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Advocacy: A way of life — A way to life.

Advocacy has always been an essential part of my life both in a personal and professional level.

As a person born into this world with a physical impairment, which would lead to society labelling me and people like me as disabled, standing up to ensure you have a valued fulfilled life can prove hard, which is why advocacy is so important. From the moment they’re born until the moment they draw their last breath; parents of disabled people will fight for their child’s right to a fulfilled life. We learn those skills early in life because it is essential, we continue that battle on once they are gone or no longer able to support you.

Make no mistake, it is a lifelong battle to survive, never mind thrive as a disabled person in a society designed solely for the benefit of the able bodied and able minded.

It is hard even for working-class people to manage; throw in being disadvantaged by being disabled, it becomes almost impossible.

As someone who has never taken a physical step, I have never been backwards at coming forwards. Even as a child, I was quite precocious and that has not altered much now I am an adult, in fact moving swiftly into older age. I like to consider myself a wordsmith; others, both allies and adversaries may call me a gobshite. If so, then that is one label I am proud to wear.

As I said in the introductory lines above, advocacy has been part of my professional life. At 26, my first proper job was advocacy. Here is where I admit my dirty secret. I worked as an advocacy development worker for Scope or The Spastic Society as it was then. I went into their residential homes and taught them advocacy skills.

After three years doing this, I realised that working for an organisation working for disabled people was not good for the mind or the soul. I equated it to being a Kapo in a German Concentration Camp. I emphasise that is how I felt; it isn’t a comment on disabled people working for Scope.

You have to realise that for the first part of my life I was cloistered and shaped within their walls, being educated by them, (under a fashion), living for three years in one of their residential homes. Once I made the break from the clutches of the SS as we used to refer to them (which is the major reason they had a name change), I have not looked back. I have shadow boxed with them a few times but in the main our paths have taken different directions.

Around the same time as my split with Scope, I came into contact with the Disabled People’s Movement and my eye were opened and my life took a much more positive forward direction. I discovered the Independent Living Movement and from then to now I have been working towards achieving independent living for me and all disabled people.

Around the same time, I came into contact with People in Partnership, an Independent Advocacy project for people with learning disabilities based in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham. I was asked to join the Management Committee and gleefully agreed. I became the Chair soon after and spent three years in that role. I then moved from the management committee and became an employee, taking up the position of Crisis Advocate, I did this job for a further three years. These six years were the most rewarding and enjoyable years I remember.

Advocacy

For disabled people
advocacy  isn’t just a way of life it is the means to life
we are taught the need for advocacy with our
mothers’ milk while in our mothers’ arms
parents advocate for our right to life
from the moment we take our first breathe
until the time, they take their last one
once they are gone, we must assume those reins
we cannot do this solely on our own
we need our friends and allies
for often we can falter and fall
need others to pick us up, hold us up
we learnt the skills of advocacy
in our special schools not during schooling hours,
we returned to other classrooms after hours
we taught ourselves the tactics and skills we need
to see us through life in a world that is inaccessible
designed by a society that fails to understand
nor seems not to care
you will often hear disabled people say
we only encounter disability
when we come face to face with society
advocacy is as essential to me
as the hands of my Personal Assistants that support me
the wheels of the wheelchair that
allows me to move around my world
this is why Advocacy Matters

During these years I was also lucky enough to be the Chair of the Coalition of Disabled People — Birmingham. I admit we made some mistakes with the CODP-B, but we made some positive strides forward and I am proud of the contribution we made to the city and its disabled citizens in our brief life.

The seed of this blog came about because I have recently become involved with a project which is being administrated by Advocacy Matters, another Independent Advocacy project here in Birmingham. It also coincides with their 20th birthday.

I have authored a poem to celebrate this fact. They deserve enormous praise for surviving in a time were there is no money to be made from advocacy, no money for advocacy. Yet they have continued to stay afloat to provide a much-needed service and for that we need to salute them and ask how we can support them so they can continue to support us in our times of need.

Advocacy Matters When it feels like the sky is falling on your head
Advocacy Matters
When it seems all the walls that protect you
Fall and crumble around your ears
Advocacy Matters
When those who hold power of your existence
Use words and language you cannot understand
Advocacy Matters
When no one sees you, no one hears you
Advocacy Matters
There are times when it is too hard to
Speak up, Stand up, for yourself. That is when
Advocacy Matters
For twenty years Advocacy Matters
Has been there for people when Advocacy mattered
When others faltered and fell not through any fault of their own
Advocacy Matters stood tall refused to fall
When others fell silent for lack of funding
Advocacy Matters continued to shout aloud
Advocacy Matters for what you have done
What you continue to do under much struggle and strain
As endless council cuts cause you financial pain
The community Salutes You
The people Thank You
We ask how we can support you?
So, you can continue to support us

During the past few years, advocacy has continued to play a large part of my work as a director of Community Navigator Services, alongside my fellow directors Clenton Farquharson and Jack Nicholas. Advocacy is a central tool that allows to work towards social justice for all disabled and disadvantaged citizens.

anti-racism protest at Telfordanti-racism protest at Telford

Advocacy is sometimes one to one, othertimes working together to amplify people’v voices

Outside of the disabled persons arena, I worked with a diverse selection of disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities, including the bedroom tax lobby , the victims of Grenfell Tower and The People’s Assembly. I have been active within the Stand up to Racism Movement. I am a founder member of Poets Against Racism.

Rob performing poem at NottinghamRob performing poem at Nottingham

Rob at Nottingham poetry festival (C) Debbie Allen & Poets against Racism USA

I use my poetry to get my message over fast and simply. Poems make great advocates and advocates can become excellent poets. Fundamentally we do the same things; we observe and listen to the world around us, then translate what we see and hear into language everyone can understand using simple everyday words and phrases.

Advocates When we face our darkest days,
confront our scariest demons
when others seem not to see us or hear us
when it seems, we talk a different language to others
we need others to speak with us, stand with us, translate for us
these people we call advocates
even the strongest amongst us need allies
without allies the world is a dangerous place
We are constantly told
There is no money in advocacy, no money for advocacy
the question I pose is this
Who advocates for the advocates?
When they speak up for us, who speaks up for them?
When they stand by us, who stands by them
It is not enough only to about advocacy mattering
We must act now because advocacy matters
Only by talking together, working in coproduction
Can we all thrive, not just survive

Being a socialist is a strong part of what makes me, me. When I say socialist, I mean a true Marxist. Not like the current crop of lily-livered lot that fill the benches of the Labour Party. I am proud to have met, known and shared platforms with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

I have stormed parliament, I have stood for parliament, to bring social justice to the citizens of this city and this unequal country.

Even as I approach my 60th year, I am determined to continue to work with others to achieve a better life for all in a better world.

Posted on May 25, 2022   #robert     #advocacy  






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