by Ralph Keller and Travis Blute
The opposition to Trump internationally has not gone away even if it is slowing for now. In London, the latest protest since he took office a month ago was an effort to stop Trump’s official state visit to Britain. Any petition that is able to gather 100,000 signatures will automatically trigger a debate in the House of Commons. This threshold has been smashed, with more than 1.8 million signing the call to withdraw Trump coming here being designated as an official state visit. The protest on 20 February in Parliament Square was timed to let the House of Commons, which was then discussing the motion of Trump’s visit, know how strongly people felt. Approximately 4,000 people were present, with a high number of BEM (black and ethnic minority) speakers but this was not reflective of the crowd. The organisers were conscious to have on the platform a heavy representation of people who would be most affected by Trump’s type of policies–migrants, Muslims and people of colour.
There was a little flurry of excitement that agitated the police when BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts) drove a hire van around the square, with a noisy crowd in tow. The banners tied to the side of the van did not obscure the well-known van hire company’s logo. They used a sound-rig booming out of the back of the van to denounce Trump and all British racism, and later had a guitarist playing the chords to The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” as people sang along. The van only managed one circuit around Parliament Square before the police presumably stopped them. This incident may or may not have accounted for the presence of police helicopters that buzzed above us for much of the protest.
Two separate anti-Trump coalitions had been announced for the protest, one headed by writer and media personality Owen Jones. The second coalition had signaled that it did not wish to work with the first because of the involvement of the Socialist Workers Party in it. Despite this left infighting, both coalitions mobilised for this same protest at the same time and there was little evidence of sectarianism on the ground, despite what the leaderships of the two coalitions may have said. One woman we spoke to was handing out leaflets from the Stop Trump Coalition. When asked about two coalitions, she said there was only one that she was aware of (Owen Jones led) and the S.W.P. were supporting that through their Stand Up To Racism campaign. It seems the grassroots activists have actually put a halt to sectarianism for now, in a quest for the broadest possible unity against Trump. This sentiment was echoed by one speaker who unmistakably encouraged people’s self-organisation, by calling out that “we cannot wait for the Tories to stop him, we cannot wait for Corbyn to stop him.”
Meanwhile, the House of Commons debate inside was not on a substantive proposition to exclude him or even to withdraw the official state invitation, but merely to register the feelings of those 1.8 million who signed the petition—a vote of acclamation. This is one in which people declare their views but no count is taken to resolve anything in a particular way. The government, in a show of strength, was adamant that Trump was the democratically elected U.S. head of state and should be extended a warm welcome. Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan summarized the position of the U.K. government: “We believe it is absolutely right that we should use all the tools at our disposal to build common ground with President Trump. The visit should happen. The visit will happen. And when it does, I trust the United Kingdom will extend a polite and generous welcome to President Donald Trump.”
Tory MP Nigel Evans similarly said during the debate: “I certainly do not like some of what he has said in the past, but I respect the fact that he is now delivering the platform on which he stood. He will go down in history as the only politician roundly condemned for delivering on his promises. I know this is a peculiar thing in the politics we are used to here—politicians standing up for something and delivering—but that is what Trump is doing.”
In stark contrast, the protestors outside were clear that they wanted no normalisation in the dealings with Trump. Speaker after speaker, many from marginal groups who feel threatened by a Trump presidency and the British government’s complicity in this, stressed the importance of not letting the government’s position go unchallenged.
There was a speaker from the All African Women’s Group/Global Women’s Strike who had activists on stage from the “One Day Without Us” actions taken internationally by the various migrant organisations–not just against Trump but against all the harsher policies directed towards migrants and minorities across the developed world. Their actions were to demonstrate the central importance of migrant labour to Western economies.
Another speaker, Heydon Prowse from TV prank show “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” then pointed out the very generous cancellation policies that Trump hotels offer. If you were to book several rooms for an important date in the president’s calendar, but for any reason could not make it at the last minute, there was absolutely no cancellation fee. “And Trump would not care, as he has divested himself of all his business interests”.
Nevertheless, the protest outside was a little like the debate inside, just going through the motions. The protest thus had a touch of diehard activism, unwilling to accept that democracy stops after a candidate has taken office. If the Trump visit to the U.K. does materialize, it seems there will be a large turnout to oppose him; it just might not be continuously mobilised right up until then.