Impressions of our first organised rally at Place Jean Rey, Brussels 11th December 2017:
Having a bit of time on my hands one day, well every day if I’m honest, I popped into a dm chat group on twitter where they were discussing the protest in London on the 11th December 2017 to coincide with the amendment of the brexit bill being read, which if enacted, would mean parliament would get a final vote on the deal.
Living on the continent, I had failed to make any protests thus far and, as such, was feeling a little impotent amongst this group of dedicated campaigners, however much they told me that campaigning on twitter, retweeting tweets and photos of the marches and generally being encouraging was enough, it never actually felt that way to me.
Before I knew it the words had fallen out of my brain, down my arms and for once straight into the keypad with no mistakes, so I hit send then gasped at my stupidity!
‘Why don’t we organise a sister protest in Brussels as a symbol of solidarity, then people on the continent can show their support too?’
There was a moment, probably a millisecond, where there was no reaction, a momentary reprieve before I saw the dots of someone typing a reply and this wasn’t just anyone, this was Nicky @nickynoo007, arch organiser, herder of butterflies and all round gatherer of people.
‘Yes, lets do it!’ Came the reply..
..As my head rested in my hands with despair, I knew there was no putting that particular genie back in the bottle.
Suddenly I was a member of another DM group, a team was being built around me, Justin @justinbellinger someone I knew as well as you can know anyone you’ve met on Twitter, was there to sort out the PR and the press, to be honest I only really knew him as my partner in crime on a usually smutty light relief twitter thread, I had no knowledge of him outside of that, let alone he could do PR!
Then Michael, or @MintyTeaboy, appeared for design and general pizzazz, now Minty I had met and loved, we live relatively close to each other and had met up for coffee in Saumur, I couldn’t think of anyone better to sprinkle some fairy dust over the proceedings!
But we needed more, I was informed, we needed someone based in Belgium to give us their details as the protest organiser so that we could get the required permit.
‘Let’s put a call out on twitter to see if someone would be willing’ came the suggestion, ‘ok’ I typed whilst thinking, who is going to be daft enough to give me all their personal details so that I can request a permit for a protest? Oh hello Alastair, aren’t you a very nice man! @al_bealby appeared from nowhere, gave me everything I wanted and agreed to negotiate with the local police on our behalf, which actually turned out to be a very involved piece of work as the Palestinians were protesting that day right where we wanted to be, so a change of location was successfully negotiated. As an aside some of the Palestinian protesters actually visited us for a chat and to show support, who knew protesters were such a community?
Then, whilst discussing sound systems, speakers etc. our very own Harry Potter arrived in the form of Charly @ProperCharly, suddenly we had a speaker in Steve Bullock @GuitarMoog, who would supply music and a sound system, a musician and most amazingly of all, a man who would be making and selling Cornish pasties, although it turned out Jason was from Devon, and sausage rolls! Well, as they say in my Home county of Suffolk, ‘I’ll go to the foot of my stairs’ (never did understand why you had to do that when you were surprised but hey!) Pasties and sausages rolls, my two absolutely favourite food sources and, not only that but, I couldn’t get either in France, which has a lot of catching up to do on putting meat successfully and tastefully into pastry.
Well blow me if we didn’t have a team and a protest..
John, a co-organiser of the event, kicked off the speeches on a cold snowy day prior to the arrival of a Mic or electricity with a retro stylie stand and project speech. Welcoming people and passionately pointing out that many people labelled as traitors by the leave campaign and their supporters, are in fact proud patriots who have served the UK throughout their working lives and possibly still are, often prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the protections of its people
The former leader of the Green party and current parliamentary Green Party candidate for Sheffield Central, spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to lose the negativity of the campaign to halt Brexit and to concentrate on the many benefits of continued EU membership. Natalie also drew much needed attention to the fact that the economic fallout of a UK withdrawal from the EU is likely to have the most detrimental effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Natalie also reinforced that Freedom of Movement is a wonderful thing for all, not just those already living their lives under its benefits
Steve, a former UK negotiator at the EU representative office now a sound and recording wizard, was instrumental (pun intended) in the whole day providing the sound system and the music, his Brussels Protest playlist was a joy to listen to and helped brighten a dark and very cold day.
Not only that but Steve gave an informative and considered speech on the current state of the UK/EU negotiations before going on to call out everything that most of us agreed was wrong about Brexit.
Jonathon @jonworthJon, a lecturer at the college of Europe, a European affairs commentator, consultant and blogger, somehow made it from Berlin to join us! Jon also spoke passionately about the benefits of freedom of movement for all not just those UK citizens living on the continent or, in fact, those EU citizens living in the UK. He also gave an informative and helpful input on being cautious of third country rules on citizenship should the UK exit, the talk was Germany centric but should act as a warning for anyone just ‘waiting to see’ what the outcome of Brexit will be
..The morning came and I looked outside to see it was proper snowing, my immediate thought was that it was not a great thing, but then my optimistic character took over and I thought, at least it’s better than rain, as my mind turned to thoughts of a romantic, Christmassy, snowy protest. It wasn’t until I got out onto the roads and saw the carnage occurring before my eyes that I thought we might have a problem.
The tunnels were shut, the roads were gridlocked and Place de Jean Ray was covered in a blanket of snow.
Nicky, Minty and I arrived to find Jason, the pasty man waiting. We waited with him watching unfortunate commuters doing their best impressions of Bambi on the snow, many of them finding themselves on parts of their bodies that were going to be sore all day, if their jobs involved sitting down.
Then came Charly, with his friend Yarek, (Please forgive the spelling I didn’t take notes, but Yarek had made huge efforts to be there to help us that day and deserves a mention, even if it’s spelled wrong!), closely followed by Steve Bullock and a lady called Virginnie who was to stoically run a crepe and beer stall for 8 hours in the freezing cold and snow.
Tents went up, sound systems were installed and the protest happened, speakers came and braved the bloody awful weather, not only to speak, but to stand and chat for most of the day, their support was a huge encouragement and I can’t thank them all enough.
The biggest disappointment of the day was that the wheels on Jason’s Pasty van were too small to negotiate the snow, I was bereft, what’s more Minty had been told not to bother coming home if he didn’t bring pasties so I might even have gained a lodger!..
Nicky, another co-organiser of the event, was denied a vote in the referendum due to having been on the continent for over fifteen years. She spoke beautifully and emotionally on how Brexit and, more specifically, how an end to freedom of movement could very well affect her future. Living in the Netherlands, married to a man with a degenerative illness and having aging parents in the UK means that she may, one day, have to make the agonising choice between caring for her husband or caring for her parents, a choice many of us would find impossible to make.
Nicky’s speech reduced many of the listeners to tears, so impactive and personal was it, but perhaps the most prophetic point of the day was made by Nicky when she asked “How is it that my right to simply continue living my life, as I do now, is something that is part of a negotiation?"
..Numbers were obviously low, it was a weekday, the city was in gridlock due to the snow and it was downright bloody freezing, but people did come! They came, they listened they spoke on our open mic sessions and they supported, but most of all they turned out on the worse day of the year in a freezing Brussels to show their solidarity with each other and that of U.K. citizens with the EU, I wish every one of them a heart felt thank you!
The team that appeared around me like butterflies around a buddleia bush were absolutely amazing, everyone one of them played their part and without any of them it wouldn’t have happened, we did something good, hopefully the first of many, thank you all.
Lastly I have to say thank you to Nicky, without whom it would never have gotten beyond an ill thought out comment in a direct message thread on twitter, it would have remained a dream, you made it a reality, thank you!