One of the things I enjoy about being part of the Disability Arts on Line (DAO) family is that it provides for me a unique platform on which I can present my more adventurous cartoons.
Take the Criptarts for example. I haven't a clue where it's going each week and the end result is usually more of a surprise to me than to you. Of course I've got a rough outline in my mind for each episode, but it's as though the characters come alive once I've started to lay them out in the strip and they just take over.
You've only got to look at the last but one episode for an example. I'd decided to make some sort of comment about the heavy snow we'd been experiencing. I'd got a story-line mapped out and was pretty sure where it was going when Bonk, the self-defined 'nutter' with the purple spiky hair, suddenly jumped in with his joke. Just as I was about to make some serious comment about reduced access. As Aadila said: "Gross!"
You can go to the episode by clicking here.
And last week. Inspired by Liz Carr's performance as Clarissa Mullery on Silent Witness, I'd decided to 'guest' her on the strip. But what happens? The characters take over again and use it as an opportunity to take a poke at the government!
Click here and you'll see what I mean.
It was the same when I invited Penny Pepper onto the strip. I still haven't got the felt tip off the laptop!
Click here ...
So as the strip continues, be prepared for further undisciplined behaviour from Bonk, Liz, Aadila, Ben, Ranj, Val, and their guests. I will try and exercise some editorial control, but as Colin Hambrook, DAO Editor, knows from past experience (especially with me!), I don't hold out much hope!
On Tuesday 26th October 2010 at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park at 1300 hours, the campaigning group MAD PRIDE have organised a day of action to oppose welfare benefits cuts for people labelled Mentally Ill.
UK mental health service users and survivors will publicly assemble to re-enact the opening chapter of Michel Foucault´s seminal book ‘Discipline and Punishment’.
A life-size effigy of a prominent Conservative/ Liberal Democrat merger politician will be publicly executed by method of hanging, drawing and quartering, after which the remains of the body will be burnt. There will also be a variety of other visual and subliminal stunts on the day.
Speaking to one of the organisers of the demonstration, she told me that “the economic downturn caused by the irresponsibility of bankers and big business has led to the Coalition government to enact the biggest cuts in public services since the Second World War.
“Further, that instead of targeting bankers’ bonuses and rich people’s profits, they are hoping to make huge savings by attacking the welfare benefits of vulnerable people unable to work, including people with severe mental health problems.
“In particular, they would like the public to think that people with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental ‘illnesses’ are malingerers and scroungers – when in fact all of us find it a terrible day to day struggle just to get by.”
As we are now aware, in George Osborne’s recent emergency budget he has pledged to take 360,000 people off of Disability Living Allowance by 2013 – which will plunge over a third of a million vulnerable people, most of whom will have mental health problems, into dire poverty.
This will put lives at risk. Already, 6000 people are thought to have committed suicide a year in the UK, although the true figure is definitely far higher. The stress caused by the threat of welfare benefits cuts, as well as the impact of the material deprivation that will result, will undoubtedly lead to a huge increase in suicides amongst people with mental health problems – an outcome that members of MAD PRIDE and other survivor support groups wish to prevent through campaigning and giving each other one-to-one support.
Mike, another member of MAD PRIDE adds, “This is no time to cut benefits and services for people labelled mentally ill. Our numbers have swelled significantly over recent years because so many members of the armed forces have gone through two very long and desperately hard wars. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Iraq and Afghanistan, those conflicts have taken an exceptionally heavy toll on the mental health of so many of our brave troops.”
More cuts to disabled people’s benefits are promised in George Osborne’s upcoming ‘shock and awe’ spending review to take place on Wednesday 20th October. Added to cuts in housing benefits, the VAT rise, and a whole range of other austerity measures, the future looks grim for the poor and those less able to object or protest – whilst the bankers will get to keep their bonuses.
“We’re not taking this lying down!” is the united cry from survivor groups across the UK.
MAD PRIDE can now also announce that, also on 26th October 2010, there will be a Nationwide 24 hour medication strike.
All UK mental health service users will default on their psychiatric medication for one day, in protest against the coming welfare benefits cuts. Further, all UK mental health service users will not engage with any mental health services whatsoever on that day, in a bid to demonstrate the collective power of mental health system users and survivors everywhere.
Leading the recent protest rally against the proposed Government welfare cuts were a large group of Disabled people. Wearing and carrying large black triangles, they were symbolizing the murder of thousands of Disabled people during the Holocaust; their aim being to embarrass Cameron and his government, who have repeatedly insisted that the most vulnerable will be protected from the impact of the cuts.
The use of this black triangle seems to have had an impact upon the general public, journalists and other non-disabled people at the protest which indicates that we may have found a symbol with which to carry our fight on into the future.
By re-owning the Black Triangle, it could become 'the' symbol of the Disabled People's Movement, a rallying cry for us all and something which articulates our demands in a more direct and recognizable manner.
Such a simple yet powerful symbol could be the very thing that we need to bring together the disabled artists, the mental health system survivors, people with HIV and AIDS, and the Deaf communities with all of the other Disabled people in the UK. This is something that we have struggled to do until now, and the powers that be have capitalized on divisions, continue to try to separate us into impairment groups and ensuring that we just fight our individual corner.
