On a blustery October Saturday twelve days before the United Kingdom was set to leave the European Union, over a million people gathered in London for the People’s Vote March. It was one of the largest demonstrations in the city’s history, organized by a campaign of the same name. People bussed in from around the country, trains into King’s Cross station were packed, and the Tube, London’s normally orderly and calm underground transit system, overflowed with Brits eager to show their opposition to Brexit.
I boarded a morning train from Cambridge and transferred to the Victoria Line at Liverpool Street, sandwiched between two elderly women with neon-dyed hair. Marchers met at noon in the city center, between Hyde Park and Marble Arch, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan led the masses to Parliament, where a host of activists and politicians gave speeches. The streets were filled with EU flags and posters; people wore shirts reading “Bollocks to Brexit!”
Fellow marchers were friendly and polite; the vast majority were middle-aged, with many slightly older. Twenty-somethings and college students were hard to find, but there were plenty of families with young children. Most of the marchers seemed to be upper-middle class; I overheard conversations on new art exhibits, visits to the theater, autumn weekend trips. Ethnically, the group was homogeneous. A woman who declared herself “an anti-racist” was met with loud cheers by an almost entirely white crowd.
Still, I was inspired by my fellow marchers’ excitement and zeal; spirits didn’t dampen even when a cold rain began to fall. A couple of hours in, it was learned that in an emergency session of Parliament, a deal Boris Johnson proposed for leaving the European Union had been voted down. The crowd went wild.
Marchers were nominally demanding their right to have a say on Brexit, but the protest became an amalgam of political grievance: against Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and anti-immigrant policies; for more democratic participation in government (as one banner declared, “It’s not democracy if we’re not allowed to change our minds”). There were lively drum lines, people singing, even a “Rave Against Brexit,” where a DJ spun techno for a spirited, dancing group. Posters ranged from somewhat terrifying—full-body cut-outs of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson—to humorous: “This is like when Geri Halliwell overestimated her career as a solo artist and left the Spice Girls.” A man apparently unversed in history emphatically waved a black-and-white sign reading “Europe Means Peace.” Meanwhile, a woman not more than a few years older than me laughed and asked the man next to her, “Has anyone actually figured out what Brexit is?”