Activists Are Rallying Support From Across The Country To Protest Against Donald Trump's State Visit
Anti-Trump campaigners fear that Brits are distracted by Brexit, but are working hard behind the scenes to make sure that thousands turn out to protest against the president.
On Monday, the red carpet in London will be rolled out for US president Donald Trump, for his first official state visit to the United Kingdom. On his last trip, he all but avoided the capital, after tens of thousands of people pledged to protest against him.
This time, protesters will once again make their opposition to the president — and to the UK's decision to host him — known. Whether that message will be as strong as it was in July 2018 remains to be seen. Organisers fear that with concerns about Brexit and the Conservative Party's race to find a new leader high on the domestic agenda, many citizens may sit these protests out.
With this in mind, activists are working hard to mobilise Trump's detractors, spreading the world on social media, handing out flyers, holding rallies, signing up what they described as high-profile supporters, and working with trade unions and community groups to rally protesters en masse.
A recent YouGov poll found that 46% of Brits surveyed thought the state visit should go ahead, compared to 40% who thought it should be cancelled. Attitudes have not shifted much since last year, when 50% of people surveyed by YouGov thought it should go ahead and 37% wanted the 2018 visit cancelled.
When Trump visited the UK last summer, an estimated quarter of a million people marched through London in opposition to his presidency. Since then, domestic politics has intensified.
May was a busy month on the British political scene, with media attention focused on the European elections, the electoral collapse of the two main political parties, the rise of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, the prime minister announcing her resignation, and the resulting competition to succeed her.
Amid the turmoil, organisers fear that Brits will be too concerned with what is happening at home to busy themselves with the US president's visit. They say the protest is not about just Trump, but against his values and his policies being replicated in the UK.
For this reason, the organisers hope that the attentions of the public will now focus on the upcoming state visit, and that tens of thousands will once again take to London's streets with their whistles, homemade placards, and rustic effigies.
"What's important is we join the dots with what's happening here," Owen Jones, one of the organisers and a Guardian journalist and political commentator, told BuzzFeed News.
"Awful, vulgar racist messaging in this country; Islamophobia on the rise; scapegoating of migrants for all the injustices caused by the powerful; climate change, which has been pushed up the agenda by Extinction Rebellion, and which Donald Trump is only accelerating; misogyny; the attack on LGBT people — we're protesting about Trumpism."
"And we may soon have our own form of Donald Trump in Number 10," he added, "in the form of Boris Johnson."
Jones told BuzzFeed News organisers have "no idea" how many people will turn up for the main protest on Tuesday. The fact that it's taking place on a Tuesday, rather than a Friday like last year, is a concern, he said, as is the fact that recent media attention has been focused elsewhere. "I'm slightly concerned I don't think most people realise the state visit is next week," he said.
On Trump's first visit, "there was huge, huge build-up and not loads of things happening," he added.
However, behind the scenes, anti-Trump activists have been working hard to get the word out. "Across the country unions and campaign groups are organising to get people down to London," Jones told BuzzFeed News. "Unions are mobilising in their own localities across the country; they will be helping to get people down on coaches."
"Lots of high-profile people" are also filming videos, Jones said, to encourage people to turn out on the streets on Tuesday. Anti-Trump groups are also "massively upping" their efforts to spread the word on social media, but last year many more people turned out than had said they would in social media events — bucking the usual trend. "It just shows that social media is only one element of it," Jones added.
The organisers are also encouraging people who work in London who may not be able to attend for the whole day to turn up on their lunch break. "I'm sure some of their bosses are sympathetic," Jones said.
While a lot of the mobilising efforts centre around getting people "angry and revved up" about issues in the UK and across the pond, Jones is also keen to stress that "these protests are fun" with a "sense of solidarity and community".
"It's stressful organising a protest like this, but it'll be a great day," he added.
The team behind the infamous Trump baby balloon, which made headlines around the world last year, have pledged to bring the blimp back, but only if members of the public donate £30,000 to charities supporting marginalised groups. At time of publication, they were more than halfway towards achieving their target.
"That money is going to be used to support a variety of groups in the UK and the US, who are on the ground pushing back against the types of policies and politics that Trump represents," Kevin Smith, one of the Trump Baby organisers, told BuzzFeed News. "Groups fighting Islamophobia, groups fighting for migrant rights, groups who are pushing for climate justice, and reproductive rights and so on.
"Because we always said it was about so much more than just a balloon, not about just mocking Trump, it's about a very real act of solidarity and support for the groups on the ground that are doing that work, and for people either to support them financially or for people to actually be out there doing that organising and being part of that resistance themselves."
