Friday the 13th is unlucky for some and last Friday it proved most unfortunate for President Trump with a quarter of a million people protesting throughout London and even more across the country rallying together in response to his state visit. People came from far and wide, from Glasgow, to Newcastle, to Liverpool, ranging from socialists and liberals, to quakers and pacifists. As somebody who had been to neither London before nor any political protest outside of the now heavily commercialised Pride parades, the trip proved an interesting look into the ‘Carnival of Resistance’ that has been growing across the Western World. What united these disparate groups? How did it come to the point that anarchists, socialists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and even us loathsome Lib Dems could all march proudly under the same banner? These were the questions I hoped to answer on my journey to London.
I set off from Liverpool to London at 8AM for a thrilling 6 hour coach journey each way, organised by the Stop the War Coalition. With so much time to spare, I decided to talk to people, to see what brought them together, to see what madness inspired people to get up at the crack of dawn and put up with a gruelling coach journey going from one side of England to the other. I found myself quickly being taken under the wing of a group of 60-70 year olds. There’s a general conception nowadays that the young are the progressives and that the old are the right-wing conservatives who bring us Brexit and rant about Judeo-Christian values. I don’t think this could be further from the truth. The men and women I spoke to had protested against the Vietnam War, they had fought for civil rights and gay rights and spearheaded the second wave of feminism. One woman I had spoke to told me of the experiences of her family in Germany under the Nazi regime, stories that had powered her to resist against tyranny for all her life. So perhaps the next time you wish to lay conservatism at the feet of the baby boomers you should instead turn your attention to the more likely offender, Generation X. This band of old hippies told me their diagnosis of the ills they saw in society, of the rise of Trump and the alt-right. They blamed the polarisation of politics, not just on Trump, but on the political system as a whole: for the lack of discourse among opposing groups, for the failure of the Clintons and the Obamas of the world to offer any meaningful change in the face of conservatism. They, like me, saw Trump as the inevitable result of this, of the close-mindedness and obstinance of the left and the right, of the inability to see any value in what the other side says.
Speaking to the younger protesters was quite a different experience. One person I spoke to was boasting about the “best kettle” they’d ever been in and how the police were the allies of the “fascist bourgeois class”. This struck me as odd as I saw police facilitating the protest throughout, even breaking jokes and dancing to the renditions of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ played by a band who was marching with us. Generally however, everybody who attended the protest, whether young or old, working class or middle class was on top form and were an absolute pleasure to talk to. Perhaps the best thing about the protest in fact were the ingenious hand-crafted placards people had made, with some notable highlights including: “I hate crowds but I hate Trump more”, “Feed him to the Corgis” and “This is not what Bowie wanted”. It was also a pleasure to see the plethora of different movements involved, stretching from the Lib Dems under Jo Swinson to speeches by Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones and Gary Younge (who recently interviewed key alt-right figures such as Richard Spencer). Many have remarked that the protest was ultimately pointless but I think these people underestimate the fragility of Trump’s ego, having sent an Osprey aircraft to circle above the protests.
So what united all these disparate groups? In my answer to this, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn (a man of which I have some disagreements with to say the least), we were united in hope. In a world in which radicalism grows day by day, where the alt-right are attracting more and more disaffected members of the working class by the day, where people feel so silenced in their opinions that they only feel comfortable enough to voice them on the ballot paper (if that), here was a protest of people from radically different backgrounds and political persuasions united in their hope for a better world. The sight of Remainers and Brexiteers united under a rainbow flag is quite honestly a treat. Even of the few counter-demonstrators there, the approach of the crowd was not that of hostility to them but of tolerance.
Ultimately, the message was clear. Despite our differences, none of us wanted to see a return to authoritarianism, to intolerance, to division. A President who announces bans on transgender people serving in the military, who separates migrant children from their parents and keeps them in cages and who has won his presidency on a campaign of bigotry and incivility are all indicative of the creeping return of the far right. We are all capable of making real positive change, and most importantly we are capable of doing it peacefully and with dignity. But the longer we let things go, the more radicalism is going to grow and perhaps more dangerously, the iron fist that comes with it. Perhaps it’s time we channel more of the spirit of those 60-70 year old hippies I met, to change the world for the better and to do it with a smile on our face, with open hearts and open minds and some killer music to boot. Perhaps it’s time for a new Carnival of Resistance.