Inclusion Now 46

Quiet Riot – Freedom Fighters

24 – 26 June 2016 was a weekend to remember. ‘Freedom Fighters’ from the UK and Ireland joined in the Freedom Fighters Festival in Amsterdam. The festival focused on raising the public conscience about the way disabled people continue to be denied their freedoms. In particular the freedom of people who do not use speech to use alternative ways to communicate in the world.

With a gathering of like-minded individuals, we were immersed in fascinating discussions, invited to listen to an amazing variety of insights into how education, housing, employment, independent living could work in the interest of everyone, and this included the struggles people had about getting out of institutions and living their lives independently. A common theme throughout this weekend was the crucial role of good and effective personal support. It was reassuring to witness many examples of personal support working in mutually respectful relationships.

It was necessary to remind all participants that despite the failings of State Governments the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2006 Article 4, clearly states that governments should “ensure and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

And yet, ten years on, we continue to hear how many disabled people are denied fundamental freedoms that so many non-disabled people take for granted. Those attending the Freedom Fighters Festival were a group of individuals fighting for a society in which justice and freedom are part of a collective struggle.

The festival was organised by Thiandi Gooff and her two mothers, Trix and Jose, women from Inclusion Netherlands, who involved many different groups, communities and individuals into the Freedom Fighters Festival, recognising the value of creating inclusive communities for all people in those communities.

Thiandi is a member of the group Quiet Riot, a group of young people who do not use speech and yet have so much to communicate. As part of the festival, the group launched ‘Quiet Riot Collected: Facilitated Fables’, a collection of their poems and prose, with challenging, triumphant, celebratory sub-texts and revelations of discrimination. The book was orchestrated by a founder member of the group Maresa McKeith who collected contributions from Quiet Riot members. In total 11 contributors participated, sharing some 43 poems.

Members of Quiet Riot were able to present their poems with the support of their PAs. One such poem was ‘Walls of Families: Auschwitz’ by Maresa, which recounts the experience of ‘a boy looking at the wall of pictures’, and ‘the invisible thousands’. Maresa takes the reader on a journey being “unborn, looking forward to life but tested as ‘not required”’, asking a fundamental question about choice and concluding with the haunting passage that “there are still too many poems that will not fit on a memorial wall”.

Of interest is also the number of challenging comments which appear on the back cover, one of which is by Blake Williamson who shares his experience of a “lifetime of effort” making reference to “one disability phobic act” which “makes you defensive and defenceless”. Blake makes reference to a “disabling world” yet with his PAs is committed to challenging a “world made by non-disabled people” for a “more just society”. As the Freedom Fighters Festival gathered pace, there was an opportunity to meet with Amsterdam’s local politicians and ask questions about access, education, employment and living independently. The discussion was lively, informative and raised a number of acknowledged concerns as to how disabled people were often excluded from political participation.

Social events included visiting community centres, sharing meals, and attending an Opera concert in the park which was attended by hundreds of enthusiasts.

During the festival weekend, there was an organised march, accompanied by a brass band, consisting of like-minded individuals which mobilised residents from local communities to participate on a common theme relating to ending the segregation of disabled people, to human rights and social justice. In asking individuals for their recollections of attending the Freedom Fighters Festival Maresa responded that she was surrounded by “a focus to believe in each other” and being amongst people “who I identify with and don’t have to explain myself to” in a “wonderful atmosphere of welcome and solidarity”. Anthony Kletzander replied “it meant a really good opportunity to discuss the issues that affect people like myself and those like me”. Raphael who contributed an untitled poem which uses the line of “freedom on hold”, recounts his lasting memory of participating in the “poetry gig”. For Paul-Thomas there were “lots of moments of light and music”, consisting of “freedom and acceptance” and the “value of an active movement”. For Thiandi there was a gratitude of having visiting friends and loving “the tolerance and respect and the music and the inspiration” and wanting to “organise it again”.

The Freedom Fighters Festival was an important reminder of the way disabled people continue to fight for freedoms which have yet to be actively realised. The festival was embodied with a celebratory tone celebrating difference, pursuing change, acknowledging diversity and fundamentally about our reciprocal interdependence. As we return to the UK, awaiting political and social fragmentation, what a week to remember and remind us of our struggle for human rights and social justice!

Navin Kikabhai

You can purchase the book here.