May, You Live In Interesting Times
I was an enthusiastic participant in the original Pussy march in London on 21 January 2017, along with an estimated 5 million people worldwide – there were over 400 anti-Trump marches in cities across the world that day. It was unlike any other protest march I had previously joined, both in its organisation and its atmosphere; it had been entirely planned via social media which made it feel somehow ‘word of mouth’, organic and democratic. Although there was an organising committee and co-sponsors, it felt like a really populist (in the best sense of that word) occasion, and it is the first march I have ever been on which didn’t feature ubiquitous identikit SWP placards. All the banners and signs I saw that day were home-made, original and overwhelmingly witty; this felt like it was a march of mainly engaged, confident and articulate people. The atmosphere was positive, inclusive, good humoured and warm, despite the freezing winter weather. At that point, Trump’s election as president felt unreal and absurd, like part of the plot of a far-fetched dystopian sci fi film which had somehow bled off the screen and into real life, but there was also such an optimistic spirit in evidence that day that it also felt fixable.
My assumption at that point was that, once Trump was actually installed in the White House, the grown-ups would take charge. I’m just about old enough to remember Reagan, who was also something of an iconoclastic loose cannon on the campaign trail, but whose worst excesses seemed a little tamed once he took office. He was regressive, divisive and, quite frankly, dim, but there was always a sense that there were experienced advisors around him. The fear of nuclear war was very real during his presidency but I always assumed that there were cooler heads around the president and that their wiser counsel would eventually prevail.
However, as far as I can tell – and it is difficult to keep up with the rapid personnel changes around the president – Trump has fired all the grown-ups and either not replaced them at all, or replaced them with his own minions. First rate sycophants with fourth rate minds. He does not listen, he will not take advice which differs in any way from what he already thinks (although I use the word ‘thinks’ advisedly) and he takes capriciousness all the way to the point of perilousness and beyond. The Trump Blimp is absolutely spot on – here is a petulant baby, full of hot air and trapped in the day glo orange body of a dangerous and powerful world leader. On any given day, literally anything could happen in his world which could result in extreme danger to ours.
There were actually two marches in London today; one organised by Women’s March London, who were behind the January 2017 march and another hosted by Owen Jones and organised by Stop Trump. I was drawn to the first, which was titled Bring The Noise: as they explained:
Bring pots and pans; bring drums; bring musical instruments; bring your voices. We’re taking pots and pans from the domestic space of home into the public space of politics – their purpose transformed for participation, engagement and joyful noise as we bring Cacerolazo
– ‘Casserole protest’ – to the heart of the city.
For someone who was born and bred in London, I am spectacularly bad at Londoning. I’m scared of the entire underground system, and I’m not great in crowds so it took me a while to walk across the city to find the march. By the time I did, it was well formed, joyous and noisy; there were plenty of home-made placards, plenty of wit, plenty of focused anger and plenty of pots and pans. Rather than join the front or middle, I stood at the side of the road to wait for the tail. It took 23 minutes for everyone to pass me, which gives some idea of just how many people there were (later estimates suggest that around 250 000 people were protesting in London today). I’m glad, in retrospect, that I had the chance to do this; in January 2017 I was in the middle of the group and so didn’t get the chance to appreciate the scale, or see all the banners. The march finished in Parliament Square, home of the glorious Trump Blimp and I am really glad that I will be able to tell my as yet unborn grandchildren that I witnessed it in all its orange magnificence. I listened to some moving speeches and poems (although I couldn’t see much, being a small woman at the back of a big gathering) before having to leave in search of shade and water.
The overall mood of the day seemed to me to be as positive, enabling and inclusive as last year, but this was an angrier march too, with a more focused, more determined undercurrent. There were representatives from many organisations (yes, I did see SWP placards this time); if nothing else, Trump has succeeded in uniting a lot of people. There was, of course, a heavy police presence – plenty of helicopters and blue lights – but it was not heavy handed at all, as far as I could see. The officers were mainly observing passively, and giving directions to bewildered tourists, and seemed good natured and relaxed. I like to think that this is because they agree with the aims of the march, but of course I have nothing other than my sunny and/or feckless sense of optimism as evidence for this belief.
I know the PM has few people other than herself and her government to blame here, but I couldn’t help but have a pang of pity for her. We were on the streets, in the beautiful sunshine, venting our displeasure clearly, cleverly and with cacerolazo, while she has to be in the same room and breathing the same fetid air as this monstrous, maggoty excuse for a man. She has to witness his boorish buffoonery at close quarters, and remain civil and welcoming. I guess this proves that you reap what you sow. I guess this is karma for insulting your 27 closest allies and putting all your eggs in a tangerine, shit shaped basket. I guess this is how her future will look, presiding over the break-up and break down of the increasingly ironically named United Kingdom. Bowing, scraping begging. Humiliating.
There isn’t, apparently, an old Chinese curse which says ‘May you live in interesting times’ – there is no equivalent idiom in Chinese and the phrase was first recorded in the 1930s. It is a saying which has often puzzled me – I’m easily bored, why wouldn’t I want to live in interesting times? – but these last few years have helped me understand more profoundly the meaning; I would now quite like to have a few calm years with no alarms and no surprises. Please.
As Martin Luther King said, light always drives out darkness, and this current darkness will end, but there may be a lot of pain for a lot of people before dawn comes. Meanwhile, I hope Theresa May is extremely unhappy in living through interesting times, though. I hope Trump’s life is nothing but extremely interesting for the rest of his days. I hope they, and the other right-wing enablers who have unleashed the current darkness, intolerance, hatred and fear across the world never have a peaceful day again.