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On Entering the Save the ILF Postcard Campaign Photo Gallery

I have barely taken to the streets to Save The ILF. I’ve done a little but maybe not enough. It’s not apathy. I always had something else to do.  I campaigned for independent living before I even knew a fund that supports independent living was at risk. I chanted Free Our People with the best of them.

It was more a case of redirecting my energies. I advocated for direct payments. I found employment with Merton Centre for Independent Living. I was committed but further away from the streets than I had been for a while. I created a Sick Note to use as a basis against welfare reform which identified targets but I couldn’t see the link in campaigning for that and stopping the traffic but some activists wouldn’t listen to the voices of those who wanted to do things a little differently. There was a lack of creativity and it annoyed me.

And then the tone changed. The Save ILF campaign saw Independent Liver’s making and posting videos. Penny Pepper wanted to ‘Fuck The Cuts’, Katherine Araniello demonstrated that the Independent Living fund could make art an every day event, Ian Saville contributed a magic trick, Graeae linked the three penny opera to saving the ILF and then out of nowhere appeared a Save The ILF Postcard campaign on facebook.

It looked fresh, exciting. Someone was contributing digital artwork that pronounced Save The ILF. I loved this site. I could participate. My organisation got behind it. Celebrities moved away from the self-aggrandisement  of charity and got behind a rights campaign. Ordinary, everyday people, trade unions, dogs were printing out the postcard, taking selfies and putting themselves up on the page saying I support Save the ILF.

This is something we wanted. I had an opportunity to meet people who were using direct payments, self directed support. They were the same people I had in mind when I was an activist. They were saying yes to this but can’t we do it in another way, without the forms, without the strictures of social work departments who were implementing a system that is unfriendly and unsupportive of independent living. Professionals are soiling the ethos of the idea by removing flexibility, choice, control, and making us ever more subservient to carers and agencies, I was uplifted by their enthusiasm but down pressed by the lack of freedom the system was upholding. What they wanted was the ILF. What people on the ILF were now being offered was a return to this lesser style of  independent living, where hoops were put in place to jump through – eligibility, fair access to care (a real misnomer that one) , the wrong thinking of authority. Fear is well placed. A return to institutionalised living is on the cards.

So I spend time on the Save the Independent Living Fund Postcard campaign. It heartens me. Cheers me. The politics of participation is invested in this artful page. I recommend you visit. The photos are here. Like it.

Posted by Rich Downes, 10 May 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 12 May 2014


When I'm not blogging for DAO, which happens to be most of the time, I have a day job. Get this. Engagement and Development Worker for Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL).

One of my responsibilities is to engage with the wider community and in particular with hard to reach groups.

The LGBT community is not one that I am charged with finding,meeting and relating with but MCIL know that i'm putting my feelers out. In some ways this young, hungry organisation was ahead of me. A funder said we should be monitoring participation within MCIL in accordance with sexual orientation. No one is showing up on the figures yet. I've spoken to a local activist who identifies as a gay man and contacted the council's equalities office. Not much seems to be doing locally.

Another tool I use is my diversity calendar. It tells me that this month is LGBT History Month. The website for the same tells me that the theme this  year is combating homophobia through music. So, i've set a challenge on the MertonCIL facebook page for members to identify music in support of the LGBT community or music by LGBT artists that demonstrates acceptance within society. I started the process with the Tom Robinson Band's, 'Power in The Darkness', which is a favourite song of mine but which also worries my liberal consciousness through the voice over of a political bigot denouncing civil rights activists with inappropriate language but which ends with the killing rejoinder 'Freedom from the likes of you'.

I repeat the feat, and the challenge here. Join the list making and you tube video playing and whilst you're at it why not go to the MertonCIL facebook page and like it. We need to keep on growing inclusively.

Many thanks.

Posted by Rich Downes, 8 February 2014

More Yoko No. 4 - Votive Offering

I have an instinctive love and understanding of wish trees. I am drawn to them. They make me think.

According to my old mate Wiki; “A wish tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish”.

