Barking at Brexit! Meet the Jewish activist pushing for a Wooferendum

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Barking at Brexit! Meet the Jewish activist pushing for a Wooferendum

Daniel Elkan explains how he gathered a band of like-minded dog lovers to campaign for a people's vote

Barking mad: Canine protesters and their humans in London demand a ‘people’s vote’
Barking mad: Canine protesters and their humans in London demand a ‘people’s vote’

It was a little over a year after the EU referendum that the notion of taking action began to form in Daniel Elkan’s mind. “So many people I would meet were very downhearted about what was going on, and very upset,” he says. But he couldn’t see any protests on the streets.

His instinctive appreciation of the loyalty and appeal of dogs, despite not having actually owned one himself, somehow came into play: “One day, I woke up and the word ‘Wooferendum’ had come to me.”

Protests were becoming a habit: he and a friend had taken part in the social media campaign Stop Funding Hate the previous year. For this new, bigger cause, he took a piece of A4 card, wrote on it “#wooferendum stop Brexit”, and walked his local streets and parks in West Hampstead and beyond in search of dogs to photograph next to his sign.

“People jumped at the chance to be involved,” he says. He printed out the photos and put them up on bus shelters, lamp-posts and in cafés.

That instinct was spurred, Daniel realises, by the book Alone in Berlin, which he had read a few months previously. In Hans Fallada’s novel, part of the way Otto and Anna Quangel resist the Nazis is by writing anonymous, anti-Hitler postcards and leaving them around the city.

Daniel, 45, invested his own money in the Wooferendum march – a portion of which was recouped through crowdfunding – and persuaded friends to help with graphic design, planning and logistics.

He also created a Wooferendum video, and credits its emotional effect partly to the advice of a Palestinian film-maker he met shortly before the fortnight of shooting began. “He said don’t put any people in it,” Daniel recalls. “Make it a dogs’ world.”

Over 90 seconds, a series of individual dogs are seen sitting, lying and running around a selection protest cards (“We won’t be muzzled” and “The Wooferendum is coming” they appear to be saying); deeply moving, and the result to some extent of a Palestinian-Jewish collaboration.

Barking mad: Canine protesters and their humans in London demand a ‘people’s vote’

The video was used to promote the first Wooferendum march last month, in which hundreds of dog owners, many with their own placards, marched along Whitehall, behind a banner that read “It’s time to bark out!”

In Parliament Square, Labour MP Stella Creasy, the former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and the TV actor Peter Egan spoke passionately on the Wooferendum stage about what they saw as the madness of leaving the EU. The animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer spoke about the risks posed by Brexit: vet shortages; increases in the cost of pet medicine and pet food; and threats to the EU pet passport scheme.

Further affirmation, and a reward for a year of hard work by Daniel and his team, came with the media reports online and in the next day’s newspapers. As well as a photo on the front page of The TimesThe Telegraph carried a picture – taken at one of the march’s Pee Stations – of Chunky the bulldog relieving himself on a photo of its columnist and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Such was the enthusiasm for “Dogs against Brexit” that a second Wooferendum event was held at the People’s Vote march two weeks later. Daniel, his team, speakers and dogs walked with nearly 700,000 human protesters in the bright sunshine.

At the second march, after Daniel had addressed the crowd about the importance of speaking out, his mother, Judith, came forward. Diminutive and confident, she stood, microphone in hand, and told the crowd she was born in Jerusalem in 1945, “the year the world was saved from Nazi slavery”.

That year, the idea of a European Union was born, she said, speaking of that first vision of a post-war Europe “at peace with itself”, and “a possibility of people just moving around Europe in a co-operative, friendly and peaceful way”.

Daniel, a ski writer and co-founder of the Snowcarbon website, which promotes ski holidays by train, describes himself as a non-practising Jew. A former member of Habonim who celebrated his barmitzvah at Alyth, his protest certainly chimes with the religious injunction not to stand idly by. As he puts it: “With Brexit, it was a bit like watching a burning building – I couldn’t just watch it. I had to do something.”

What of the future? “If there is a People’s Vote, which I hope there will be, there’ll be a lot more campaigning to do, and I think we’ll have an even bigger march,” he says.

Meanwhile, anti-Brexit dog lovers can sign up for “Woofletter” updates, spread the People’s Vote message online, and reflect on a campaign with an unmistakably Jewish heritage. 

Listen to this week’s episode of The Jewish Views podcast!

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