(Photos by Chris Bethell)
On Monday evening, protesters gathered in London to demonstrate against the state visit in June of President Donald Trump, President of the USA and official source of All Bad Things.
In nearby Westminster Hall, MPs discussed if it's right and proper to embarrass the Queen by forcing a Trump visit on her, in a debate triggered by the 1.8 million people who signed that online petition. People gathered in the square outside to hear loads and loads of speeches about how Trump is bad, and why we should disinvite him.
You know that protest the other week that everyone on your timeline went to? This was the sequel to that. There were a few thousand people there, including an Italian woman I spoke to who saw it out of the bus window on the way home from work and decided to join in.
Throughout the night there was an awkward contradiction. Some of the speakers were horrified at the thought of giving Trump the honour of a state visit – Britain's red carpet should be reserved for the virtuous, they said. To others, there was a slight hypocrisy at play: Britain is not as un-Trumpy as we might like to think.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell came to pass on a message from Jeremy Corbyn. He said, "The award of a state visit is usually an honour to a respected world leader. We make it absolutely clear there is no way Donald Trump deserves this honour."
In Westminster Hall, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the state visit, pointing out that nobody had complained when Emperor Hirohito, who was responsible for "the rape of Nanking", had a state visit to the UK.
Back outside, Bianca Jagger told the crowds, "I'm here to ask Theresa May: what are the common grounds you have with this man? How can the Prime Minister want to have Donald Trump be the guest of honour in this country?"
It was supposed to be a rhetorical question – what could anyone possibly share with that awful man?
As Gracie Mae Bradley from Against Borders for Children put it, "What is over there is already over here. Theresa May has been using school children's records in a bid to deport them and their families from the country. She is doing the same thing with people's medical records. This government has a stated policy to create a hostile environment for irregular migrants.
"Donald Trump's executive order attempted to ban refugees from the country, but we have an asylum system that deters people from seeking sanctuary here… So I hope lots of you are here today not just to say that we don't want Donald Trump over here, but to say that we do not want state sanctioned racism in this country at all."
There really were a lot of speeches. The shorter ones tended to be better. Refreshingly non-windbagging was Caleb Femi, Young Poet Laureate for London, who said, "We're not here to justify our humanity to anyone. We're just here."
"Think about how to cultivate your own voice," he added.
All protests are slightly weird, but with a clown in the White House it makes sense that this one had a particularly circus-like feel. At one point, a van driving around the Parliament Square – basically a glorified roundabout – emerged from behind the stage and started blasting out music. Lee Jasper and his cohort of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) rapped over it:
"You are not welcome here."
"When I say 'don't you', you say 'come here' / don't you come here, don't you come here."
Providing the backing was this guy. It was like someone had been kidnapped from one of the lesser Bestival stages.
When Guardian columnist and protest organiser Owen Jones started to speak, another mobile music act emerged from behind the stage, distracting a sizeable chunk of the audience. This time it was a band playing the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", followed by a large dancing crowd. They had changed the lyrics to "Should Trump Stay or Should He Go?" Genius.
Solemn speeches battled for dominance over sound systems navigating a big roundabout at the heart of our democracy, with a police helicopter buzzing inescapably overhead. It felt like the world was ending and some people were trying to save their souls, while others wanted one final party. Which, if you're a pessimist, is not that far from reality.
It's questionable whether or not May is really plumbing any new depths by aligning herself with Trump, but it does create an opportunity to show the banal evil of the British State for what it is. Hopefully that can mean more than over-long speeches and crappy protest songs, and extend to really organising to defend everyone under threat.
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