Protesters gathered at Dortmund Square on Monday evening, in an ad-hoc merging of protests organised by Stand Up to Racism and Momentum. Though the two had stated different reasons for their protests, the emotions on display were intense, despite that the UK Government has had only a week of relations with the new US administration. Spilling out of Dortmund Square, the protest turned into a march, doing a lap down Boar Lane, and up Briggate, before finishing outside the Leeds Art Gallery. At the march’s peak, the crowd spanned from one end of Briggate to the other. The protests did however draw the ire of commuters, angered by the march’s disruption of bus routes. Nevertheless, it was organised with only a day’s notice, and turnout exceeded expectations. If President Trump does visit the UK, it has likely been a prelude to larger protests.
On their Facebook event, Stand Up to Racism, presided by Diane Abbott MP, a key Jeremy Corbyn ally, stated their protest was a display against growing racism and Islamophobia. Momentum, the movement founded to support Corbyn’s leadership, billed it as a direct protest against Trump’s policies, and the UK Government’s attempts to develop closer ties with the US.
The bulk of the protesters were students and political activists, but significant numbers of first time protesters turned out. Marcel, a retiree in her first protest, hoped to create pressure on the US Government to allow the return of green card holders. She also baulked at the prospect of a state visit by Trump: “I don’t think he should be meeting the Queen, he should go to Downing Street and not bother anybody else”.
Those interviewed by the Gryphon were unanimous in the desire to rescind the invitation of a state visit, and hold back from closer ties with the US. Ian, a political activist, said “I don’t want him coming here. If he does, then we’ll be down in London protesting against him”.
It’s precarious for Teresa May’s administration. Though they had hoped to sooth US ties before it becomes politically difficult to be seen close to the new Presidency, Trump’s moves to take instant action with executive powers has undermined this strategy. It leaves the UK with few reliable allies. The Conservatives had likely hoped to pivot towards a Clinton led US, as British influence in Europe diminished. They are now caught between an electorate that can palate neither EU membership, nor close ties to the US.
There is already intense pressure on May, as she was forced to backtrack from a neutral position on American immigration regulations and move to protect the interests of UK dual nationals. As a petition to prevent a state visit by Trump passed a million signatures, May is holding, dismissing the petition as a ‘populist gesture’. However, unpopular relationships with the US have ousted Prime Ministers before.
(Images: Ben Hutchinson)