By Hannah Rose and Rowan Gavin
Last Friday, on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, people gathered all over the world to protest against his message of division and hatred. In Norwich, 200 people came together outside City Hall to attend a rally of our own. As well as hearing speakers from several local activist and community groups, the protesters took part in a symbolic stunt, dismantling a wall and building a bridge from the parts. Hannah was there, and Rowan helped organise – here they give us their takes on the event.
On Friday, whilst the USA swore in a misogynist and a liar as its leader, I was standing in solidarity with others. There was nothing else I’d rather have been doing. The inauguration marks a political sea-change that has posed seemingly insurmountable problems which we cannot even name yet—they are dark shapes on the horizon which will come into sharp and shocking focus as the year unfolds. Sitting at my desk at work avoiding the news, pretending that this wasn’t happening, didn’t feel like an option, and when I asked my boss if I could duck out to protest he not only agreed but came and stood with me.
It was a modest gathering of about two hundred folk but a solid and representative collection of the city’s residents. Students, children, old and young. The sun sank behind us and a red sky gave way to a deep-blue dusk. Some glow sticks came out and the kids held signs saying ‘Love Love Love’. There was a recognisable conclave from the Green Party and Socialist Alliance -and I was suddenly so grateful to them for their efforts at bringing us together. It told me that my values – of fairness, equality and tolerance – are shared by the people I live amongst. It was a message I really needed to hear, because when more than sixty million people vote for a leader who represents the antithesis of your values, the world can feel like a pretty scary and lonely place. We were there when the referendum cleaved an ideological divide through the country, we were there in support of migrants when the Romanian shop was attacked. Where else could we be on a day like last Friday?
avoiding the news, pretending that this wasn’t happening, didn’t feel like an option
It has never felt so true in my lifetime, that we must work to build bridges, not walls, between us. And the rainbow wall of cardboard ‘bricks’ that the crowd was asked to help turn into a bridge, was a cheering stunt which had us huddled around the steps a little closer to one another – a necessary distraction from the bitter temperatures, and a protection against bitter feelings.
We will keep on standing together. Many will ask “So what? What will standing around in the cold change?” Well, nothing ever changed by turning away from trouble. We must turn to look our enemies in the eye, and it’s a hell of lot easier to do that when you’re not alone.
‘There’s nothing we can do. We’re too far away / I’m just one person / It’s not affecting me / It’s not my business.’
Delete as appropriate – the message you get is essentially the same. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how pervasive this idea is. A week and a half ago, out in the centre of Norwich leafleting for our protest against Trump’s inauguration, I found myself face to face with sentiments like this for the first time in a while. And I was grateful for the reminder. Over those 90 minutes, and a series of local media appearances covering the demo over the next week, I was forced to articulate just why I felt that I had to do something to speak up last Friday.
I couldn’t not do something tangible
Trump and those around him are using their platform, one of the biggest and most influential in the world, to spread hatred and division of almost every conceivable kind. And, as has been made even more apparent by a couple of strange press appearances since the inauguration, they intend to manipulate other major platforms to consolidate their divisive project in a way that is worryingly reminiscent of explicitly authoritarian regimes.
But they’re not the only ones with a platform. We all have the ability to connect with people, to spread a message, and to do so honestly, without manipulation. We have to use this ability to talk about tolerance, about the hypocrisy and danger of Trump and his ilk, and about real ways to address the real grievances that have created the political climate in which Trump thrives. So much of what he does is about a message, an ideology, and challenging him on that same ground is the first step to opposing the changes he would see inflicted on the world. Demonstrations of all sizes, from our crowd of 200-odd in Norwich to the half-million who marched in Washington on Saturday, help build a different kind of platform. Yes, we can do a lot sat alone at a screen, but sometimes we need to be together, taking control of some significant spot to cheer and chant, sing and shout our message to the world.
A protest like this creates solidarity, and is a catalyst for mutual inspiration. Seeing the images, reading the words that flowed out from protests around the world on Friday and Saturday rekindled in me that feeling of being part of something greater than oneself – one of the most significant feelings in human experience. I hope that our small role in a global outpouring of solidarity likewise inspired the many in the States who feel threatened and angered by the incoming administration, who need our support now more than ever.
All that said, the main reason I got involved with this demo was simple. I couldn’t not do something tangible on such a momentous occasion. Trump may not get to build a wall as physical as the bright stack of boxes we symbolically dismantled last week, but all his actions have worked to construct an oft-unseen wall of division in communities and across nations. The way I see it, if I do nothing to oppose his odious project, I become a brick in that wall. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let that happen.
On reflection I think the demo struck just the right kind of note. It was unquestionably defiant. It felt a bit DIY and rough around the edges, as any grassroots protest should do. The way we do what we do, our aesthetic and our style, is often nearly as important as the action itself, and I’m very proud to be able to describe the demo in words that would never be applied to a pro-Trump rally. It was fun, it was heartwarming – even ‘cute’, as one friend put it. Music and art and the energy of children does so much good for an event like this.
To finish, I’d like to mention something as unexpected as it was fascinating: we inspired a counter-demonstration. Three people turned up partway through, faces covered, holding a sign reading ‘Norwich Loves Donald Trump’, and heckled our speakers (to little effect). As organisers, we offered no response. But after the rally wrapped up, several of the protestors from our side of the road crossed over to speak to the Trump-ites. There was no anger, no shouting or dismissal from either group, just a polite discussion which lasted until the three said their goodbyes.
I don’t know if the experience will change any of their opinions on the Donald, but all the same I was really struck by the episode. This more than any other part of the demo has given me hope and encouragement for the struggles ahead. There’s something uniquely astounding about seeing people respond to aggression with defiant kindness. If more people can take up and maintain this response to Trump and his ilk, the future may turn out brighter than it looks from this dark place his shadow has cast us into.
All images via Ann Nichols
See the rest of Ann’s pics from the demo here