One of Britain’s best-known disability rights activists is to embark on an international tour highlighting the achievements of some of the leading figures of the disabled people’s movement from the last 40 years.
Alan Holdsworth founded the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) in the UK and has been an activist and campaigner for more than 30 years.
And as singer-songwriter Johnny Crescendo, he was one of the first artists to write and sing about the movement.
Now – through talk and stories interspersed with songs – he hopes to bring its history to life.
He moved to the United States five years ago with his wife and children, but is set to return to the UK with his Songs of Freedom tour, which will be part autobiography and part “verbal and musical chronology” of the movement.
The idea for the tour partly came from writing his autobiography, which he says has made him review the mistakes he has made, the lessons he has learned and the people who have shaped his life.
He already has dates planned next May, June and July in Sweden, Norway, the US, England and Northern Ireland, and is “excited” at the prospect of touring for the first time in 13 years.
The songs will include favourites from his back catalogue such as Pride, Tear Down the Walls and Choices and Rights, one of the first disability rights songs.
He wants to pay tribute to some of the key figures from the movement, such as Ken and Maggie Davis, Mike Oliver, Vic Finkelstein and the American independent living activist Wade Blank.
But he also wants to look back at some of his mistakes and regrets, such as DAN’s refusal to sit round the table with ministers and disability charities when the government was drawing up the Disability Discrimination Act in the early 1990s.
As part of the tour, he is also hoping to give talks, and is keen to engage and debate with disability studies students, discussing concepts like the social model, disability pride, disability culture and independent living.
Now 57, he says he wants people to hear the stories of the rise of the disabled people’s movement firsthand and to get back to having “a dialogue with disabled people again”.
“There are some great ideas out there and it is our responsibility to keep them going,” he says. “They are still as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. We haven’t completed the mission.”
He wants his audience to go away thinking about the social model and how they are still being “screwed”. “Then maybe,” he says, “people will start getting angry again.”
23 October 2009