Marching for a People’s Vote.
In the past two weeks, we’ve definitely hit peak Brexit. From Uri Geller assuring us that he will telepathically stop Brexit (yes really), to 75 bedraggled ‘Leave means Leave’ marchers in anoraks trudging through fields somewhere in the North East and MPs on all sides changing their minds on Theresa May’s deal and then changing them back again – it’s been pretty wild. By the time you read this, the indicative votes will have happened. In an ever more hectic Brexit news cycle, a chronically short-on-time blogger/activist like myself can’t really offer much on current affairs. I guess you’ll have to get on twitter at your own peril – I will almost certainly delete my account once this madness is over because it’s doing my head in.
Instead, I want to focus on the glimmers of hope and the momentum that is undoubtedly building to stop Brexit. A petition to revoke Article 50 hit over 5 million signatures and the BBC is now reporting that Brexit is no longer ‘the will of the people’ with 55% of the population backing Remain. The 29th March is no longer the day we will be leaving the EU (I will be wishing everyone a happy un-Brexit day this Friday) and softer Brexit options, or even no Brexit at all, are maybe likelier than ever before.
The most hopeful event though, was the ‘Put It To The People’ March, which took place this Saturday in London. Our Manchester ‘Our Future, Our Choice group that started out with a handful of students only 6 weeks ago, attended with two full coaches, braving a 6 am start to make our voices heard. We arrived at lunchtime to the most upliftingly chaotic scenes I have ever witnessed in central London, as marchers from all parts of the country attempted to make it to their various meeting points on time. The coaches from the Highlands had set off at 8 pm on Friday, driving through the night, a whole train had been chartered from Bristol (placard making in coach 7) and people from all over the world had ‘come home to march’ from as far as Los Angeles.
As we weaved our way through the crowds to get to the ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ meeting point it was already obvious the march was going to be huge. Park Lane was completely backed up and we felt like we had stepped into a festival. There was music coming from everywhere, drumming and massive sound systems, with the ‘DJs for a People’s Vote’ mobile sound system featuring huge names like Fatboy Slim and Neneh Cherry.
Soon none of us had any phone signal – it was strange being in the middle of a momentous event which was going to be reported by media from all over the world with no contact to the outside world. Once we started marching, we moved at a glacial pace – testament to the huge crowds attending. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was wonderful – determined but friendly, uplifting and hopeful. There were surprises around every corner – children perched high on buildings waving signs that said ‘Watch Out, we’re nearly old enough to vote’, a burly Tory apologizing for the havoc his party had wreaked at the top of his booming voice, a gigantic float brought over from Cologne carnival featuring Theresa May ruining the British economy.
Waves of cheers ran through the crowd, applauding the speakers in Parliament Square we couldn’t hear, backed up, as we were, on Hyde Park Corner. We noticed how diverse the crowd was, with no age group dominating and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds everywhere in the crowd – it really seemed like the whole of the UK had come out to march and demand a final say on Brexit. We still weren’t moving – we put on ‘Music for Chameleons’ by Gary Numan and danced in the sunshine.
The pace picked up slightly by around 2 pm and we rounded the corner onto Picadilly. We saw the 97-year old D-Day Veteran who was attending the march with his family and Mike Galsworthy, the founder of Scientists for Europe, an influential anti-Brexit organization. We saw lots of anti-Brexit dogs, dressed in tiny European outfits, an astronaut who said he’d move to Mars if Brexit happened and one of us spotted Oscar winner Olivia Coleman. Looking around, this was the Britain I wanted to live in – hilarious, spirited, tolerant and open.
By the time we made it to Parliament Square, the speeches were over but it hardly mattered, because we were there, adding our bodies to the massive crowd of marchers who had come to London to let Theresa May know she didn’t speak for us. In addition, it seemed we were marching against a Britain that was closed-minded, mean-spirited and afraid of the outside world.
Above all, I was overwhelmed by how genuine the strength of feeling was on Saturday. Unlike the Vote Leave campaign, which had targeted people based on sophisticated algorithms backed by dark money, this felt scrappy and real. Real people from all over the country had come out to march, bringing with them their real concerns for the country and a more hopeful vision of what might come if we stand up to fight this. It felt inclusive and like a real grassroots movement that spanned social groups.
To achieve the huge number of marchers who attended the protest on Saturday – the official estimate lies at one million, though some think the number was higher – ordinary people had to get involved. People like Nimo, Toby, Chloe, Maddie, Emilia and myself, all from different backgrounds and subjects across Manchester Universities who would never have met if we hadn’t been united against Brexit and wanted to make a difference.
We weren’t alone in this DIY spirit, sitting outside the Students Union with scrappily made flyers printed in the Learning Commons (badly designed in microsoft powerpoint – my speciality!) and hand-painted placards cobbled together in the Students Union. People like us were doing the same up and down the country, giving their evenings and lunches to spread the word, spread the word, spread the word – and it worked. I am proud of everyone who marched. We were one million.
The fight for our futures isn’t over yet – there’s still time to join us.
If you want to get active for a People’s Vote, join the Our Future, Our Choice campaign and For Our Future’s Sake campaigns. Both are campaigning for a People’s Vote, are aimed at young people and need volunteers! Join OFOC in Manchester here.
Please also follow Manchester for Europe for more updates on People’s Vote Events in Manchester: https://www.facebook.com/MCR4EU/
If you haven’t signed THAT petition yet, do it now!