Posted on 13/03/2021Comments Off on ERIKA JOHN

When did you first attend SODEM protest outside Parliament and why did you come?

I don’t live far from Westminster and often went through it on the bus and in the Autumn of 2017 I started noticing a man standing there with a hat and an EU flag.

In November 2017 I decided to go to the viewing gallery in the House of Commons to check out if what I thought was going on, on Parliament TV, ie that a hard Brexit was going to be what we got, because there were many more forceful voices in Parliament for Brexit and rational debate in chamber for moderation and compromise was proving futile.  

My own Labour MP, who was one of the leaders of Brexit, wanted the hardest Brexit possible and hated the EU with a disproportionate venom.  I felt I had no voice politically and was totally unrepresented.  Getting into political activism and protesting regularly outside Parliament is the only thing I can thank my ex-MP, Baroness Hoey for.

On my way back after watching the debate in the House of Commons I stopped to say hello and discovered the man outside Parliament was called Steve Bray. 

Back in the early days of SODEM I used to often wear a Union flag on my back as captured in The Times by a Getty Images photographer.  The leaders of Brexit and their media cheerleaders had already spun the line about people who voted Remain being ‘traitors’ and that somehow people we were unpatriotic for questioning the political path. 

(Photo by Getty Images is of Steve, myself and Danny)

Roughly how old are you? 

A child of the 70s

How far from Westminster do you live and what was your travelling time? 

About 30 minutes by bus; I was constantly in awe of those who travelled so far to be at SODEM.

How frequently did you come?

In the early days Steve was there by himself, or there were just a handful of us, and I and others who lived around London felt Steve must not always be the only person there when what was happening was so important a change.  I kept on coming back as I lived relatively close. I felt needed to make more of an effort for so many from around the UK who could not come and wanted to be there.  I came on and off when work allowed for 2 and a bit years.  From then on I came as often as I could between work until the onset of the pandemic.

At the beginning we didn’t have signs only flags, none of us were professional activists, but quickly realised that slogans on signs were the way forward and were a way of making our voices heard in the press.  We also had a sign which said ‘Toot to stop Brexit’ so that the House of Lords could hear we were outside and had support.

One of my first signs, in March 2018, concerned the Cambridge Analytica scandal. That morning I had been watching The DCMS (Department of Culture, Media Sport and Digital) Select Committee hearing.  Chris Wylie and Paul-Olivier Dehaye (photo from Paul-Olivier Dehaye Twitter) had been giving evidence.  

I work in Communications and could see exactly what went on in terms of micro targeting and boosting of posts on social media networks, and why so many people had encountered so many false narratives about the EU.  An informed electorate is the foundation of a democracy and from talking in depth to friends who had voted for Brexit it was very obvious that much work had been done to misinform people.

What is your favourite memory? 

Hard one! There were many special moments: Polly presenting Andy Wigmore and Arron Banks with their own porkie pies (lies), which they ate, has got to be up there, along with Steve and his megaphone getting into May’s leaving speech, or us all chanting ‘Stop Brexit’ which could be heard by the MPs during their debate inside the Westminster Hall, as captured on Parliament TV. 

I also fondly remember meeting everyone who came to SODEM to try and secure a People’s Vote.  It was great to meet so many informed people from all walks of life from around the UK and Europe; train drivers, paramedics, shopworkers, doctors, tube drivers everyone of every age from students to retired people.

We and the other campaign groups ever so nearly got a People’s Vote on the deal too, which as we see now would have been a much more sensible way to proceed. Knowing what the new arrangement would be before leaping into it this Christmas Eve in the middle of a pandemic.

Tell me your story

I had not followed politics until the Referendum Vote, my bad, but alarm bells immediately started to go off as I felt a very hard Brexit was being forced on us which would have a very deep and wide ranging impact.  One which would not only present difficulties for business particularly small and medium sized but for British people in UK and in EU, EU citizens here in the UK and for the whole of the island of Ireland.

I had worked for a FTSE 100 ‘great British’ brand that sold round the world, and knew a lot of what had been said by leaders of Brexit about UK not being able to trade successfully with countries whilst in the EU was misleading.  I knew the leaders of Brexit were being less than honest because I had been involved with shipping product and point-of-sale materials throughout the world, both EU and non EU. I knew significant, costly extra bureaucracy would ensue when we were outside single market/customs union, rather than the bonfire of red tape promised by the leaders of Brexit.

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