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Nationwide U.K. Protests Mark Trump’s First State Visit—as It Happened

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Nationwide U.K. Protests Mark Trump's First State Visit—as It Happened

The Trump baby blimp is guarded by "Trump babysitters" in London's Parliament Square. (Natasha Hakimi Zapata / Truthdig)

Organizers estimate 250,000 protesters hit the streets in London alone as more than 60 protests took place across the United Kingdom on Friday to demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s first official visit to the United States’ historical ally.

PHOTO ESSAY | 68 photosSnapshots From a Day of Anti-Trump Protests in London

Several planned visits to Britain have been cancelled since his inauguration, including one as recently as February. The July 13 trip was confirmed in the spring, prompting activists to quickly organize to demonstrate the British people’s disapproval of both Trump and his policies.

On the Facebook page of the Stop Trump coalition, hundreds of thousands marked their intention to attend Friday’s day of action in London, many arriving in buses that brought activists into the capital city from across Britain. The protest began at 2 p.m. GMT (6 a.m. PDT) outside BBC headquarters and culminates in a two-hour rally in Trafalgar Square from 5  to 7 p.m. GMT (9 to 11 a.m. PDT).

Owen Jones, a leftist activist who writes for The Guardian and who co-hosted the Facebook event with the Stop Trump Coalition, posted periodic updates about the protest, including on Thursday, the day the U.S. president arrived on British soil. Another protest by the Women’s March London went from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. GMT (3 a.m. to 6 a.m. PDT), ending in a rally in Parliament Square.

The British people have made no secret of their displeasure with the American president. During Trump’s 2016 campaign, two petitions that received the most signatures in British history were debated in Parliament: One was a call for candidate Trump to be banned from entering the U.K. due to campaign speeches that incited hate; the other was a demand that the borders be kept open to the possible president of one of Britain’s closest allies. At the time of the debate, however, most members of Parliament seemed doubtful he would be elected.

Read Truthdig’s exclusive coverage from within the walls of the Houses of Parliament: ‘Free to Be a Fool’: Behind the Scenes at the British Parliament’s Debate on Banning Trump

After Trump was elected, 1.8 million British citizens and residents signed a separate petition asking Parliament not to plan a state visit. In a recent piece for Truthdig, contributor Juan Cole explained why Prime Minister Theresa May likely decided to move forward with the summit, despite public disapproval.

Most observers are puzzled as to why British Prime Minister Theresa May is hosting a Trump visit to her country, a visit that is likely to put a couple hundred thousand protesters in the streets of London alone and to offer opportunities for serial embarrassment to all concerned.

Some 45 percent of the British don’t want a Trump visit at all. This statistic is shocking. What are 55 percent of Britons thinking? Still, the negative number with regard to a visit of a U.S. president is unprecedented. London will permit a satiric float to be flown mocking “baby Trump.”

It seems likely that May is hoping that Trump will help out Britain with the fallout of the Brexit decision. By leaving the European Union (as Trump himself urged them to do), Britons are essentially raising their own taxes by 7 percent to 29 percent with regard to services and imports originating in Europe. And, of course, they are essentially placing a voluntary export tariff on the goods and services they send to other European countries, putting themselves at a vast economic disadvantage.

So if trade and services with Europe will fall off, how will the U.K. pick up the slack?

Well, Trump could do May some favors with regard to U.S.-British trade.

Read more.

Trump’s visit was planned so as to avoid areas where protesters are expected to gather. In the run-up to the demonstrations, Amnesty International “warned against a repeat of the scenes in London when Xi Jinping visited in 2015 [when] some activists seeking to protest against Xi complained they were corralled out of his view, allowing his route in London to be lined mainly by supportive Chinese nationals seemingly organised by Beijing officials,” The Guardian reports.

Much of the media coverage in the U.S. regarding the protests centered around a crowd-funded blimp of Trump portrayed as a large orange baby with a cellular phone in his hand. The blimp, which was approved by the office of London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, was permitted to float in Parliament Square from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. GMT (1:30 to 3:30 a.m. PDT).

Trump has responded, telling media, “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London. … I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”

Truthdig’s Natasha Hakimi Zapata was on the scene in London’s Parliament Square on Friday, where she asked protesters and bystanders what they think about Trump, not to mention the iridescent blimp. She also reported from both the Women’s March and the Stop Trump Coalition rally. The Truthdig editor and contributor writes in a dispatch to staff,

The mood on the ground during each of the three protests and rallies I covered was jubilant, inclusive and filled with respect for fellow-protesters, even if the thing that united them all was disdain towards the U.S. leader. Protesters of all ages and races came together in Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, some of who had traveled hours from across the U.K. to attend, bringing with them a litany of grievances against Trump: his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, policies that affect women’s health, anti-LGBTQ comments and legislation, family separation at the U.S. border, the racist travel ban, continued U.S. intervention in the Middle East and an overall hard-right approach to politics that inspired many signs about fascism.

