Monday 25 March 2019

The march of a million feet

The word march was a misnomer. It was more of a gentle stroll on a mild spring day. A great tide of humanity rolling through the famous streets of London - Park Lane, Piccadilly, Whitehall; everyone chanting and waving placards. This was the People's March, a historic protest against Brexit, with hundreds of thousands voicing their call for a second public vote.

Thousands of anti-Brexit protesters on the People's March in London
A constant stream of protesters
I woke up on Saturday morning undecided as to whether I should go. (We're currently planning a house renovation with an endless 'to do' list.) But then I watched a clip of Anna Soubry on Channel 4 News talking about the death threats she's received for speaking her mind on Brexit - vile letters posted to her home address. Soubry's closing words were: "Get on that march and show them we've had enough."

Within an hour, I had got dressed, thrown the kids' school-uniforms into the wash and legged it out the door for the 10:23 train to Paddington. The station was full of protesters - a motley crew of young families and retired people, many clutching their homemade placards. 

In my more apathetic moments, I had wondered what good a march could do. Would anyone in the corridors of power pay attention? Could anything really be achieved? As more and more people boarded the train on its meandering route towards central London, I felt a bubble of excitement. I'd never seen so many people come together to support a single cause. 

A family and their dog protest against Brexit on the People's March
British bulldogs for Europe!
On the tube to Hyde Park - where I was meeting friends - the driver announced over the intercom, "Good luck with the march, everyone," before adding: "that's my personal opinion, not London Underground, but good luck anyway!"

On the corner of Hyde Park, my phone lost signal - there were too many people concentrated in one area, a hive of protesters greeting each other politely, friends of friends united in a protest against the shambles of Brexit. Yellow stickers - Bollocks to Brexit - were being given out in earnest. Even a bulldog at my feet wore one fixed to his sandy coat. 

The beat of bongo drums, shrill whistles and horns punctuated the afternoon as people revved up to get started. Comedian Jennifer Saunders was in the crowd; so were an assortment of kids, older couples and friends ("just got back from the gym, that's why I'm late"), all of us putting our lives on hold to express our dismay/anger/confusion at where our country was headed.

It took a while to get marching. Fortunately, the friends I was meeting had brought ample supplies of food. As we threaded our way through the crowds to get onto the main route down Park Lane, we grazed on sandwiches, hot cross buns, Percy Pig sweets, chocolate eggs and crisps. The ever changing scenery of placards, singers (some perched in scaffolding by the side of the road) and blue-and-yellow-starred berets kept us amused. My favourite placard was inspired by Jane Austen:

Jane Austen themed placard at the People's March, London March 2019
Jane Austen gets in on the act

Later, a picture of Eliza Bennett (Jennifer Ehle) popped up on another sign with a quote from Lady Catherine de Bourgh: "I am most seriously displeased." What would Miss Austen have made of her words adorning an anti-Brexit march? A friend next to me said confidently: "Jane would have been a remainer."

Marching along in a sea of people was strangely soporific. Beside me at one point, a little girl walked along with her nose in a book. Every so often cheers would ripple through the crowd like a Mexican wave as helicopters whirred above our heads, filming the tailback. Despite the steady pace, we started to feel an ache in our calves - marcher's leg! Occasionally, I danced to bursts of music to loosen up my muscles on their monotonous journey.

British and European flags fly at the People's March
Flags, balloons and berets brightened up the march

By the time we reached Trafalgar Square, almost four hours later, I felt it was time to call it a day. Whitehall was clogged and I suspected there would be a logjam before we reached Parliament Square, our ultimate destination. It was tempting to tromp on for a glimpse of Chuka Umunna, but in the end I bid my friends goodbye and weaved through the crowds to Charing Cross.

Changing train on the way home, I spotted some of the protesters who had travelled into London with me. One woman was hobbling up the stairs at the station - marcher's limp? - but spirits were high. I was proud to bear my yellow sticker on the lapel of my jacket. Later the TV news told us a million protesters took to the streets - it was the second largest march of the century, after the anti-Iraq-war protest in 2003. It felt like a moment in history. 

Whether we will achieve a second vote on Brexit is debatable, but by marching en masse we demonstrated how unhappy and frustrated we have become with the current debacle. It was a chance to exert more pressure on the decision-makers at a time when anything could be possible... if we dare to hope.

I genuinely believe that another public vote is the only way to break the deadlock - for better or worse. The referendum of 2016 was a snapshot in time, before many of us had spent enough hours reflecting on the ramifications of Brexit. This time around, we would know what we're voting for. So cross that red line, Mrs May, and give the country a second chance! That's what democracy is all about.

#PeoplesVoteMarch #BollocksToBrexit
Sign the petition to revoke Article 50

My favourite placards

  • Revoke A50, we already have the best deal!
  • If May can have 2 votes, why can't we?
  • When I grow up, I want to be a EU citizen (held by a child)
  • Brexshit

Crowds gathering in Hyde Park ready to join the People's March
My friend and I ready to march!

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