The atmosphere was not unlike a carnival. We jostled, we smiled. We read each other’s signs and laughed out loud.
It was a great meeting of minds and of witty slogans. One man bearing relevant sections of the US declaration of independence on a giant sandwich board offered his M&Ms to the police. Across nationalities, ethnicities and religions, across what is sometimes a divide between the police and the people they serve, we shared a joyous moment in history.
And what a moment. Children on their first march, standing up for love. Dormant Vietnam War protesters, now in their 60s, dragging themselves out in the face of illness because they had to do something. Students, professionals, dogs, the occasional intoxicated lady. People like me, who hadn’t protested against anything else since our teens, or perhaps ever, and had never made a placard in our lives.
Trump has achieved at least one positive thing: he has galavanised the British people in a way that no issue has in a generation. Middle England is off its sofas and on the march. We share a collective horror not only that Trump is in power, but that our Prime Minister is literally and metaphorically holding hands with him.
And of course, in a way, she has to. We can’t afford to cut off the EU and the US at the same time. Brexit means Trump. And Trump comes with a free Putin. The EU, NATO, and even the UN are at risk while Putin and Trump are in power. This emerging axis of evil is not something we should be anywhere near as a nation. But Brexit forces us to stay close because we need all the friends we can get.
War in our time
So make no mistake: for all the carnival atmosphere at Downing Street and and at the protests throughout the UK, this is war.
We’re not just fighting a deluded narcissist of a president, runnng the US like a toddler having a permanent tantrum (sorry if that’s unfair to toddlers).
We’re also fighting the deadly strategist Putin; we’re fighting the far-right, empowered and salivating across Europe. Put in the most basic way, we’re fighting evil. And neither evil, nor Trump, Putin or the European far-right – including our own UKIP – will lie down without a fight. Neither of course will the evil Daesh, killing, raping and enslaving on their own vile journey of hatred.
It’s war, and war means casualties. The truth has already fallen. “Alternative facts” have become a daily reality, spewed even from the official White House podium. Journalists scramble to sort the “true facts” from the lies, but it’s impossible to correct them all or to ever convince people all of them were lies in the first place.
Amid the surge in lies, lives have already been lost. The terrible attack on a mosque in Canada is borne of the sort of hatred that Trump’s flawed policies nuture and spread. I fear more people will have died of Trump before we’re done. His random ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries is also likely to increase the sort of anger which can lead to radicalisation.
It’s not just unjust and frankly bonkers, it’s counter-productive. In a bizarre twist, it’s possible Trump’s antics will act as a recruiting sergeant for Remain as well as for Daesh: faced with a choice between Brussels or Washington, Brussels is starting to look a lot more attractive.
Even as we gathered in our carnival atmosphere, families who should have been together in the US were continents apart, and families in Quebec as well as Syria were grieving. Hatred tears people apart and takes lives.
But what last night’s protests have showed (apart from the fantastic power of social media and the awesome commitment of the organisers) is that many ordinary people are not going to lie down without a fight.
I’m not currently proud of my nation for cosying up to an emerging tyrant, but am enormously proud of some of its people. How do we resist what’s happening on the international stage? We live, love and lobby. And, to paraphrase Thatcher, who for all her faults would have given Trump a bloody good handbagging: “We march on, we march to win.”