by Rob Harding
I wanted to go to the Trump protests so I could say I did. Whatever the final ending of Trump’s story turns out to be – peaceful impeachment or nuclear armageddon – it’s got such disturbing parallels to past dictators already that I get the impression he’s going to be spoken of alongside the great bastards of the last century. It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to wonder why time travellers haven’t started popping up to shoot him. In the world we live in, where photos of crowd size are already a disputed quantity rather than a piece of evidence, and mass protests are a fact of life, I still wanted to say I’d tried to express my feelings about wotsit Hitler and his cadre of bastards.
A general summary of the protests can be found here from Sky News, and the basics are pretty well known: a shitload of people turned up to protest against Donald Trump’s official visit to the UK, mainly as an excuse to hold up signs, listen to fiery speeches and generally be too much of a spectacle to be easily dismissed. They began with a short march through London on an auspicious Friday 13th, followed by a large rally in a packed Trafalgar Square. The general aim of the protest was unfocused; basically just a general expression of frustration, outrage and disdain for the world’s most comically inept white supremacist and his visit to the UK.
The following day, a somewhat smaller crowd of right-wing activists gathered outside Westminster for another round of the UK’s current far-right group sport: protests to free Stephen ‘Tommy Robinson’ Yaxley-Lennon, racist and general con artist arrested for the stupidest imaginable reason (contempt of court, for doing exactly what a judge told him not to do and repeatedly interfering in trials of Asian men accused of child grooming). The latter rally went rather differently. (I didn’t attend personally, but there was a sizeable left-wing counter protest).
One day, one glorious day, I will finally attend a left-wing protest with a half decent sound system. A number of well-known and enthusiastic speakers were up on the big stage in front of Nelson’s Column along with the famous Trump baby balloon;unfortunately, the only one of them I could reliably name was Owen Jones, who was his usual emphatic self, because I could rarely see the giant screens or hear the speaker over the noise of the crowd in the square. In general, though, the themes of the speakers were inclusive – a lot of ‘Brothers and sisters, we must unite!’, and no shortage of vitriol for either Trump or the Tories, mixed with pro-immigration rhetoric. Pro-Labour and anti-Conservative banners were visible everywhere, and more than a few speakers actively called for a general election. It was nice to see people openly calling Trump a fascist and a racist as well, since doing so is still taboo in some circles. Other signs tied Trump to Brexit, and there was a generally pro-Remain atmosphere to proceedings (not least thanks to the numerous large EU flags.)
The Socialist Worker’s Party (ugh) were out in force, with multiple stalls and tables throughout the square and large piles of innocuously abandoned banners with catchy(ish) slogans ready to be picked up by opportunistic attendees. It’s no surprise to see them here, but it is a little depressing that they were by far the most visible and well-branded of the many leftie organisations present, given their sketchy history and dubious record of actually getting things done. A number of communist and hard socialist organisations were present, most of them selling scholarly texts, but I didn’t notice them getting much traffic – the majority of the people protesting seemed to be more anti-Trump than socialist, as you’d expect in Central London. These groups were the main ones inviting people to the counter-protest on the 14th.
Pro-Palestinian organisations and protesters were also visibly present, with several speakers specifically singling out Trump’s move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem as one of his greatest crimes, and a lot of large banners. This went down well with bits of the crowd, and Trump’s clear bias against Palestine is one of the many, many things I find disagreeable about him, but it did seem a bit odd that so much of the ire was focused on that one issue. After all, there’s no shortage of ways and reasons to call Trump a dickhead.
The giant baby balloon bobbed about a bit to riotous applause, and a few short-live chants got going (not least a fairly common ‘oh, Jeremy Corbyn’), but in general most people seemed content to just mill about, holding up signs (and taking pictures of each other’s signs) or just sitting around and chatting. The march was similarly peaceful, and the streets around Trafalgar Square and Embankment were full of people complaining about Trump which made for a weirdly pleasant atmosphere.
Unlike the Free Tommy Robinson protests, which have been reliably violent at least on the fringes, I saw no actual violence (despite a shirtless man who appeared in front of the National Portrait Gallery at one point to yell pro-Trump slogans) and no arrests. The police presence was comparatively light: a single orbiting helicopter, and officers standing around in twos and threes in various places, only collecting when the time came to clear the roundabout at the base of the square. Honestly, the phalanx of street-cleaning trucks by the Admiralty Arch was more imposing). One or two sketchy-looking blokes (including one with an interesting tattoo, see below) in the crowd did spend some time shouting at the police (who largely ignored them), and a few people complained as police motorbikes cleared the roundabout, but by and large the protest was entirely peaceful. The Express reports six arrests, one on the grounds of ‘return to prison’.
In general, the anti-Trump protest on the 13th was pretty much the same as all the other ones that have happened in the UK – not much more than a chance for a variety of people to get together and denounce the president as the hateful, dangerous bastard that he is, with other messages largely lost in the noise. At the end of the day, the protests and high-profile publicity stunts involved made Trump feel ‘unwelcome’, and while they might have had no real effect they at least showed that there are a lot of people out there who disagree with his agenda – between 100,000 and 250,000 of them, depending on who you believe, in Central London on a muggy, rainy weekday. If anything, that’s a start.
All images by Rob Harding
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