Reflections on the march to ‘Put It To The People’.
And so, it came to pass. 23:00, on the 29th of March 2019, Britain did not leave the European Union. Despite the hundreds of times the Prime Minister had insisted that this was going to be the case, despite the force of the momentum behind this as an absolute truth, despite the seeming inevitability of it, it didn’t happen.
It still could. It still might. But the dam that was once impermeable yet had increasingly begun to age, began to crack. The passing of this date without the inevitable departure was a major fissure.
“The dam that was once impermeable yet had increasingly begun to age, began to crack. The passing of this date without the inevitable departure was a major fissure.”
Last weekend, I did what I’ve only done twice previously in my life. I put my feet to the ground, my body on the streets, and I joined around a million of my fellow European citizens, to march through London. For what? To stop Brexit. To revoke Article 50. For a People’s Vote and a Final Say. But mostly, to join my brothers and sisters, and hope for a better future in the country that I currently call home.
At ten, with my parents, I marched through Hyde Park against Trident and nuclear weapons. We did not stop Britain from possessing these weapons of mass destruction, but we made our opposition to them known. That march triggered something in the young me, showing me that sometimes you have to take to the streets for what you believe to be right or against what you believe to be wrong.
In 2003, I returned to Hyde Park and marched against the then-pending war against Iraq. We did not stop the United States and Britain from their neo-imperial assault on that oil-rich country, but with the numbers we brought out onto the streets of London, we made it harder for politicians to go to war with such ease. Six months after the march, I relocated to the other side of the world, to begin a new life in Japan — far, far away from the horrors I felt that had been done in my country’s name — and moved towards a much more internationalist sense of personal identity.
This time. This time we may stop Brexit or we may not, but it is clear that at this point, we still can. The groundswell of people from across the country, across the continent, across the age ranges, across the political divides, across all backgrounds, that had come together on this one day made it very clear that Britain was not just the insular, isolationist, rapacious, back-biting country that Brexit was threatening to paint it as. They... we came together to show that Britain is also highly tolerant, diverse, good-natured, open-minded, fundamentally European... and also very angry at the prospect of being denied to identify in the other way.
“We came together to show that Britain is also highly tolerant, diverse, good-natured, open-minded, fundamentally European... and also very angry at the prospect of being denied to identify in the other way.”
Having grown up in Thatcher’s Britain, I saw inner city riots, the Miners’ Strike, privatisation, and the Poll Tax, becoming highly critical of the British state in the process. Having learned about the British Empire whilst at university, I came to a dawning and horrified understanding of how this country has behaved on the global stage during its history.
Having left Britain at the peak of Blair’s wars, I came to accept turning my back on the place I was born. With all these perspectives, a sense of patriotism, a notion of feelings of warmth towards the abstraction of country always sat uncomfortably with me. I returned to Britain from Japan about six months before the 2008 financial crash, with the accompanying austerian fallout, and this didn’t help either.
On the People’s Vote march last weekend, however, I experienced a wholly different set of feelings. Surrounded by a million other people, people that were united in what was driving them, people that were patient and good-natured, welcoming to the strangers that they were sharing the crowded streets with, people that used humour and swearing to express how this moment made them feel, I embraced my own Britishness. Being British European felt so much more embraceable than being ‘just’ British.
“Being British European felt so much more embraceable than being ‘just’ British.”
I looked around at the seas of people, at the folks hanging off scaffold or perched atop vantage points, waving flags in celebratory mood, and it reminded me of such great modern European moments as the fall of the Berlin Wall. I felt solidarity with the others around me, the younger, the older, the Scottish, the French. I smiled at the humour and creativity on display on the placards and banners that my fellow marchers were brandishing. As we shuffled slowly along Pall Mall and Piccadilly, past such iconic venues as The Ritz and Trafalgar Square, we owned the streets for that moment.
“I felt solidarity with the others around me, the younger, the older, the Scottish, the French. I smiled at the humour and creativity on display on the placards and banners that my fellow marchers were brandishing.”
By the time my companions and I had actually reached the end point of the march, in the open expanse of Parliament Square, the political speeches that has showered motivational rhetoric over the assembled masses had been over for an hour.
We paced around at the end of the line, browsing the signs piled up outside the House of Commons, posing for pictures near Downing Street, climbing up lampposts for better vantage points, and victory lapping around the space, drunk on the historic nature of the event. Towering statues of Churchill, Mandela, Pankhurst and Gandhi fringed the square.
It had been a very British march. Time now to finish the job.🔷
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(This piece was originally published on the PMP Blog! | The author writes in a personal capacity.)