One of the most glamourous wish trees, the only one I wished on, stood in Waterlow Park, Highgate. It was distinguished by copper tags containing wishes that the sun reflected into the park. I guess the copper made it art.

In the health centre where I work the local bereavement counseling service installs a xmas tree every year  and provides tags for anyone who wishes to remember someone who has passed on. I have used that tree to remember family, friends and people that I never knew including last year, 3 musicians. I never knew Was I wishing though and would I call it art.

As a sometime self advocacy facilitator I have worked with groups who have wanted wish trees. These have happened in day centres with art classes and trees but no one, no member of staff, ever thought to follow up on the wish for a wish tree. Strikes me these would be good for person centred planning exercises. But who cares if people in the institution wish or not.

Every now and then I take a trip to Avebury and Glastonbury. I have an interest in paganism but do not define as a pagan as according to the Pagan Federation I need to accept a divinity in my life and cannot do this. There are trees in these places, my favourite one being at Swallowhead Spring. I have seen the most amazing, thoughtful, votive offerings there. I never knew they held wishes. And some of them where Art. I must ask the editor to make a gallery of my photos.

Yoko has installed a number of wish trees at the entrance of the Serpentine Gallery. I watched people of all ages participating in the process, writing down their wishes in their own languages or with pictures. I read the tags that I could read. Many pursue the Yoko doctrine. Peace, Love, Joy, appear many times.

Other genuine wishes for good grades, holidays, birthdays, sunshine, self centred wishes maybe; but not predominating. Within all this goodness, an adolescent tells everyone, his favourite out of all the wishes is; “I wish this gallery exhibited real art not this rubbish”. Well suck it and see sucker because in making that wish you became involved in art. You joined the process, you followed the instruction, you interacted with the sculpture, you joined the performance, you were not embarrassed to do it and because you did Yoko will help your wish live on.

She will collect your tag, she will install it somewhere else. You may have been cynical but appreciate what happened, appreciate that you, me, and everyone else can join in the instruction to keep on wishing and maybe we could make this our art.

To find out more.

Also, what wish will you make here. 

Posted by Rich Downes, 28 June 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 8 July 2012

More Yoko No 1 - Sketches from my notebook

The thought of meeting Yoko Ono - as a New Voices Writer excited me. If it came to be - and it did not - what would my interest be?

Positive Activism.
The Tragedy Model
How to commit simple instructions as a way of overcoming personal tragedy
The experience of exclusion
The nature of segregation
Participation and inclusivity 

I will say more about Positive Activism in More Yoko No 2 - Yoko Versus We All Shot Pudsey Bear.

The Tragedy Model. "Depicts disabled people as victims of circumstance who are deserving of pity"

I have lived experiences of the Tragedy Model. So, has Yoko. The death of John being just one circumstance. Living through war, malnutrition, child kidnap, sexism, racism, the burden of believed to have broken up the Beatles (a false belief), miscarriage. Yet Yoko does not come over as pitied, feared, tragic but brave, etc. How did she survive? How did she get by? Was art intrinsic to survival?

Yoko has done many instruction pieces. Here she gives out an instruction. It is up to you if you follow it. It is up to you to experience and create from the instruction. How do you instruct yourself to survive tragedy. This is an example of an instruction piece. It comes from Revelations, part of 100 Acorns.

"Bless you for your fear, For it is a sign of wisdom. Do not hold yourself in fear".

The experience of exclusion. The British Press and Media did not welcome Yoko. Neither did fans of the Beatles and it seems the Beatles themselves had to learn to love her. As disabled People we live in a time where the barons of Fleet Street and government minsiters seem only to keen to lay the blame for all that is wrong in our society at our feet.

The nature of segregation. More from 100 Acorns

You are water
I’m water
We’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together
But even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
We’re container minders 

Participation and Inclusivity. Just in case you haven't got it yet. You are a part of Yoko's art. You are a part of art. Art cannot work without your participation. the difference is that Yoko seeks to include you and leaves it for you to be included or not.

Given these areas of interest, how could I not be interested in the art of Yoko Ono?

Posted by Rich Downes, 24 June 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 June 2012