent thing to incorporate.
Yes, an organisation doing this is going to need money. I don’t envisage employed staff any time soon, though if it takes off that’s a possibility. But organisation generally costs money, like room hire, renting a PO box, printing, and even legal advice. Some of that might come from contributions in kind, and we can always hope for a few big donors, but membership will probably need to cost money. I don’t know how much. Perhaps charge associate members more than full members, partly due to the fact that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, and partly because that demonstrates our allies’ commitment to us as disabled people. Of course, concessional rates would be needed – carers are scarcely in a better position than disabled people, certainly. I’d love to sit down with some other people who are prepared to get this off the ground and sort out these initial details. Heck, I’m happy if other people run with the idea and I just end up a member, but I’m willing to do work to start it – I just can’t do it all.
There’s so much more that I could say: how we can directly address businesses and other organisations, not just politicians; how we can facilitate a structure of affiliate organisations to allow for local branches; how a clear forum that we have ownership of will allow us to be open about our fears and our hopes and, yes, our differences.
Let’s do this thing.