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Brexit factor has helped stir us from political apathy. We have voices again

PUBLISHED: 17:59 24 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:59 24 April 2019

A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square in Westminster, London yesterday

A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square in Westminster, London yesterday

Will the late part of this decade be remembered as the years in which we found our voice of protest again? Rachel Moore says she can't remember a time like this in the last 30 years

Election campaign posters would once pepper communities at this time of year.

There would be more Vote Labour/Conservative/Lib Dem placards, boards and window displays than lampposts in streets. People were engaged, passionate about politics and happy to nail their colours to their masts.

They felt they had a say in what happened in their world and individual involvement and action could bring change. Joining together with others who felt the same way to protest, peacefully but loudly, had impact and could alter outcomes and sway minds.

Thirty years ago, I spent the best part of three years up to my knees in poster paints, daubing slogans on old sheets to hold aloft with my student comrades.

A good week involved joining hundreds of thousands of other people believing they could make a difference by trudging the streets of London, Manchester, Sheffield and anywhere protests were held for causes we believed in. There were many – causes and demos.

Cavalcades of buses filled with people of all ages left the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire's capital, Sheffield, at numerous sunrises, all in good voice to 
make their views heard against the Poll Tax, student loans, apartheid, nuclear weapons and many more.

We sang, we shouted, we held sit-downs in town centres during a royal visit, sit-ins in public buildings and overnight occupations in the university library. We organised petitions, letter-writing campaigns and spent hours waving placards.

Such a force of people coming together in belief and hope couldn't be wrong. It was exhilarating.

People cared and believed that raising awareness to an issue, showing collective objection, demonstrating why it wasn't the greatest of ideas for our country and taking action could bring change.

It did. The Poll Tax was scrapped because of public action.

Then came the age of apathy. Politics became remote; something that happened in Westminster or town and city halls that larded on council tax payments every year. People became cynical, disengaged and then disinterested. Decisions were taken, whether people had their say or not.

Vanilla politics, blurring of party lines, mistrust of those elected, the election process and anything that came under the umbrella of 'politics' felt far away from people's everyday lives, even though its roots are in the word “citizens.'

Citizens felt cast out.

What is wonderful about 2019, is that people have woken up to feel they count again; to really believe that coming together to object can change minds, win new force to their cause and shape new outcomes.

Whatever side of the Brexit saga you are on, the vote went to the people and the people spoke. The debate – and there has been real debate for the first time in decades, however chaotic, from the pub to the corridors of power – has sparked protest.

This concept of people 
power and protesting to raise awareness, demonstrate opposition and gain support is spreading. Passion for issues and trying to make change and engagement has swelled.

It has sparked a new politics with new parties, Change and Brexit, offering people.

In January 2017, I joined the march in opposition to Donald Trump in London. I look forward to the people's reaction when he visits London in June. Crowds of more than 250,000 – a “carnival of resistance” – are expected to protest during the state visit when Trump and Melania are guests of the Queen. Who says the Queen has it easy?

Peaceful protest, a show of opposition and that there is another way, shows people care.

The Extinction Rebellion against Climate Change, its pace and effect, is incredible. Protesters' strategy might be awry and misjudged but the impact they are making by raising awareness of an issue is significant.

An issue that experts – including the nation's beloved treasure Sir David Attenborough – have been flagging up for years.

We all know the issues but have left it to the scientists to address. We know but it's a gargantuan global issue, but we've had our heads in the sand.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg's incredible leadership, confidence, belief and strength – let alone perfect fluent English superior to any British 16-year-old – is making the world sit up and listen to her demand for action.

Words don't matter, she says; commitment is needed now.

Today's Extinction Rebels gluing themselves to trains are not crusties, idealists and society opt-outs; these are people from every background and every age united in a belief that not enough is being done to protect the world for our children's children and generations beyond.

Criticism of campaigners has been that they look like they are enjoying themselves. Why shouldn't they be – the glee of being part of a movement of change.

They are not random 'loonies', as I've heard them condemned. They are people who are passionate enough to demand change and come together to do it.

They believe that doing nothing will bring disaster. Spreading the word will force action. How can we not embrace and love this hope they are spreading.

People together are powerful.

The tide is turning and Brexit, blamed for many ills, has perhaps given belief back to the people that they can make a difference if they work together against something they believe is wrong.

At last.

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