A right to protest
It starts as soon as I step off the train. The platform is full of people holding banners, who had escaped my notice as I sat in the carriage reading my book. Placards are held downwards, at rest, hiding, shy, slogans upside down. I suddenly wish I were clutching something too. A protest novice, I didn’t even bring a whistle.
One banner says ‘Dump Trump’ in a collage of red, white and blue bottle tops. One says, ‘My parents moved to America and all I got was this lousy president.’ One simply says, ‘No one likes you.’
From the oppressive heat of the underground tunnels we emerge into the bright sunshine, then there are more people and the shyness is lost as the march becomes purposeful. We surge along the pavement, from every side street more people joining the tide, as though we are following the Pied Piper.
This is the first time in ten years I’ve joined a mass rally. These kinds of things aren’t necessarily my ‘thing’. Many people say protesting is a waste of time: it doesn’t change anything. And no, it doesn’t change anything here and now, and tomorrow Trump will still be president. But we must make our voices heard. Change doesn’t happen if we do nothing. This is often the only tool we have in the democracy in which we apparently live, not that Trump will take any notice, of course: ‘He will call this fake news’ say several placards, or, ‘Trump will lie about this.’ But imagine if we didn’t protest. Those in power read silence as compliance, as agreement. But I do not agree with Trump.
UK politicians say we are embarrassing ourselves, that it is very un-British, and very rude, to be so vocal against a visiting president. I look around at the people on the march. Old, young, black, white, man, woman. A band of trumpets, trombones, tuba and snare drum is marching with us, blaring out the hits to cheers and hip-shaking. People are chatting and smiling. The overwhelming atmosphere is of positivity. No one looks embarrassed.
I am not here because I don’t think Trump should be here, though lots of my compatriots do. They are protesting his very presence in the UK, though that’s not my motivation; he is an American president, and most of them visited the UK during their tenure, and he does have property here, and it is a free world after all (there’s an irony in there somewhere). I am here, protesting, because our politicians haven’t. There has been no calling out of his hateful remarks, of his racist policies, of his sexist views. There has been no calling out of his misogynistic actions. He bulldozes meetings then claims the positive outcomes as his doing. He believes his own hype. Most scary of all, lots of people agree with him. They take his word as fact, because he says it is. It terrifies me that someone like this has such influence in our world. I’m not protesting against him being in office – I didn’t have the power to influence that. I am here because I want to be counted, I want to be one of the tens of thousands of people who turned out to represent a different world view to that of this man. I despair at the lack of protestation from our politicians. I am not embarrassing myself; they have embarrassed us.
‘Free Melania,’ says a placard. ‘Super Callous Fragile Racist Sexist Nazi Potus’ reads another. People have put a lot of thought into this. There are plenty of signs that are offensive, but far more are clever and funny and uplifting. It’s a long, slow, hot walk to Trafalgar square where the rally is in full swing, with rousing addresses, cheers, food, music, and thousands upon thousands of people. It will still be the same world tomorrow. But perhaps it will be one with more hope.