I have not been to a demonstration since the anti-war protests in London in 2003. That demonstration was ultimately ignored and 14 years later I am certain this demonstration will be ignored as well.
The demonstration today outside Downing street was not on the same scale as the Iraq war marches but it lacked the clarity of those protests, which will make it easier to dismiss. Was this a demonstration about Trump? Theresa May? Immigration? Capitalism? All of the above?
I went to the march out of disgust at the Executive Order on Immigration that Trump signed and the lack of forceful condemnation from the UK government of such a prejudiced and counter productive policy . The only thing that I think a protest on the streets of London could possibly influence is the UK’s government response.
The young crowd outside Downing Street had more eclectic and wider reaching aims. There was a carnival atmosphere to the proceedings and I couldn’t help imagining what the civil rights movement marches were like, and comparing their stoicism with the jamboree of crude jokes on cardboard that was before me on this chilly January eve.
Chanting will never be my thing. The crowd mentality of giving up your choice of words to someone else seems to stop analytical thought.
“His hands are small, he can’t build a wall.”
“Build a fucking fence around Mike pence.”
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
Chants that would fade in and out, peppered with lone shouts of “Fuck Trump” and “Dump Trump”. I find it bizarre that so many UK citizens are calling for a democratically elected leader of another country to be removed.
The anti-Iraq war movement failed. Have we learned anything from that process? How can we ensure that such a popular swell of public opinion is not ignored again?
The arbiters of success for demonstrations such as the one tonight cannot be attendance numbers and vague notions of solidarity. It has to be their ability to bring about change and the current method of marching has not been effective at changing anything – neither policy nor minds. Yet many people will go home from the march tonight thinking to themselves what a successful nights work.
If there is one thing we can learn from the civil rights movement it is the importance of thinking incrementally. So many protestors tonight came with broad, noble and naïve aims. We need more clarity and specificity. The focus at this juncture for British protestors should be for a stronger statement from Theresa May condemning the Executive Order on Immigration.
P.s The most annoying chant of the night was a call to free Melania and Ivanka Trump. I hate the hypocrisy of belittling and exonerating these women and making an assumption that they have no agency, from behind a faux feminist shield.