When did you first attend the SODEM protest outside Parliament and why did you come?
I first went to SODEM in early December 2018. I had read enough to know that Brexit was a disaster but I became increasingly worried about the state of things and the similarities to 1930s Germany. This was bigger than Brexit. My impression of how bad things seemed to be didn’t correlate with the general impression from family and friends that things can’t be “that bad” in the UK and that we wouldn’t let things get “that bad”. But why was our Parliament throwing away our rights, risking our economy and putting peace in Northern Ireland at risk without a plan? Why weren’t my friends and family talking about this? I needed somewhere to go with my anger and despair.
I had seen the protests on social media and, shamefully, dismissed them as pursuing a hopeless cause. I’m naturally quite shy and much like most Londoners, I’m a busy person so would much rather have been doing anything other than standing outside Parliament in the freezing cold. I’m not sure when I finally stopped dismissing my own thoughts and worries or what gave me the final push to visit the protest. I went with a mixture of curiosity, a thirst to learn more about Brexit and politics, a need to hear a valid explanation about the benefits of Brexit I had somehow missed (and I’m still yet to hear), a desire to check my own reactions and understanding of events alongside a desperate need to do something, anything instead of sitting at home getting increasingly angry and worried and feeling hopeless.
Roughly how old are you?
I’m 40 years old.
How frequently did you come and when was the last time you attended?
This varied hugely depending on what was happening. I work full time so could only join after work or on an occasional day off. If there were important votes or discussions in Parliament that meant a lot of media coverage in the evening, I’d be there every evening, sometimes until 11:30pm. When I wasn’t present on the Green I was helping promote the cause on social media, running the SODEM instagram account. I knew my future self would need to know I had done all I could to stop this.
The last time was a couple of weeks ago to protest against the appalling police bill.
How far from Westminster do you live and what was your travelling time?
My travel time varied. Most of the time I would be about 45 minutes from work. At times I lived in central London with only 30 minutes to get home afterwards and at other times I travelled 60 minutes to get home. Living relatively close and without any dependents I felt I had a duty to be present, but it felt like a full time commitment and consumed a lot of hours. I am proud to have done that.
What’s your favourite memory?
It’s tricky to select one favourite memory. Going to SODEM was such a relief and, mostly, a lot of fun in the midst of a dire, abysmal situation. Knowing we had direct influence on MPs, the media and people watching on TV at home across the country was so important to me when I otherwise felt I was politically homeless and had no voice. Some of my favourite memories include singing with the folk who travelled from Yorkshire, or running up and down Abingdon Street like a lunatic waving heavy flags, or watching Steve’s toy ferry get in shot to call out the latest government corruption. However the most memorable was probably the time someone in the crowd came up to me on the last March. She noticed I had lights on my flags and asked me if I was part of the evening team with lit up flags behind the news presenters. As I nodded she thanked me and told me that we gave her and her friends hope. I’ll never forget that.
Tell me your story
At SODEM I was met by warmth, friendly faces and like-minded people who too saw the alarm bells ringing not just about Brexit but the powerful, corrupt, extremist movement behind it and what it might lead to. I also found people who, unlike me, believed strongly in an alternative to the inevitability of Brexit that was portrayed in the media and by our MPs. I found people from all walks of life and from all over the country who were inspirational in their belief, determination and energy to do something about it. These people gave me relief that I wasn’t going insane in my worries and dread about what was to come with Brexit and the government and they gave me hope that things could be better. Most importantly it was clear that something could be done about it and that I could actively take part and make a difference. Consequently my life has changed for good, and for the better by becoming a political activist.
As I quickly realised I could make a difference I got involved as much as I could. For some reason the team trusted me to look after the instagram account so I had fun taking and sharing photos and videos and learning how to use social media to promote the pro-European cause. I also started to link up with a small group of people who could join the protest in the evening. This became a more regular event as the media coverage on the green increased at night time. We had a lot of fun during those evenings and it was much safer and quieter than the daytime protests with significantly less agitation from the unpleasant side of the leave campaign. I even at times enjoyed the ludicrous conversations that I had with the tamer extreme far right protestors by the Green which were as entertaining as they were confusing (when they were not alarming or threatening). When the nasties were around we always had a helpful handover from the core team who’d been there in the daytime and they often did extra long exhausting shifts into the night to watch out for us. On the big occasions they would stay with us on the green to support the action.
Our evening shift evolved as we became increasingly tactical at how we could make the EU flags and pro european messages seen and heard in the media. Inspired by Steve and the team’s success, the competitive evening team also got creative by night. I’m not ashamed to admit we looked forward to the shorter days and darker evenings so our lights could shine. We got better at being visible with more, better, brighter lights, taller flag poles and flashing signs. We even had a media team at home to give us feedback about where to stand and what slogans could be heard. We got in a lot of practice and learnt to hone our skills and got a lot of satisfaction from how much more visible and audible we were than the leavers. It may sound silly now but we really felt we were achieving something and if nothing else we had a lot of fun doing it. In the quiet moments I had many a reality check with the ridiculousness of it all, wondering what on earth I was doing outside parliament late at night, freezing cold, covered in fairy flights and sequins and waving flags. But it was all absolutely worth it. My proudest moment is being clearly heard on newsnight shouting “Boris Johnson is a liar”. It wasn’t easy to be heard clearly as the media teams got better at cutting out background noise so I was very chuffed with that effort.
I have met some of the best people I know at SODEM. The team around Steve are all amazing individuals that I look up to and I’m so proud to call them my friends and to have been a small part of an important movement. Despite the situation and the nights when votes didn’t go our way, I always felt better being there. Doing something, having a voice, being heard, showing people there is a pro european, inclusive and diverse side to the UK. It was a relief to share those moments with like minded people and with friends.
At times it feels like we failed because we didn’t stop Brexit but SODEM achieved so much in a hopeless situation. A broken political system, a powerful and wealthy elite, complicit media and hopeless and divided opposition made our task impossible. But SODEM helped create a huge movement and inspired a large network of people that became active and determined and we’re not going away. Brexit was the tip of the iceberg and there is still so much to stand up against with this corrupt Tory government. SODEM was a successful, ongoing peaceful protest and it taught many of us how to be active and how to make a difference. That’s huge, especially in dark times like today where a far right coup is increasingly stripping the UK population of our rights. We saw this coming. SODEM helped raise awareness and the network created continues to do so.
Our network and friendships are ongoing and we continue to actively promote reform, positive change, inclusivity and democratic choices. There is a strong, growing positive movement of political activism in this country. People are uniting despite the divisive efforts of the conservative party. It’s been a rude awakening for me that freedom, rights and democracy have to be fought for. There is so much to stand up for whatever the cause. In a climate and ecological emergency, ongoing structural racism, dog whistles against immigration and and a worrying strong grip of far right politics, now more than ever is a time for people to act. We have a human right to protest and SODEM has taught me how to use it.
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