When did you first attend the SODEM protest outside Parliament and why did you come?
I travelled from Manchester to London on Sunday 25th February 2018, with 2 nights booked in Southwark Travelodge to enable me to spend a day and a half at SODEM. I had been following Steve’s protest since Autumn 2017 and felt it was in the right place at the right time. He was often alone, so many of us fighting brexit, so few of us at SODEM. I had to go and support him.
Roughly how old are you?
How frequently did you come and when was the last time you attended?
I tried to get down every couple of months. Last attended? Early/mid 2019?
How far from Westminster do you live and what was your travelling time?
260km. Half an hour to get to Manchester Piccadilly, 2 hours Manchester to Euston, 20 minutes Euston to Westminster. Taxi/tram/train/tube.
What’s your favourite memory?
First visit: standing and protesting opposite Parliament felt so powerful.
Tell me your story
I had been watching and sharing Steve’s posts for several months. I felt his protest was in the right place, to the right people and that I should go down and show support. He was sometimes alone, sometimes joined by a handful of people, so many remainers, so little support.
I booked the cheapest train fare from Manchester I could find (about £50), 2 nights in a cheap hotel chain in Southwark, as I felt I was getting too old to travel down and back in one day, and bought some merino wool long johns. On Sunday 25th February 2018 I travelled down and found the thé hôtel. I woke the next morning to snowflakes drifting gently past the window. By 10am, when I arrived at Westminster, the snow was steady. There were 5 or 6 of us there that day. The Beast from the East had also arrived, high winds, snowstorms, freezing temperatures. All day.
At midday, Lord Roberts came across the road from the HoP, and asked if we would like to come inside for tea and a warm up in an hour or so. What a kind man, and a kind offer, which we took up with gratitude. He could only take 3 of us in so Steve, myself and a man who was a regular from Swindon, and whose name I should remember, went in as we had been there the longest time. Lord Roberts said he regularly heard Steve clearly shouting ‘Stop Brexit!’ in his office and encouraged him to carry on his protest.
I left about 5 pm, frozen to the marrow, too cold to think about eating so I had a long hot bath, thought about the day and how vulnerable Steve was, got into bed and went to sleep. I returned at 10am on the Tuesday, spoke to Steve about whether he would wear a stab vest (yes) and protested till early afternoon.
Waiting for my train at Euston I composed and posted a Facebook post with photos of my 2 days, asking for donations to SODEM’s paypal account for a stab vest and encouraging others to go to support Steve’s protest. Back in Manchester I found my first ever message from Polly Ernest asking me to change ‘stab vest’ to protective clothing, which I happily did, and a message from Barbara Want the following day telling me they had raised the most money ever (£450) and Steve could buy both a vest and a body camera. She thanked me and invited me into a small SODEM admin support group. And I had the most ‘likes’ ever on my posts, hundreds of them! I was involved in supporting the organisation of a stop brexit March in Leeds at the time and, living 200+ miles away and unable to afford to go down to London regularly I could not see what I could contribute, so ignored the invite.
Someone stopped one day and said he didn’t trust ‘that lot in Brussels’ to make decisions for us. I asked him if he trusted ‘that lot over there’ who were making a hash of everything giving some examples.
I tried to go down approximately every 2 months, returning the same day. It was not an easy journey, setting off at 6am and getting home around 10pm. Taxi to nearest tram stop and home (£6 each way), tram to Manchester Piccadilly free with travel pass, train to Euston (£50 return advance fares), tube to Westminster (£10 till I discovered my travel pass gave me a reduced fare), breakfast, lunch and coffees £15-£20. Later on, when I had joined the SODEM support team, they gave me £100 for two return train fares.
From my involvement with the Stop Brexit march group I had joined over 100 local groups and continued to share Steve and SODEM’s posts widely and encourage Remainers to go down and support the protest.
A few months later Barbara asked me again to join the support group and I did. I had a couple of exhausting manic days on the SODEM stall at marches, I helped with 2 enormously successful SODEM fundrazrs and one set up by Polly as a personal gift to help Steve resume his working and daily life which he had given up to come to London to protest, I packed and posted thousands of SODEM badges and signed photos from my home in Manchester , I was able to contribute to the administrative runnings and security of SODEM from a distance.
The election in 2019, followed by an incurable cancer diagnosis, resulted in my withdrawal from SODEM and Remain, though I hope we will rejoin the EU as quickly as possible.
My admiration for Steve’s long and often solitary protests is undimmed. It was an incredible commitment that raised the Remain profile worldwide, and I was a small part of that. As were many others. Polly and Barbara played a much bigger part, working so hard in the group, new ideas, new banners, fundraising events, ordering and storing merchandise, coaching Steve in how to do political interviews and how to film them, accommodation near Westminster when leavers decided a copy-cat action was needed to counter SODEMs success. The protest was Steve’s, the final decisions were Steve’s, but their hard work kept him and the protest going, and at a national and international level. It has been a privilege to have been a small part of it.
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