The decision on whether to allow the blimp to fly is the responsibility of the City Operations Unit at the Greater London Authority, rather than the Mayor of London, as some have suggested. However, Smith said negotiations were ongoing, and the group does not anticipate problems gaining the appropriate permissions, as these were granted last year.
A spokesperson for the Greater London Authority told BuzzFeed News: “An application has been made for permission to fly a blimp in Parliament Square. Any application to fly a blimp on land that the Greater London Authority manages is assessed by GLA officials, the police, National Air Traffic Service and the Civil Aviation Authority. A decision on whether this application can go ahead will be made in due course.”
Many people who donated to the crowdfunder to buy the original blimp have been in touch again, Smith said, eager to show their opposition to Donald Trump a second time.
Shaista Aziz, from the Stop Trump Coalition, said her group had also seen similar demand for another protest. As well as the main event on Tuesday, Together Against Trump — the umbrella organisation for groups staging the protests — are planning to picket outside Buckingham Palace on Monday, the night of the state banquet, she told BuzzFeed News.
"Immediately when the state visit was announced, our social media channels started receiving lot of attention, lots of demand," she said.
Like Jones, Aziz said that the planned protests are against Trump, but not exclusively so. "It's about migrant rights, reproductive rights, women's rights. We're obviously against the presidency of Donald Trump and everything he represents," she said, "but this is not just against Trump, this is against the hostile environment, hate crimes against migrants, the toxic climate and atmosphere giving rise to xenophobia, in Europe, North America, and across the world in places like India."
Instead of a march through London's streets like last year, Aziz said, organisers are planning for demonstrators at the main protest on Tuesday to converge on Trafalgar Square, Downing Street, Whitehall, and Parliament Square — making their presence felt right where Trump will be on his first official state visit.
The creative signs that protesters carried last year are likely to be back, with different sections of the protest made up of different groups — climate activists, women's rights advocates, LGBT groups, migrant rights campaigners, workers' rights groups, and more.
Alongside efforts to engage people on social media, through community groups, and by word of mouth, earlier this week activists held a mobilising rally in east London, she said, with speakers who encouraged people to turn out and protest.
"It will be loud, it will be very diverse, it will be a carnival atmosphere," she told BuzzFeed News. "The idea is that people will want to move wherever Trump is, as this time, as he is actually in the vicinity, close to the protesters."
A Metropolitan police spokesperson said the police force was still working with the group to agree to the exact location for the protests to be held.
"As part of the security operation for the President’s visit a barrier plan will be in place across Whitehall, just north of the Women’s War Memorial, on Tuesday, June 4," the spokesperson said.
"Officers met the organisers of ‘Together Against Trump’ on May 24 and advised that whilst protestors would not be able to make their way down Whitehall in its entirety, they could travel to the barrier line where they would be permitted to stage a protest. The location has a clear view of the access to Downing Street."
"Officers will continue to speak to the organisers of ‘Together Against Trump’ to try and reach an agreeable position," the spokesperson added. "A very experienced command team is preparing the multifaceted policing and security operation for the President’s visit, and whilst the Met has a responsibility to ensure the right to lawful protest, this needs to be balanced with the complex requirements of this policing plan."
"We are determined that we will be on the streets expressing our opposition to them rolling out the carpet," Asad Rehman, the executive director of War on Want and a member of the Stop Trump Coalition, told BuzzFeed News. "It will be a very creative protest."
"We will be taking over the whole of central London, that is the intent. Last time he came, obviously they hid him away in the countryside and he went up to Scotland to try to keep him away from the protest, they recognised that both the country and London in particular would not roll out a welcome for him, and we want to be sending that very powerful signal that he's not welcome, the state visit's not welcome, and of course standing alongside the many millions of people in the United States who at this very moment are suffering from his politics of bigotry and hatred."
"The country has been very distracted over the last few weeks with the European elections, Brexit et cetera," Rehman said, but he added that Trump's visit served to highlight the "politics of bigotry, hatred, and right-wing populism that has swept across Europe," which he says, makes it "even more important" for people to turn out and protest.
"Many of the underlying issues that Donald Trump feeds on are also present in this country, and we've always tried to draw attention to that, so we're confident that in this week there will be a massive ramp up, we're already starting to see that," he told BuzzFeed News.
As well as the rallies, the social media posts, and the groups mobilsing their own supporters, activists have been leafleting at tube stations, he said, to encourage members of the public to turn out.
With Brexit negotiators effectively jobless until the Tory leadership contest concludes, and the battle to succeed May officially on hold until the week after, protesters hope that whatever their numbers, attention will be focussed next week on their opposition to Trump.
Aziz told BuzzFeed News: "For us the most important thing is this state visit cannot be business as usual for our government and for Trump. He has the right to be here; we have the right to protest. We want Donald Trump to know we are here to protest him and his policies."