Today I marched through London to fight for a second referendum or the revocation of Article 50, along with a million other people. A million. It was one of the largest protest marches in British history, second only to the Iraq war protest in 2003. The route started around Marble Arch, then headed down Park Lane, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, until we reached Parliament Square, outside Westminster, where we all congregated for a rally.
This was a very British protest. Yes, there were drums, chants and cheers, but also lots of puns, dry humour and Blackadder references. It was heartwarming to see how many people came from hundreds of miles away, all over the country, to have their say and make their feelings heard. Many people had brought their small children, even their babies, who were holding signs and smiling along with the rest of us (the small children, not the babies. They mainly napped and looked adorable).
My opinion on Brexit is no secret. I am staunchly against the UK leaving the European Union, especially without a deal. However, despite me, many of the people around me and lots of people I follow or regularly see popping up online all wanting the UK to remain, it is unfortunately true that we did, on balance, vote to leave. Just. 52% plays 48%.
It’s probably naïve of me, but I really do believe that if we voted again, we would vote to stay. It’s hard to see the million people marching through London and the almost five million of us who have signed the ‘cancel Brexit’ petition and not feel the huge energy behind the Remain movement. All we know now, that we didn’t know before, has changed everything. We really had no idea what we were voting for in practice in 2016; all we knew was that we didn’t want to be part of anything walling itself off from the rest of the world. It took three years of negotiations and research to understand fully what a bad idea Brexit is, and we don’t want it. We don’t want it! The million people marching, the millions signing the petition, everyone who is taking to the Internet or the street to protest is saying that, at the very least, the options that involve avoiding Brexit are worth considering.
There is always strength in numbers and it felt powerful to stand with a million other people and speak with one voice. There were people from all over the country, many from the parts of the UK that are often unfairly considered ‘Brexit country,’ to show that isn’t just people living in cities who value free trade, cultural exchange and welcoming people of different nationalities and backgrounds into our country with open arms. There are British people everywhere – not just in the UK but living, working and thriving in the rest of Europe as well – who are speaking out in protest. It’s hard to know whether the scales would tip with another vote, especially when not all eligible voters voted in the referendum last time. But it’s hard to ignore that there are millions of people who don’t want Brexit and who the Prime Minister doesn’t speak for, despite her many assertions to the contrary.
I have no idea if the government will do anything, or even acknowledge the protests. I know a debate is tabled in the House of Lords on Monday about the petition, so maybe something will happen there. I doubt it, but it’s possible. The point of the march and the petition and the numerous tweets and blogs is not because we necessarily think anything will come from it. The point is to try, to be present and to speak up for what we think is right. We have to make clear that every time the PM pretends that she is doing what the people want that there are so, so many Brits who don’t want this. You felt that at the march, as everyone chanted ‘bollocks to Brexit!’, waved their EU flags and smiled at the million like-minded souls marching with them. No matter what happens, we aren’t going down without making our voices heard.
So much of what drove me to participate was thinking about the future, and the future generations who will learn about Brexit in their textbooks. They may well use the ‘Put it to the People’ march as an example in an essay. If they turn to me, to ask what I was doing, I want to say, “yes, I was there. I did everything that I could.”
On some level, that’s why we all marched. To know that we were doing all we could to improve the future of our children and ourselves. To know that, if does all go to hell, we stood up, spoke out and protested.
I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know if any of it will make a difference. But I do know that it brought many of us together, and showed us that there’s still a bigger community to be a part of. The march was full of hope, togetherness, creativity and laughter. We just have to hope that’s enough.