Ah, 2015. As a Labour voter, seeing a Conservative majority government win the General Election and re-electing David Cameron as Prime Minister was far from ideal, yet overall, 2015 was without any major political upset. We danced to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars as it was played on every radio station ever, and Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich was probably the most controversial thing that happened all year. Well that, and his weird interview with Russell Brand. Donald Trump’s announcement that he would be running for President of The United States was taken about as seriously as Kanye West’s and gay marriage became legal across the whole of The US; a momentous victory for equality. Overall, a pretty good year.
Fast forward two years and a pussy-grabber is President of the free world, The UK is obsessed with an Article 50 which nobody knew existed in 2015 and Harambe is dead. The internet joked that 2016 was the worst year in a long time. The UK voted for Brexit and Donald Trump become president, alongside other events such as the deaths of many highly respected celebrities which caused people to jump to this assumption. And of course, doing what the internet does best, the memes that came with these events were pretty hilarious.
However, we are now two weeks into Trump’s presidency, and it isn’t funny anymore. As one of his first acts of office, the controversial president signed an executive order preventing nationals and dual-nationals from 7 Muslim-majority from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also suspended The United States refugee programme for 120 days and put a ban on Syrian refugees entering the country ‘indefinitely’. The order meant even citizens who had lived in The United States with green cards for a number of years could not be sure of their status on re-entry to the country, and there were reports that a 5 year old, half Iranian boy was handcuffed at Dulles International airport as staff assumed he was a ‘serious risk’.
Although previously stating during his campaign that he was proposing a “full and complete shut down on Muslims entering the US”, Trump has stated this executive order was not a ban on Muslims and is only a restriction on travel from countries which we’re highlighted as “terrorist hotspots” by the Obama administration, despite not including countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which harboured the terrorists who attacked the twin towers on 9/11. Although zero Americans have been killed by any citizen of any of the 7 countries on the list since 1975, the travel ban is currently still in place.
Of course, following Trump’s orders came huge criticism from around the world, with calls that this was a racist act of a fascist. The Supreme Court managed to block the ban on grounds that it was illegal, leading to fury from Trump, however the issue still remains. Prejudice, discrimination and hatred has made its way into the highest office in the world.
In The UK, the public reaction to the travel ban was that of disgust and dismay, however during Prime Minister May’s first visit to The United States after Trump’s inauguration on the 20th January, she was seen holding hands with him as they strolled through the White House and even invited him to The United Kingdom on an official state visit on behalf of The Queen, which led to a petition asking the government to cancel this visit to be drawn, amassing 1.8 million signatures within days.
Theresa May quickly became thrown into a controversy of her own as she refused to condemn Trump’s travel ban, even after The UN and Supreme Court deemed it illegal. Her complicity and refusal to speak out against the ban became too obvious to ignore and so on the 30th January up and down the country, thousands took to the streets to protest. Their message: “YOU may be turning a blind eye to discrimination, suffering and illegal human rights abuses across the pond, Theresa, but the British public are not”. I was lucky enough to attend the protest at Downing Street and stand in solidarity with those who believed, like me, enough was enough.
Aside from the sheer size of the crowd, the diversity of those involved was also striking. Old men and women waved banners in support of refugees alongside Muslims and Christians who stood hand-in-hand with LGBT+ protesters. Between the constant chants of “shame on May!”, “FUCK MIKE PENCE!” and “Trump’s hands are way too small, how is he going to build a wall?!” came prominent speakers from Ed Miliband and Owen Jones, to Lily Allen and British-Iranian comedian Shappi Khorsandi. At risk of sounding extremely corny, it was genuinely beautiful to see so many come out in protest at the injustice we were seeing across the pond, and the refusal of these people to sit back whilst our government quietly complied.
But of course, there were those who disagreed. The alt-right; the emerging ideology which condemns refugees as terrorists and aims to put “America first” or “Britain first”, people like Farage and Hopkins will always be vehemently opposed to the work of the left, and fiercely critical of anybody who attempts to promote equality through demonstration. Although disappointing, those opinions will never change, and although they may scream that they have the right to free speech from the rooftop, any demonstration which goes against their ideological view will be criticised for expressing the right which they so passionately defend.
And so, why do we protest? Donald Trump is not going to repeal his executive order just because a few thousand people descended on Downing Street to express their anger. What will we change?
There is not explicitly ‘correct’ answer. Of course there was a small victory when we saw the order blocked by the Supreme Court, but we are living in an age where discrimination is at an all time high. For me, the fact that protests have become so widespread against Trump and the rising alt-right prejudices shows that as a nation, and as one human race, there is still a large percentage of us who will not back down in the face of adversity. When we become quiet, it means they have won. Maybe the protests won’t do anything to stop Trump and May pushing through orders which infringe on the rights of refugees, gays, women and other minority groups, however we can show that by opposing them, those groups are not alone. We will stand together as one as the political landscape shifts dangerously towards hatred and fascism and show we are not done fighting. Not yet.