Thousands line London streets at Trump protest
'Carnival of resistance' draws diverse crowd incensed by controversial President's visit
Tens of thousands of Britons turned out on the streets of London on Friday to deliver a resounding message to the visiting Donald Trump that they felt their own government could not: you’re not welcome here.
This being Britain, a land of sharp wit and panache, they expressed their opposition with myriad messages to the US president, who was apparently spending the day touring the stately homes of England: to be anywhere, it seemed, but in the capital.
Some brought slogans emblazoned on tiny homemade placards or carried aloft embroidered banners that spoke of the heritage of protest; others dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale or as the president himself; there was a profusion of models of the most incredible complexity of the president, above and on street level.
He was dubbed ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, the ‘Elephant in the womb’ and – for fans of Marry Poppins – ‘Super Callous Fragile Racist Sexist Nazi POTUS’ (you have to sing it to get the full benefit. ‘We said comb over, not come over’ was one of many allusions to the hairstyle of the president.
The marchers thronged peacefully along a short march through the centre of London from the headquarters of the BBC to Trafalgar Square – the rear of the demonstration had yet to leave the starting point when speeches started in the packed square.
They represented every strand of British society: the traditional drivers of progressive protest, the unions and the Labour party, were well represented, but they were outnumbered by people who appeared in their quiet way to have decided that ‘this was enough, thank you, and if you don’t mind they’re just not going to put up with this anymore’.
Respectable ‘Middle England’ pensioners rubbed shoulders with nose-ringed punks with multicoloured hair. Families whose children should have still been in school were fairly confident that there would be few headteachers in the country who wouldn’t view the day as being a better education on a scorching Friday.
The ‘carnival of resistance’ started in the grand, fractious tradition of the British left, with two marches organised along essentially the same route, separated by a few hours. The first march was called by woman’s groups, while the latter enjoyed larger heft from having the backing of powerful labour unions and the Stop the War Coalition.
Amid the personal anger at Mr Trump’s visit, the traditional bugbears and causes of the British left – free Palestine, the NHS, climate change – elided seamlessly with the day’s business of opposing and insulting the American president.
There was little sign of counter protests which had been threatened. A few brave souls sported ‘Hillary for prison 2016’ t-shirts earlier in the day, but as the scale of the protests became apparent they plumped for discretion over valour and melted away.
At the rally in Trafalgar Square, a procession of speakers let loose on Mr Trump, aware that they would never have an audience happier to cheer them on as they took a pop at the ‘leader of the free world’. Frances O’Grady, leader of the Trade Union Congress, called the president a “two-bit racist” and a “monster”.
“You don’t beat bullies and bigots by sucking up to them,” she told prime minister Theresa May. A fellow labour union leader, Len McCluskey dubbed Mr Trump a “racist and a semi-fascist.”
As crowds dissipated across the West End, with many using the opportunity of the march to begin their weekends early, it felt that the president had brought a rare unity to a nation which has been beset with discord in recent times.
Updated: July 13, 2018 11:54 PM