Written by: Maddy Pattinson
On Saturday 21st January 2017, citizens across the world mobilised in support of the women of Washington DC taking to the streets to make their voices heard against the biggest threat to their hard-won and inalienable rights.
At 12 noon the day after Donald Trump had been inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA after the most divisive election campaign in the young country’s history, and protests sprung up all over the globe. Since taking power, the White House website has seen the removal of many key policy areas, most notably climate change and LGBT rights. One of his first executive orders has been to minimise efficacy of the Affordable Care Act, and to increase mortgage bills for first-time homebuyers. Through President’s Trump’s meteoric and astonishing rise to power, these are the physical manifestations that stem from his sentiment. Throughout the US electoral campaign, President Trump sparked fury at comments he made about sexual violence, immigration and disability to name but a few.
The marches may have been initiated by anti-trump rhetoric but have turned into so much more. From issues of climate change to LGBT rights, abortion laws to refugee support, Brexit to racial equality, the marches echoed global frustrations on universal issues. These diverse and pertinent issues are reflected in the official sponsors of the London march: Amnesty, Syria Solidarity Campaign, UK Black Pride, 50:50 Parliament and Greenpeace to name just a few, and alongside the Women’s Equality Party and Green Party who lent their official voice to the cause.
Due to the time difference, the London march kicked off five hours before Washington and proved to be one of many deafening cheers for those across the pond. By mid-day a packed Grosvenor Square bathed in freezing winter sunshine was a sea of placards, pink pussy hats and elaborate costumes. Although the vast, good-humoured crowd struggled to hear any of the speakers, in front of the US Embassy, cheers of support echoed around regardless.
It took a good hour for those of us in the first ‘wave’ to jostle out of the square and head to Hyde Park, where the stationary traffic resembled a car park. From there the march began towards Trafalgar, along Park Lane and down through Piccadilly. More and more joined or stood at the sidelines cheering – as much part of the action as those walking. Every now and then there would be a sudden cheer or passing car hooting their support. The expression of solidarity echoed through the streets and only grew in its support. From young children on their parent’s shoulders holding placards, to groups of veteran protesters affirming their exasperation at there still being a demand for their participation and voices – each held signs more original or funny than the next “why am I still marching for this s****”, to the slogan “build bridges not walls” – an inverse of one of the many anti-immigration Trump statements, to “I hate crowds but I hate Trump more”. Yes, the camaraderie, determination and solidarity were palpable.
The closer to Trafalgar we marched, the louder the music, the cheering and electric the atmosphere. Yet again the sound system was too quiet and the stage far too inconsequential in size for the thousands of people to all see and hear. However, the act of ‘being there’ was paramount as hoards of people spilled out into the surrounding streets, creating makeshift seating on every available wall and lion.
Speakers included Sandi Toksvig and Labour MP Yvette Cooper who made one of the most impassioned speeches, calling attention to the murder of her colleague Jo Cox, and in her name, “Marching isn’t enough – we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the causes of division and to build a future in common. For the sake of our children and grandchildren … we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back.”
At 3 o’clock the rally had to be dispersed on instruction of the police (not for insurrection or scenes of violence) but as determined supporters swelled in their predicted numbers of 60,000 to an estimated 100,000 strong, and London had been brought to standstill. Here was proof of the power of collectivity – one of the major capitals of Europe ground to a halt by passionate positivity. The crowds dispersed as amicably as they had amassed, many stopping to take it in turns to take pictures under the best placards – proof that ‘they were there’ at the moment when many of the world chose positive action over submissive apathy.
Yvette is absolutely right that this can only be the start of the process, but if we have to begin somewhere, then a single 24 hours that saw millions of people across over 20 countries stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, is not a bad platform from which to launch. We will not be silenced. This march and the hundreds of others across the globe reaffirmed this. The new American president has retaliated towards media reports of lower attendance to his Inauguration than Obama’s in 2009, and called out “deliberately false reporting” and a fictional figure of 1.5 million. Having watched this defiance, perhaps we have already tweaked the big pussy’s tail?
Images: taken by Celia Pannetier