by Karen Passmore
11th June 2019

Paul Sng’s Invisible Britain reveals untold stories from people who are often marginalised in the media, neglected by politicians and ignored within society. Here, Karen Passmore tells her story.

I knew I was transgender from about the age of four, even though the word did not exist then. I knew I was a girl, even though I had a boy’s body. There was no internet back then, no social media, no real medical knowledge. You couldn’t talk about how you felt, tell others you were really a girl, when everything about you said the opposite.

I wasn’t always an activist; it started when I became disabled. I saw the multiple cuts being made to disability benefits, the harm that these were causing, the deaths and suicides and the despair that so many were experiencing.

I was invited to be a speaker at a mass rally against austerity in Bristol. It’s quite scary if you have never spoken in public before, but I got through it okay and my speech was generally well received. I started a new branch of DPAC, Disabled People Against Cuts, as I felt it was time we did something to make our voices finally heard.

Since then life has never been the same. Our DPAC Bristol & South West branch has grown via social media, and we now have a real voice and a presence. I’ve been invited to speak at rallies and demonstrations all over the country, from an action to unseat the former Minister for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, to supporting demos against NHS closures, and a panel to discuss the impact of austerity on social work.

Recently we held a demonstration in Bristol to highlight the introduction of Universal Credit and explain to people exactly what this means. We got soaked, but what does a little rain matter when you are an activist?

Little by little we are hopefully changing minds and opinions, and countering some of the lies spread by certain sections of the media. We are telling people there is a better way, that life doesn’t have to be as hard as it is today, that austerity is a deliberate ideological choice designed to punish the poor for the deliberate actions of the rich, particularly the bankers.

We don’t have to accept this attack on our living standards, we don’t have to accept the demonisation of the various minorities, be they disabled, poor, single parents, immigrants or refugees. We can stand up, join forces, and support one another. We are one.

Being an activist is not being a troublemaker, as some will claim. It’s not being a hippy or just a noisy protester. It’s about caring, for your family, for your friends and neighbours, and even for those you may not know yet. It’s about having a voice and using it. Who wants fracking on their doorstep, or local schools or services shut down? Who wants to see the elderly confined to one room trying to stay warm in winter, or kids going to school hungry or people starving the world over?

For me, Eve Ensler sums up perfectly what it means to be an activist, as someone who ‘is not usually motivated by a need for power or money or fame, but in fact is driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness, so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to act to make it better.’

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience, edited by Paul Sng is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £16.00.

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Image Credit: Jon Tonks