Many organizers and protesters expressed their disapproval towards U.S. domestic and foreign policies, under Trump and his recent predecessors, as much as they did towards their own government’s actions. There were yellow neon “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers stuck to plenty of clothes and signs, and some protesters had signs that likely came from a recent protest about issues with the U.K.’s National Health Service.

While a few Trump supporters made their way into the throngs, and even tried to pick a fight or two, I did not witness any violence, but rather a celebration of unity, as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described it in his speech to activists gathered in Trafalgar Square. Corbyn summarized what many of the activists stood for, saying that the people that came together on Friday sent a clear message against racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and more. Corbyn took a very different stance towards Trump than Prime Minister Theresa May did, marking yet another pronounced difference in their approaches to politics and governing.

May, who was mentioned on many placards, was seen by many to be capitulating in cowardice towards Trump in order to obtain a better trade deal with the U.S. at a time in which her own government is struggling to maintain power as it negotiates a Brexit deal with the European Union. May’s conservative government kept Trump far away from protesters, keeping him busy outside the capital city at tea with Queen Elizabeth II and a black-tie dinner with the prime minister and her husband.

Back in London, the protesters seemed unfazed by Trump’s avoiding their routes, feeling confident the strong showing would speak for itself. And the U.S. leader did show up, after all, in the form of a large blimp where he was depicted as a baby, as well as in many more humiliating illustrations. One transparent umbrella covered in Trump trolls designed by a young man from Manchester named Adrian Smith summarized the general sentiment many of the protesters seemed to express throughout the day: “Love America. Hate Trump.”

Check out Hakimi Zapata’s live updates from London on our Twitter account, as well as below.

5:47 p.m. EDT:  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses thousands of protesters in Trafalgar Square, beginning his speech by thanking those in attendance for “showing your love for democracy, for diversity, for unity and for hope.” After talking about the hard-earned right to protest, the British leader outlines his disapproval of Trump’s approach towards everything from climate change to refugees.

“Above all the message we give here today in all our diversity is one of solidarity of people wanting that different and better world,” Corbyn concludes. “And it is one fundamentally of our unity around those values, a unity that goes across national frontiers wherever they may be, anywhere around the world, because when we divide ourselves by xenophobia [and] hatred, we all lose.”

2:10 p.m. EDT: A Women’s March protester weighs in: “I’m not normally a protester. But when it comes to something like this, you have to stand up and be counted. I disagree with just about everything you could say about Trump.”

1:30 p.m. EDT: The turnout in Trafalgar Square has been overwhelming, both on the ground and overhead.

1:09 p.m. EDT: During a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, Donald Trump made not one but two demonstrably false claims: that he was in Scotland on the eve of Brexit, and that he correctly predicted the referendum vote.

“Well, if you remember, I was opening Turnberry the day before Brexit,” he told reporters, “And I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And all they wanted to talk about was Brexit and they asked for my opinion and I think you will agree that I said I think Brexit will happen. And it did happen. And then we cut the ribbon.”

Watch:

11:33 a.m. EDT: Eileen Plater drove nearly four hours from just outside Manchester to participate in the protests. “As soon as I heard he was coming to the country, I thought it was really important that he knows like 9 out of 10 people in Britain don’t think he’s doing a good job, and don’t think he’s a good person,” she tells Truthdig. “He’s racist, he’s sexist, he’s homophobic … and I think he’s bringing America down.”

10:20 a.m. EDT: Friday’s protests have seen no shortage of withering placards. Here are some of the demonstrators’ more imaginative offerings:

9:50 a.m. EDT: Donald Trump managed to roil the U.K. and its government even before his summit with Theresa May began Friday. In an exclusive interview with The Sun, he lambasted the prime minister for her eagerness to negotiate a soft Brexit and hinted that he might be willing to support another member of the Tory Party. Trump maintains that his relationship with May is “very strong,” while dodging questions about his explosive remarks. More from The Associated Press:

Interviewed before he left Brussels for the U.K, Trump accused May of ruining what her country stands to gain from its Brexit vote to leave the European Union. He said her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, would make an “excellent” prime minister, speaking just days after Johnson resigned his position in protest over May’s Brexit plans.

Trump added that May’s “soft” blueprint for the U.K.’s future dealings with the EU would probably “kill” any future trade deals with the United States.

“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump told the paper.

Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Assistant Editor and Poetry Editor
Natasha Hakimi Zapata holds a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Boston University and both a B.A. in Spanish and a B.A. in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of California, Los…
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Jacob Sugarman
Jacob Sugarman is a contributing editor at Truthdig. He is a graduate of the Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism whose writing has appeared in Salon, AlterNet and Tablet, among other…
Jacob Sugarman

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