When WOW met the Campaign for Benefit Justice
I have thought long and hard about this. I can either say it exactly how it happened or make it interesting by shortening some of the sequences, leaving others out and telling a story that relays the facts rather than just gives the facts (Sounds like a bad advert for some computer software!!). I'm in story telling mode!!!
On Sunday of last week "a link" did the rounds among the WOWpetition Activists. (Activist makes me sound more heroic than fat middle aged man sitting at his computer sending Tweets, e-mails, Skyping and walking my dog (with housework and cooking thrown in!!)). Someone had come across details of a Campaign for Benefit Justice "rally" that was meeting at Birkbeck College in London on Saturday 9th March and there was a general call out for WOWers to go. There was also a steering committee event last Monday evening to help organise this event.
Us at WOW (!!) have always realised that in order to be successful we need to break out of the confines of Twitter, although it is a very comfortable environment. To me this seemed to be an opportunity to take WOW into the real world. Others are doing that already, including our sponsor and all round good egg Francesca Martinez, so I volunteered, contacted the organisers and set out for the steering committee meeting.
At this point, I want to restate that one of the overriding principles behind WOW was that it was to be a democratic inclusive process, to include disabled people, their families, carers, friends and anyone else that supported us. Got that? You sure? OK!
So I walked into the steering committee meeting introduced myself and sat back. I am not going to go through the other people there as this post isn't about the wonderful job they did. The meeting began and as they were talking about the organisation of the event which they had already done without me I didn't really contribute. I think I made some comment about what a good job had been done.
Poked my head above the parapet!
Having included myself in the discussion I was "fair game".
I was asked......
"So, have you managed to change the wording of the WOWpetition yet?"
(It wasn't this brutal or aggressive but I'm telling a story!!)
"Hello, my name is Ian. What?!?!"
It transpired that the meeting generally felt that the WOWpetition was a little bit "closed" when it asked for the end of sanctions against disabled people.
"Wouldn't it have been easier to ask for an end to sanctions against all?"
I slipped straight back into exec at a meeting mode. I pointed out that we were unable to change the wording of the petition (we've already considered that - hands up all of you that have noticed the the wording of the petition doesn't include the word "WOWpetition"!!!) and that WOW as a movement is against sanctions against all benefit claimants and vulnerable people. I was not going to try to justify the wording - much too dangerous!!
Good answer I thought.
Although that wasn't exactly the answer I gave. KISS - Keep it simple stupid, are the rules by which I try to live. But my mouth sometimes gets ahead of my brain. I had to add...
"and of course we were working against the 1,000 character limit so had to be focused."
I sat back, happy, thought I'd deflected it.
The offending section was:
Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.
Somebody at the meeting dared to say something.
SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT....
'Hold on! If you "change sanctions for people on disability benefits" to "sanctions for people on benefits" that's fewer characters?'
SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT
KISS KISS KISS KISS KISS KISS KISS KISS
"The WOWpetition was crowd-sourced amongst sick and disabled people and their stakeholders (thought I'd try some Consultant speak!!) and went through a democratic selection process and a vote. It was never our intention to be non inclusive, in fact we made every effort to be as inclusive as possible, and if we failed or excluded some other group that was not intended and an error of drafting."
Yes, that killed the discussion. Good old "stakeholders"!
The meeting continued and we organised meeting up on Saturday.
I reported back to my WOW colleagues and we had a lengthy exchange about what we could do.
I got up, packed the car and set off into London. Got to the University of London campus. Suddenly I realised the plan wasn't completely thought out!
Where to park?
I drove & drove & drove and came across a side road with "Parking regulations suspended" signs everywhere.
Apart from it being very narrow parking spaces, nearly full and our elite students and academics being unable to park between the lines.
Got into one space, but it was so tight I couldn't even wind the windows down! Then someone left so as quick as I could (didn't lose any wing mirrors) jumped into it. Success.
Went over to Birkbeck College and saw familiar faces. Found my desk (tucked away under the stairs!!) but as if by magic it moved to a prime location on the entrance to the meeting room. Put the stuff out on my desk, put some posters up, tried to connect my ipad to BT wifi.
Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit
We were underground. No signal. How could people sign the petition?
I read somewhere that technology is disabling us. Without SatNavs people can't find their way. That sort of thing.
Went to the shop. Bought an A4 pad, a ruler, some pens. Made a paper petition for people to sign.
The first part of the Benefit Justice Meet was in Birkbeck college. In order to get into the meeting they had to file past my desk. If they got too close they were told about WOW. If they wanted to go to the meeting after that they were encouraged to sign or I kept talking. The meeting started. My audience disappeared.
After about an hour and a bit the meeting finished and potential signees reappeared. They had to some past my desk to escape!! Some signed; some took our Cards; Some talked to me about who was WOW. I talked about how Welfare Reform wasn't fair and we'd had enough.Some promised to promote our message elsewhere.
Then they were gone. I packed up to move to the second part of the meeting, the workshops at ULU. However, by the time I got there they had started and there was a bigger prize.
Sitting there in ULU was the TUC rep and one of the organisers. I sat down. Made small talk. Then....
"so is there anything WOW can do to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of this movement?"
It turns out there is a Workfare protest coming up and they would like WOW to organise it for them. We did nothing to organise the rally last saturday so that seems fair to me. I will let you know what when I find out.
Remember, this version would differ slightly from a CCTV record of what happened but I trust you were all sitting comfortably.