Large corporations pay huge sums of money to image consultants and publicity specialists to come up with a symbol that the public recognizes and associates with just their company. Imagine just having to portray a Black Triangle in order for people to understand that it represents Disabled people who are working and fighting together for a just and accessible society united under the Social Model understanding and not part of the oppressive Medical or Charitable Model status quo.
I’m reminded of the immense power of the red ribbon cross adopted in support of those living with HIV and AIDS, and more recently the pink ribbon symbol which prompts us to think of those we love who live with breast cancer and those we have lost to that disease.
Envisage an MP opening an envelope in the future and a Black Triangle falls out. That is all we would need to do ... the symbolism alone would mean that we are watching him or her and expecting them to support our corner in an upcoming debate or vote. The Black Triangle could become the biggest symbol for change since the peace symbol of the 60's!
So, how about it, you articulate and feisty Crips out there? Let’s debate these issues and I promise to keep the ball rolling on this blog.
Change to original artwork following comments
Following comments regarding the use of an all black, upwards facing triangle, how about something like this (see illustration). It still retains the triangle shape but introduces a vibrant background of red with accessible white lettering depicting what it represents. What do you think ..?
Editor - You are invited to scroll down and leave your comments in the space provided below.
I'm often asked to produce some artwork or a cartoon for a piece of poetry or prose that has been created by a fellow artist. This one in particular fired my imagination and made me want to share it with you.
(for Jimmy Fingers, with peace love and understanding)
The place has walls,
I can touch them if I wish,
I could no longer tell you their colour
they are the same colour as all the walls
in all the other places.
Here I wander
Here I touch and feel
Here no-one can hurt me.
Here I am reminded when to eat and sleep
by a clock
that someone else watches.
Here I say what I am thinking
Here I say what thinks me.
That is why I am here.
Here is where I remind myself I am
When here is where I am not.
Because they haven’t got a name for that
Because they haven’t got a place
for people who do things they can’t find names for.
That is why I am here.
Following the news relating to Local Authorities being advised by the Department of Health to give preference to tenders for services from User-Led Organisations (ULO's) it got me to thinking about the groups and organisations that have traditionally gone after this work.
These are, of course, the organisations 'for' disabled people, those charitable concerns that have been doing it to us crips for a very long time and who have established the status quo that effectively maintains our role as recipients of their charity.
I can't see them quietly standing to one side as organisations run and controlled by Deaf and Disabled people end the monopoly that they have enjoyed for the past 60-odd years.
Some of these organisations have already started an underhanded strategy by quoting the social model into their press handouts and publicity materials. Although this is as far as it goes, as their practices are still based solely upon the medical and charitable models of disability.
My mate Dawn runs the Mentally Wealthy blog and has some interesting postings around the subject of user involvement. Click here to visit her blog.
I'm currently doing some collaboration with Vicky Wright, disabled writer and actor (she recently played a lead role in the CH4 Cast Offs series) and you can see the result of our first piece together in her powerful open letter to the comedian Frankie Boyle. I'll keep you posted about any future work we do together ... Click here to visit Vicky's article.
It's not unexpected that people who experience severe mental distress generally find night times the worst time to be alone. This is compounded by mental health trusts not being required to have any more than a tick box quota of staff available at night. In fact, most don't bother providing any real service during this time other than fielding a token Crisis Team often consisting of only two people.
I talked to a survivor who attended a recent workshop regarding mental health Crisis Teams. She was told that team workers see themselves as delivering a home treatment service - the teams are in fact called 'Crisis and Home Treatment Teams'. This involves delivering drugs to people at home in order to keep patients out of hospital and to allegedly save money in terms of expensive admissions.
Whilst they are out on these so-called 'drug runs' there is usually no-one else available at their base to answer phone calls and respond to requests for assistance. So one would assume that the trusts, needing someone to cover this out-of-hours service, would turn to an experienced private agency or mental health charity in order to check that any phone call, for example, is met with an appropriate response. WRONG!
In fact mental health trusts often ask the police to carry out a 'Safe and Well' check on any patient that they are unable to visit themselves. Unfortunately the police have little or no training in mental health issues, and seem to regard this duty as a bit of a nuisance, to put it mildly. In the experience of our survivor a lot of police officers are extremely prejudiced and will often view anyone presenting with mental distress as a potential axe wielding killer. Forget the loveable village copper image. The description of one such response team fitted more the heavy booted descendants of the notorious Special Patrol Group (SPG).
Therefore, if the police go to a house and can't get a response, often because the person is too scared to open the door, they have been known to break it down. Even if they don't have to break their way into a home, they often forcibly drag people out, usually handcuffed (more them once this has happened to our survivor when she's only been wearing a night dress - no slippers even!), before being taken to a police station to be locked overnight in a cell; this is their definition of a Place of Safety! As you can imagine, for people who are already in an extremely distressed and often confused state it is a terrifying experience to also be treated like a criminal in this way.
It was estimated that in 2006 around 250 people killed themselves within 48 hours of being detained in this way. Are we surprised?!