Peer Led Advocacy, Collaborative Leadership & Political Autonomy

written by Ali Wilkin (Harmony Party UK interim media officer)

Four meeples grouped together, with a solitary meeple off to one side.
Leadership can be divisive. Photo: Markus Spiske

In the third of this series, Ali outlines why she will not be part of the leadership of the new trade union once formed, along with a brief description of “Peer Led Advocacy”.

This is part of a series. Part 1 may be found here, and Part 2 may be found here.

It will, I am sure, seem strange to some that I am consciously choosing to play no role in the leadership of WE CAN from its formal launch. After all, trade unions are – by their nature – politically powerful. It is not because I consider myself unfit, or think myself unable, to do the work of leadership, and the work of collaborative leadership that will be required to ensure that the ship, once launched, does not sink.

But I do not advocate to build this ship in order to be the Commander of the vessel.

This trade union, if it must always be anything, must always be the very best advocate that every disabled person, chronically ill person and carer, deserves; if it must always hold true to something, it must always be able to believe the very best of what we can achieve together; and if its leadership must have the fullest confidence in anything, it must be confident in its ability to share the responsibilities of leadership, and never forget that hoarding the power of leadership is a weakness – not a strength.

There are many things that the leadership of the union must model – making space for BAME disabled leaders (not just members), and GRT (Gypsy, Roma & Traveller) leaders is vital.

It must also model a leadership that honours each individual person’s need to step back at various times so that they can rest, reflect, and recuperate their strength in accordance with their need, so that every member of the union can feel secure in being able to do so themselves without needing to justify it.

What is Peer Led Advocacy?

Peer led advocacy is the name my friend and colleague Jaki Whyte and I have given to the process by which disabled people support each other in areas where there is little or no organised charitable support available – as is the case where she and I live.

It results in disabled and chronically ill people advocating for each other, in part to mitigate some of the trauma of dealing with a hostile State, but it naturally gives rise to a collaborative leadership; the weight of leadership and advocacy isn’t borne by a very few, but by very many. It also creates a consistently flowing stream of oral information that is regularly added to, which makes it more accessible for many.

For example, Carol has to appeal her PIP award, but this is the first time she has claimed PIP, and she needs help. The Citizens Advice Bureau don’t have an appointment available for 3 months, and the appeal has to be lodged within 6 weeks. Carol’s daughter knows Lee, who has helped other claimants after they were supported making their claim. Lee is not out as non-binary to her GP and needs to get a second opinion from a rheumatologist. Carol works at the hospital’s central clinic, so is able to recommend one who is known as an LGBTQ ally. The information shared between them is then fed back orally to other disabled people in the area, increasing community knowledge.

Coercive hierarchies cannot deliver the equality and political autonomy that disabled people need because disabled people are only ever coerced within such a context, and I will therefore be advocating for collaborative leadership, emphasising the need for disabled leaders from BAME & GRT communities, as well as from learning disabled communities and elsewhere.

I am reaching out to various activists and community leaders in order to bring together a steering group: I want to ensure full representation of the community, so if you are BAME or GRT disabled person who would like to be part of that steering group please let me know.