Since moving to London in January I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the US political nightmare that is President* Trump. I do listen to podcasts of the three MSNBC evening shows (Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell) daily to at least stay informed, but especially since I’ve left Facebook and Twitter, it hasn’t been as in my face as it was during the first year of his presidency*. Plus, I’m living in a country that has its own absurd nightmare unfolding (*cough* BREXIT *cough*), so sometimes its too much to process all of it and I end up watching reruns of Game of Thrones just to experience some lighter fare.
It’s also been a bit challenging to get acclimated to our new community. I want to support folks fighting against oppression, but I also just got here six months ago and so am not entirely sure of all the different issues, nor do I know who the trustworthy players are. I’m working at learning, but it’s definitely taking time.
That said, a few months ago (while still a member of Facebook), I started following the Women’s March London. When it was announced that President* Trump would be visiting the UK sometime in July, they scheduled a “Bring the Noise” protest. Once the date was finalized, I responded to a call for volunteers and ultimately agreed to serve as a march steward.
At a little after 10 on 13 July, we gathered near the BBC headquarters near Oxford Circus and received instructions, along with some gorgeous high-visibility vests and wristbands identifying us as part of this march. That ultimately proved handy as many, many individuals had high-visibility vests and shirts on that day. Myself and a handful of other women volunteered to serve at the back of the march, basically ensuring the group stayed together and allowing for the street sweeper (as well as an ambulance and a police vehicle) to follow behind.
In anticipation of crowds not being sure where to go, we were dispatched to tube station exits nearby. We did a lot of shouting at folks with placards to direct them to our meeting point. However, there was a second march scheduled for around 2 PM the same day (and following a similar route), so we did get some confused folks.
In fact, the sole negative interaction I had came from someone who was looking for the steward meeting point for that parade. He asked where the stewards were meeting, and I asked “for which march?” I think that must have deeply offended him, as his next statement was “the main one.” I sort of tilted my head at him because I was genuinely confused. Again, I’m no longer really on any social media, so while I knew there was another march, I had no real idea who was involved (other than the Socialist party, as they had signs already out at 9 AM), and I certainly didn’t know if that one was meant to be the larger, or if the Women’s March was. “Which is the main one?” He got quite huffy and said “No disrespect, but you know what I mean.” Unfortunately for both of us, I really didn’t, so I said so, to which he responded “I’m just trying to do a good thing. God!” And then stormed off.
People can be so odd.
The start of the march itself was lovely. There were opera singers who sang a couple of songs and then led the crowd in “We Are Family” before the march stepped off. The back of the march finally crossed the start line about 20 minutes later, and ultimately spent about 90 minutes marching through central London to Parliament Square. It was loud. It was fun (at times). It was depressing to think about how this was so necessary. There were some fantastic signs, some great costumes and make-up, and a lot of people with children. It was inspiring, and also at times frustrating.
Because of the other march, some folks saw us marching and thought they’d missed it, so they jumped in with us. Which, the more the merrier! But we always made sure to let them know what this march was, and where the other was starting just in case it wasn’t where they wanted to be.
It was also a warm (though not oppressively hot) day, and some folks were a bit slow, so we’d have to encourage them to speed it up a little because there were rather large cars following quite close behind us and they were encouraging us to keep the gaps as small as possible. There were community liaison officers from the police department there as well, and they were nice and helpful, but I’ve got some feelings about policing in general, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to interact with the men. It is a bit of a different dynamic here as they don’t carry guns so there isn’t the immediate fear that a wrong word will lead to a POC getting shot, but still.
Once we passed Trafalgar Square it got a bit harder to contain folks as the streets there are wide and the road was closed the entire way. By the time we reached Parliament Square (and the Trump Baby Balloon – which you can sort of see in this blurred shot), I was completely drained.
I didn’t stay for the rally, but walked across the bridge to catch a bus home and finally eat something other than grapes (my planning was poor – though I did have plenty of water!).
I feel that what I did was necessary and helped make the march experience a better one for people, but I’m not sure it’s something I’d have the energy to do on a regular basis. At the same time, I know these protests are important, and while there are folks taking the lead to organize them, they also need volunteers to do some of the grunt. I think a good ratio might be 1:3 or 1:4 — for every three or four similar events I go to, I need to volunteer to help with one. If we all did that, we certainly would have plenty of folks helping out.
In the end, these protests were meant to show President* Trump that he is not welcome in the UK, and that people here do not support him. I doubt he got that message. He’s not very intelligent, and he’s willfully ignorant on many topics. I can’t imagine his aids allowing him to see coverage of the protests, and I doubt Fox News framed them as anything other than gatherings of wounded snowflake liberals.
That’s not okay, but it’s reality these days, so instead I think we should focus on the fact that we all took some time on a Friday to show each other and the rest of the world that we do not support President* Trump — not his policies, not his racism, not his misogyny.
And that’s something.
Some coverage of the event:
*Always an asterisk, because he didn’t actually win the popular vote, and at least some of the votes he did earn were likely influence by a foreign government