Activism reactivated

On Saturday 20th October, I was on the streets of London at a peaceful demonstration to call for a second referendum on Brexit. It’s being called ‘a people’s vote’, a chance for us to vote on the issue of leaving the EU with full awareness of what that would mean for people in the future.

Image of postcard: We Can Do It!

Along with almost 700,000 who attended, I believe that the first referendum was a masterclass in shoddy political campaigning. We were bombarded by lies about what participation in the EU meant for the UK. Every political party was throwing messages at the general public until many of us tuned out.

One of those that came to the surface (no doubt via dubious connections of those involved to the mainstream press) was that leaving the EU would provide extra funding for our NHS. This is a sensitive issue for many because we know how important the health service is and how desperately it needs funding to continue. But of course we weren’t being told the full story, just a slogan which was immediately written off as a mistake. A full overview of the misinformation is here.

So 51.9% voted to leave the EU, whilst 48.1% voted to stay, results that pretty much indicate if there was a WTF is going on box on the ballot paper, many would have ticked it. After the results were announced, I took my team at work off to a bar to drink Belgian beer on a sunny afternoon. It seemed the best response somehow.

Regardless of how they originally voted, people are now aware that announcing we are leaving the EU has been an embarrassing stance for British politicians. We’ve been reminded that a lot of the EU agreements actually improve our quality of life such as the EU Working Time Directive which gave us paid holiday from work and stops businesses asking employees to work too many hours. And perhaps we’ve remembered that being part of a collective with our nearest neighbours is a good thing.

That’s why I am convinced that a second referendum with the full facts on display would give a different result. Fingers crossed! Email your MP about Brexit here.

It was a family affair as my parents had travelled down from Stoke to attend the march. Yes, that’s right, they left the Brexit capital to add their voices to the demo in the real capital. My dad had procured some Bollocks to Brexit stickers which quickly became popular. Luckily he had 100 in his pocket (couldn’t just buy one apparently) and was merrily handing them out.

Image: Dad wearing his Bollocks to Brexit stickers

Good old dad: the sticker dealer of the Brexit demo.

Having also attended a Women’s March earlier this year (in the rain, which shows I’m hardcore), this is a return to activism for me. I’ve always had strong opinions but for a long time I just couldn’t motivate myself to get out on demos. Perhaps I needed a break from it.

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You see, I had politically active parents. They were early advocates of Friends of the Earth, Labour party members and involved in local community projects. This might sound very ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ today, but I was growing up in working class Stoke-on-Trent in the 80’s. We very much weren’t the elite. Airing political views in public was weird and embarrassing. I just wanted to fit in at school and maybe have my birthday party in McDonald’s like the popular kids.

So it was that I reluctantly took part in demonstrations from a young age. There was a protest against the widening of the M6 motorway. We painted signs and stood outside in the cold holding our creations. Another time my sister wore a skeleton outfit and stood on top of a car in our local town centre. I think the protest was about pollution, but I don’t really know. That was the funny part – we didn’t understand the causes we were fighting for but we did enjoy painting signs, being noisy and the general camaraderie.

Sometimes the causes were easier for us to relate to. I attended one of the lowest funded comprehensive schools in the UK at the time. We had one or two textbooks for classes of 30+. So when we protested about cuts to the education budget, it meant something. Maybe if we shouted loud enough we could be heard.

This year I’ve been impressed by so many activists. There is Sarah Corbett who founded the Craftivist Collective, Amika George who created the Free Periods movement to end period poverty and Gina Martin who campaigned for upskirting to be made illegal. It’s no longer just about placards and marches, but using social media to spread considered messages and highlight inequality.

It’s not easy or always fun being an activist. It takes time, emotional intelligence, knowledge, creative thinking, compassion and persistence.

Sarah Corbett

All of this effort has resulted in positive change and maybe we’ll even turn the tide on the Brexit chaos. I’m glad my activism is back!

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