What seemed like a good idea on paper has actually been a bit more difficult in practice. People have been keen to get involved, but many began to find, understandably, that their health wasn't up to organising an outside event. (Indeed that right there demonstrates why the whole work capability assessment process is so unfit for purpose - most claimants would love to work but their health impedes them). A lot has been happening in other campaigns, which is brilliant, but it has limited people's energy to do something for this one. Finally, we are a tiny group, and only have limited time and energy ourselves to keep this up. Still it was with some frustration that with two weeks to go we still had very few readings planned. We were on the point of cancelling, when someone mentioned they might livestream. It was then that it dawned on us, there could be more than one way to get involved. So we invited people to join us in whatever way they could, live event, tweeting, podcasting, videoing and livestreaming. And suddenly the whole thing came alive with energy and promises of help in all areas. What had begun to feel like a weight on our shoulders was transformed into the exciting multimedia #atosmassread. Suddenly we couldn't wait.
The day before yesterday was a great warm up. We'd spotted a letter from Atos in last week's Guardian that incensed us so much we had to respond. The morning news was dominated by Spartaci with Sue Marsh, Kaliya Franklin, Stephen Sumpter, Jane Young and many more on radio and TV challenging DWP and Government lies on DLA and PIP again and again. Of course, the announcement of the death of a certain former Prime Minister slightly changed all that later in the day. So we spent the afternoon building for yesterday using the hashtag #thatcherslegacy to show how ESA, WCA and Atos are all part of the world she left behind.
And so to the day itself.
We started quietly at 9.30, as Helen @nellmk2 began to tweet Aletheia's story line by line. We have read all the stories many times, but I, for one, found tweeting a powerful way to hear the words again, as you can see from this snapshot...
While Helen carried on tweeting, it was time for me to leave for Oxford for the outside event in Bonn Square. We'd managed to cobble this together over email. A small group of us gathered in the New Road Baptist Church to have a quick read through, and decide which parts to read. We emerged at 11.30 to discover that the diggers that had been quiet for half an hour had started again. Not only that but the buses were stopping right in front of us leaving their engines running loudly. We shouted above the noise, but it felt (as campaigning often does!) that we were shouting in vain.
After about four monologues we had a quick discussion and moved up the road to the Cornmarket. We found a much quieter spot outside the bank and continued. As Owen handed out leaflets and talked to interested passers by, Miriam, myself, Dan and Jane took each voice in turn. Most people walked on, but by the end, one or two hung around to listen. We ended with Karen Sherlock's emails to Kaliya Franklin (thanks to Kaliya and Nigel Sherlock for permission). Karen's story is a shockingly sad one, but a very real example that behind all those twisted DWP statistics lie real human beings and real damage.
At 12pm while we were in full flow in Oxford @Dr_Vole and @Bluehook (Rachel Stelmach) began their event in Lampeter. Rachel writes:
"A tight circle of women, in a small hall, in a tiny town in West Wales, came together to, if nothing else, at least bear witness to those people who have been damaged by this horribly flawed system of assessment. We bore witness also to the farce of politicians pretending that forcing seriously ill and disabled people to undergo continual rounds of assessment, appeals and form filling, never allowing the time to recover from the last indignity, was somehow because they really care about them. We bore witness to the ridiculous platitudes ATOS throw out without ever really thinking about the individual human lives they are impacting on. Because that's what the end result is, individual human beings, most of whom have paid their way for many years but on becoming ill or disabled have then found themselves unable to work. Instead of being the safety net for them, ESA has become a bed of jagged rocks, waiting to shatter anyone that falls on it. And whilst we can rail against a French Software company that has set itself up as a medical assessment service, not really caring how much flak they get from disabled people in the UK because they have a big fat contract and are happy to take the money, let's not forget that really they are just doing the work of the UK government."
Indeed let's not forget how culpable the government is in the whole scandal of Work Capability Assessment. We need to hold them to account as much as Atos.
We took a break at lunch, so it seems a good place to stop, part 2 follows!