On Saturday I travelled up to London to participate in the first protest I’ve physically turned up to since the 90s. A reflection of how important I think the EU issue is. I was not the only person to ‘come out of retirement’ for this protest. A lot of my fellow, jaded Generation X compatriots also seem to have found their outrage and to have made the trip as well. A reflection – I think – of how important the Brexit deceit and stupidity has been and the threat it presents to so many people – not just in Britain.
It was a weird experience. By nature I’m just not a joiner and I intensely distrust emotion and groupthink. I am wary of the loss of individuality in a crowd – and I get claustrophobic in large groups. To be part of a crowd of 50,000 or more people marching on Parliament was, then, weird.
Being aware of it helped. Steadfastly refusing to go along with the chants, considering myself an observer as much as a participant all helped me keep a little bit aloof, which I think was a good thing.
Overall the protest was amazing. It was chilled out, hugely diverse in who was attending (in the proper meaning of diversity). There were old, young, wealthy hoorays in cravats and disillusioned punks. There were a lot of people who had travelled up, a lot of kids, a lot of international couples. There was a contingent of beautiful South Asian women in their finest saris. There were hipsters, kinksters, old hippies, young hippies, middle-aged mums, scientists, teachers and all points in between.
There were bad moments though. The classism I’ve talked about reared its ugly head in several discussions that people were having around me on the march. It’s disappointing to see people succumb to the same biases and prejudices they complain about in others but just as the accusations of racism and xenophobia towards Leave have a kernel of truth to them, so do the accusations of classism and arrogance levelled at Remain. Of course, there’s also classism in the Leave camp of the ‘Oh dear, poor Tarquin, mummy might not be able to leave you that cottage in France’ variety.
While many in the Leave camp seem to be doing their damnedest to convince me that they are – as a whole – racist, xenophobic, paranoid conspiracy theorists or worse I’m desperately trying not to succumb to the temptation to write them all off, just as I hope people in the Leave camp will resist the temptation to write off Remainers in such a way.
I am discovering – the disadvantage of a politics and history education and a lifelong interest in this stuff – that many of the more nuanced Leave arguments are rooted in ignorance. Ignorance of the EU political process, ignorance of the UK political process, overblown paranoia about esoterica like an EU army, Turkey joining, full federal state joining and so on. That’s even, perhaps, a bit more shocking to me than the more blatant lies about immigration and the NHS.
Still, on the march were also plenty of poorer people who understood that EU investment was the only thing standing between them and even nastier Tory-led austerity. While the fractures are as I’ve outlined in previous posts, they all blur at the edges. In conversation we also found another factor in that divide. Digital literacy and access against a lack thereof. Many of us who are or have been ‘switched on’, who conduct business and friendships on the internet beyond Facebook and people we used to know at school do not see national borders or policies – or even culture – in the same way less switched on people do. To us these borders are a meaningless annoyance. An obstacle. People meet, do business, fall in love across these national boundaries that mean so much to nationalists, but nothing – save frustration – to digital settlers and natives.
At any rate, it was good to meet like-minded people and not to feel alone and it reiterated to me my assertion that single-cause protests are so much better. There were people on this march I would not have agreed with about almost anything else. There were toffs from The City concerned about the future of banking and the markets, who I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire otherwise. There were stereotypical ‘Trigglypuff’ types – problem glasses and all – who are my natural enemy on many social and cultural matters, but we were all united on this one issue. The opposite of the mistake that destroyed Occupy.
Overall I’m glad I went. I still contend that protests, petitions and so on are largely pointless. We live in a world that makes the occasional pretence of democracy but really isn’t. Despite the closeness of the vote, despite the damage to our nation, to Europe and the world, despite the lies of the campaign rendering it undemocratic, despite all of this we’re unlikely to see a re-vote and there are no leaders in Parliament to do the right thing and vote it down. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that pressure will preserve at least some of the good aspects of EU membership – such as free movement.
It’s still worth protesting, writing and signing petitions on the hope of that. Perhaps a popular enough movement will encourage more of these spineless career politicians to take a gamble.
For my part, I think we desperately need to teach critical thinking and civics in schools, and we need legislation to prevent such blatant lying in political campaigns. Things that Advertising Standards would never allow for products.