I’d seen it before.
Anti-Brexit movements seemed to be spouting up left right n bloody centre after the infamous vote on 23rd June, 2016, to take Britain out of the European Union.
There was chat about the creation of a new party dedicated solely to the cause of advocating the overturn of Brexit. This has since happened (Renew) but it hasn’t really caught on (ask the Lib Dems).
My position for a long time was that while Brexit was a great shame (more…an actual tragedy) the ‘people had spoken’ and that as such Brexit had to happen. I felt that if the people who voted Leave weren’t listened to then the consequences down the line would be these people feeling disenfranchised and trampled on by a metropolitan elite; they would be more sympathetic to extremist arguments that are damaging to our democracy.
Now I’m still not convinced that the latter won’t happen, but I am certain that it’s not the job of citizens in a democracy to rest on their laurels when they disagree with the status quo.
Nobody exemplifies this philosophy better than the subject of spotlight today, one William Dry.
Dry he is not; William has embarked on a year of risk, taking time out of his studies in Oxford to give his whole self to the anti-Brexit movement of young people (that he co founded), known as Our Future Our Choice (OFOC). I asked how he came to be in this position and he said:
“I realised that Brexit was actually probably not the best thing for the country. This belief grew stronger and stronger until I realised that I should probably do something about it.
That’s why around December last year I started spamming every facebook friend I had to get the lowdown about what uni they were at and their position on Brexit.”
When I first heard Will’s story, I was bowled over by the fact that he had taken time out of his studies to pursue this mission. I found it hard to imagine how difficult the decision must have been to uproot and step into the unknown. William was nonplussed:
“I don’t think it’s a hard decision. A hundred years ago, thousands of young people were being sent to war, putting their entire lives and relationships on hold, so this is nothing.”
And on the practical realities:
“I got to the stage where I couldn’t do either. I couldn’t do my degree or OFOC seriously. Brexit is on a more fixed time scale than my degree. I told my college I felt strongly about it and they were fine.”
What’s so interesting about Dry is that he is effectively a case study as to how a thought can turn into an action, and to how that action can then snowball into a movement of serious worth. The crucial ingredient is agency. He doesn’t believe that it’s worth going in circles with people who already agree with you, that in fact it’s much better to:
“Discuss how to do something about it.”
It’s this agency for change that I really admire about William. We live in an age where a share on facebook can feel like political activism. As such, it’s easy to forget that the historic political battles were not fought in this online arena, they were fought by going out into the world and talking to people. That’s not to say there isn’t a pertinent and crucial role for internet based campaigning in this fight—there is—but it’s certainly not the end of the story, and Will exemplifies this.
A remainer-born-and-raised Will is not. The truly remarkable thing about Will is that he changed his mind. HE VOTED BREXIT!! That’s right, despite being a co-founder of OFOC, Will was one of the 17.4m people who voted out in June 2016.
It was on this that I gave Dry some severe questioning, asking how he could hope to have any credibility when he himself voted for Brexit. He came back fighting:
“Without sounding self-important, I’d say it adds to my credibility rather than detracts from it. We had a vote, and it was the largest exercise in democracy that the UK has ever seen. If you want to do anything to challenge that democratic mandate then you need a go**amn good reason. I’m living proof of a great deal of people who did not realise the full consequences of their vote and certainly did not legitimise having less trade, less control of our own laws, less money and having a worse NHS. I represent a group that have realised the error of their ways. Credibility is born from the fact that I actually did change my mind.”
Still, I put it to him that he’d had the whole campaign to consider the consequences of Brexit and yet he made what he now considers to be the wrong call. Where was his judgement? Once more, William was not dry in his response, he was ready:
“Have you never come to a wrong judgement? People make mistakes all the time. It’s a fundamental part of living. I find it hard to believe I came to those conclusions, admittedly, but there must have been some good reasons because 17.4m made the same decision.
If you read the map wrong, and you’re going in the wrong direction, the best thing to do isn’t to sit quietly in the passenger seat, it’s to say, ‘Look, sorry, I did the wrong thing, let’s turn around.’
I’d rather be the guy who tries to rectify his mistake than does nothing.”
I think in this acceptance of his mistake, Will has shown great humility. Just imagine that you voted to lead the country you love, and the future you hold, towards a dire state of affairs. In that instance, it would be so easy to curl up and feel guilty for the mistake you made. Will didn’t do that—he decided to be open about his error in judgement and to do something about it.
I think there’s a great lesson here that the only limits to our activities are the ones we set for ourselves. If you change your mind on something, then own that change and be proud of your ability to critique your own beliefs. People are too quick to believe that when they’ve made an identity for themselves it should be stuck to. The reality is that we are fluid beings with complex thoughts. It’s worth embracing that because otherwise we restrict our ability to grow and develop.
William Dry is a guy that’s moving in the world. He’s got agency, he is committed to what he believes, but most important of all, he is not afraid of admitting when he’s wrong. Whether the movement succeeds or fails, he’s actually doing what most of us just retweet. That is something fantastic and worth shouting about.
By Peter R Jacobs