London travel tips: The Bridge, Big Ben, million-person political protests and more!


Photo credit: Elizabeth Nelson

Me, alone in London.

A British teenager wearing a MAGA shirt and carrying a flag on which Trump power-poses in front of tanks and an explosion.

A million people wearing gold-starred berets.

What do these things have in common? A love of scones for one. But also — and more importantly — participation in the People’s Vote March against Brexit, which took place last Saturday.

I stumbled upon it rather serendipitously. “Why are there so many people here?” I asked myself, “and why are they all wearing blue?” when I wandered into Trafalgar Square, where hundreds of people adorned with the colors of the European Union were gearing up to march. Camera-wielding teens surveyed the crowd from the backs of massive bronze lions. A military band serenaded us with their best rendition of Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” The aforementioned MAGA teen picked fights with anyone and everyone. It was wonderful chaos. And then some unspoken signal was received, and they were off.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Nelson

I walked with the protesters for a bit when the march began, but it wasn’t really my battle to fight. Brexit, for us colonists across the pond, is more of a reason for head-shaking and state-of-the-world-lamentation than a life-changing decree. So I stood on a median — a rock parting the flow of blue shirts, blue hats, blue flags — and I watched and I listened.

I heard chants (“What do we want? People’s vote! When do we want it? Now!”) springing into life and then petering out, only to be revived farther up the river of people. I saw superheroes and Boris Johnson impersonators and neon yellow “Bollocks to Brexit!” stickers festooning thousands of faces. And I felt, even as something of an interloper, an overwhelming sense of unity.

I saw thousands of protesters — young and old, human and canine, from all races and walks of life — marching together peacefully, purposefully. I felt a spirit of change buzzing around us, a resistance to stagnation, an unwillingness to accept things as they are in favor of a better future. I felt as though I was living a part of history.

Now, writing this a few days later, I realize that the march reminded me of the large protests that have taken place in America over these past few years even though it was thousands of miles away and concerned with a completely different subject. I recognized it for its most basic elements: citizens in favor of a more open, connected world fought back against unfounded hatred. Yes, recent elections have seen the rise of fear-mongering and extreme nationalism, but that doesn’t mean we’re living in a malevolent world. For every politician exploiting the fears of their constituents to stay in power, it seems there are hundreds of citizens willing to pull on their best walking shoes, grab a few of their closest friends and take to the streets in defense of their beliefs.