Liberty disability arts festival: Security ‘guilty of undemocratic leaflet ban’


newslatestA leading Deaf performer who was prevented by the mayor of London’s security staff from handing out campaigning leaflets during a disability arts festival has described their actions as “undemocratic” and “creepy”.

David Bower had handed out some of the leaflets after performing with his music theatre company Signdance Collective International (SCI) at the Together! 2012 tent at Saturday’s Liberty festival, which is run by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

They had been performing a duet created for Bower and his Signdance partner Isolte Avila by Batontanc ljubjana, and showing a film from Bad Elvis, their new collaboration with BBC Radio 4.

The leaflets raise concerns – with the help of the online campaigning community 38 Degrees – about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the US, amid fears that it will allow multinationals to sue the UK if the government passes future laws that could restrict their profits, including within the NHS.

But as Bower began to hand out the leaflets to festival-goers, he was approached by a member of the security team, who told him he was not allowed to distribute the material because the venue – the main London 2012 venue, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – was “private property”.

Bower said he did not want to “get into any conflict” but told the guard that he “should be ashamed for acting in an undemocratic way”.

Although he stopped handing out the leaflets, he was placed under surveillance for the rest of the event.

He said: “I actually felt creeped out by it and it did leave me feeling somewhat disconcerted for the rest of the day.”

Bower said TTIP could have important implications for disabled people. One scenario could see a company able to sue the government if disabled people campaign successfully for better working conditions, which then impacts on that company’s “right” to make a profit.

Bower, who was formerly best-known for his role in the hit British film Four Weddings and a Funeral but is now better-known as SCI’s artistic director, said: “The implications are profound and will effectively make democracy illegal and will impact on disabled people’s ability to campaign for equality.”

Performers at Liberty have always been proud of the festival’s disability rights origins.

Allan Sutherland, who also performed at the Together! 2012 tent, said: “There’s been a growing issue in this country about public, democratic space being turned into private, non-democratic space.

“High streets have been replaced by shopping malls, and ordinary activities such as political campaigning or busking have become subject to permission from landowners (which in practice means they have become forbidden).

“Liberty used to take place in Trafalgar Square, which is a public space. Is it really true that the Olympic Park is not a public space? It only exists as the result of a very great deal of public spending. Who does it belong to if not to us who paid for it?

“I can remember a festival called Liberty , which was about freedom for disabled people.

“It took place in our most important public square, which has a long and honourable tradition of political activity.

“I can remember being there on a lot of occasions over the last 50 years, on demonstrations about Vietnam, abortion law, the poll tax and disability rights.  If we are to have a Liberty Festival, that’s where it belongs.”

So far, a spokesman for the mayor has refused to comment.

Liberty was launched by the previous mayor Ken Livingstone, but last year’s festival – the 11th since 2004 – saw it merge for the first time with the new National Paralympic Day.

Many disabled activists complained that Liberty had been reduced to a mere “sub-heading at a sports event”, concerns that were repeated this year.

4 September 2014