How Much Longer Can Theresa May Ignore These Protesters?

Photographed by Amelia Abraham
If you dance with the devil, you will get burned. Or at least, that's the message Prime Minister Theresa May seemed to be on the receiving end of last night. From 5.30pm to around 8.30pm, The Mall outside her residence on Downing Street in London was filled with thousands of passionate protesters keen to make a stand against her complicity with President Donald Trump. “Missing: Theresa May’s Spine” read one poster.

May has come under fire for remaining notably silent on Trump’s recent travel ban, which prevents citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA. The executive order, passed on Friday 27th January, also suspends the entry of refugees to America for 120 days, a move that has been explained by US officials as a temporary measure until a more permanent 'vetting system' is put in place.

Targeting refugees from countries like war-torn Syria, the new bans have understandably been met with condemnation and accusations of racism, and slammed as a breach of human rights law. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the move “shameful and cruel”, more than 1.5 million people have signed a petition calling for Trump’s UK state visit to be cancelled, and objectors to the ban have been tweeting their disapproval under the hashtag #standuptotrump.

On his event page for last night’s London rally, organiser Owen Jones, a political commentator and journalist, urged protestors to “stand in solidarity with those targeted by Trump’s Government”. He wrote: “Theresa May has decided to ally herself with Donald Trump's bigoted, misogynistic government. She has refused to speak out against Donald Trump's #MuslimBan – even when her own Members of Parliament are targeted. It is not only weak, it is a matter of national shame – disgracing our country across the world.”

The atmosphere was high-energy as protesters flooded out of Westminster tube station and descended on The Mall. “I’m here because I don’t think Theresa May should be siding with a fascist,” explained Rosie, 17, one of a group of four girls from Hertfordshire who had travelled to the protest straight after school yesterday. “I’m sick of standing around and watching adults mess up politics,” added her friend Izzie, 16.
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Photographed by Amelia Abraham
Mariam, a 24-year-old student, explained that, as someone who carries dual citizenship between Britain and Iran, she was concerned about whether she will be granted entry to the US in the future (officials have now clarified that dual citizens will likely be permitted). Her main issue, however, was with the British government’s reaction: “I expect my government to stand up for me, and not just because I am a British citizen, but because the ban is fundamentally wrong,” she said.

According to the Facebook page at the time of the protest last night, around 25k people were confirmed to attend the event. Aerial shots posted by the London Metropolitan Police showed the scale of the demonstration. The crowd was virtually impossible to move through, with chants of “Dump Trump”, “Borders not walls” and “Shame on May” filling the air outside Downing Street.

At one end of The Mall, speakers including Bianca Jagger, Diane Abbott and Baroness Shami Chakrabarti gave speeches to a small section of the crowd. MP Mhairi Black read out a message to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who earlier that day had said comparing Trump’s ban to the Holocaust was a trivialisation. Black responded: “The only trivialisation is to think history can’t repeat itself”. She then kicked off a chant: “No state visit, no state visit”.

The sentiment that Trump should not be permitted to enter the UK was echoed by Helen, Denise and Eve, a group of friends who had come down to the protest to boycott a state visit. “The fact that Theresa May is accepting what he’s doing by inviting him here on a state visit is appalling,” said Helen, “we shouldn’t be ok with it.”
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Photographed by Amelia Abraham
Jesusa, a Spanish woman who has been living in the UK for 25 years, drew links between Brexit and Trump's travel ban. She explained that, as an immigrant herself, and one who is concerned about her future in Britain post-Brexit, she could empathise with those who will be denied access to the US. “There are too many divisions in 2017,” she said, “despite everything that has happened in history we’re still dealing with this bullshit.” She attended last night, she said, because “I couldn’t tell my kids I didn’t do anything about this fascism eruption.”
Photographed by Amelia Abraham
By day, Jesusa works as an activist for the rights of women during pregnancy, but last night’s event brought out plenty of people who were protesting for the first time, too. Laura, from Ireland, had never been to a protest before and was attending alone. She told Refinery29 that she thought it was important to show her support for her flatmate, who is from Iran, and for everyone else affected by the ban. “It was really shocking to me,” she said in genuine disbelief, “I didn’t think this could happen.”

Last night’s event comes just nine days after the Women's March on London, a protest which, although broad in scope, also took aim at Trump’s rampant show of sexism, racism and homophobia. Both events were peaceful and family-friendly, but demonstrated a collective and rising anger among the British public, particularly in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

Theresa May has yet to issue a response to the protest, but with sister events taking place last night in cities around the UK, including Liverpool and Hastings, as well as a follow-up march planned for London this Saturday, the message should be hard to ignore.

In a column he wrote for The Guardian yesterday, protest organiser Jones said he felt optimistic but reminds us that, “If Trumpism is to fail in its mission to remake the United States in its own image, it will require an extraordinary movement... Both resilience and courage will be needed in the coming weeks and months.”
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