We shall over-comb: dispatches from the London Trump march

This post originally appeared in the Guernsey Press, Saturday 21 July 2018

“It seems like everywhere I go, I can’t escape that asshole.” My friend, whom I’m hosting from Seattle for the weekend, is lamenting the news of Donald Trump’s arrival in the UK, and doesn’t mince his words. But in a case of serendipitous timing for me, I mention how I’ve been tasked with heading down to the big Trump march across London to get a feel for the atmosphere, and so we both leapt at the chance to head out last Friday to go and see what Londoners really felt about Mr Trump.

It’s an understatement to say they certainly weren’t happy. The protests were peaceful, but loud. And as we neared Portland Place – the home of the BBC in London – it was eye-opening to see just the number of people who’d turned out armed with flags, T-shirts, noisemakers, and a ton of homemade signs. Final reports estimated the crowds to be in the tens of thousands – up to 250,000 according to some estimates – and it felt like it. I’d never seen a protest in London like it. My Seattle friend had been amused by the news that the US Embassy advised its citizens to ‘keep a low profile’ during the presidential visit, so, sensing the general excitement and safety of this very passionate crowd, we enjoyed the liberation of loudly talking about life in Seattle as we drew closer to the protest.

I bump into two women – Joanna and Francesca. ‘We’re Americans, and I was naturalised here,’ Joanna says. She’s holding up a sign depicting Donald Trump grabbing at the Statue of Liberty. ‘I think this [sign] says it all. He violates women, and he violates the principles of the Statue of Liberty.’ It was the consensus shared by most people on the march – a woman holding a ‘Stop Trump’ sign (a parody of the Top Trumps playing cards) scores him 10/10 for racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, and a 0/10 for Empathy. Other signs carried a simpler message – ‘I preferred Obama’, ‘feed him to the corgis’, or my personal favourite, ‘we shall over-comb’.

But of course, the showstopper – the icon of the march – was the Trump Baby balloon: a giant, helium-filled caricature of Donald in a nappy, hands outstretched, carrying a phone. I never realised there would be a time in my fledgeling journalistic career wherein I’d do intense research on (and later get angry about) a balloon, but it turns out there were a ton of mixed messages surrounding the Trump Baby blimp, so I thought I’d clear a few things up:

As far as I can understand, there were actually two Trump balloons. There was of course the big one; six metres high, flying around Parliament for two hours on the morning of the march. I later learnt it was because they were only permitted two hours airtime for the blimp, so there was a second balloon – a much smaller affair, which was carried around for the rest of the day. I’ll admit, when I first saw the pre-march publicity shots I was terribly excited – the mock-ups made it look like one of those massive floats they get for the New York Thanksgiving Day Parade: a giant, looming figure dwarfing the crowd below. In reality, the balloon most people got to see was was about the same size as a garden shed. Regardless, it was funny, and seemed to make the perfect selfie opportunity for marchers.

The reason I’m now angry about this balloon? Well, when it was launched, as a crowd-funded campaign, their target was originally £1,500 to get it all up and running.

At the time of writing, they’ve raised £34,000. And the page is still open for you to donate even more. At first, they said they’d donate the extra money to charities ‘that help support the victims of Trump’s proto-fascist policies’. But wait, is that a backtrack I smell? Indeed it might be, because the latest update on the page now says ‘World Tour! Let’s fund a global travel fund for Trump Baby… the more generous donations we receive, the more places Trump Baby can go!!!’ No mention of those charities any more then, eh?

I’m sorry, but having invested in my fair share of crowdfunders in the past, the cynic in me can’t help but read that update as ‘we’ve now got a pantload of your money, we’re not obliged to tell you how we’re spending it, so we might as well go on holiday.’ I’m all for fun little stunts like this – especially if they’re privately funded – but I do draw the line at campaigns that aren’t transparent about what they’re doing with their cash. And besides, some activists in the US just raised $23,000 to create balloons of their own, so at least they can cross that one off their ‘World Tour’ list, right? I tried to ask one of the organisers about it (the ‘Trump Babysitters’, as they were called), asking her if she’d mind me asking a couple of questions. Alas, she brushed me off: ‘Actually, I do mind. You can email us instead.’

Snubbed by balloon lady, and with tinnitus in my ears from the shouts and horns, we decided to head out. As we were leaving Parliament Square, my friend spotted one of the few Trump supporters stood with a little sign saying ‘Trump is Welcome’. I sidled up to him. ‘He’s putting American people first. And I think he’s putting British people first more than Theresa May. I know tomorrow there’s going to be a pro-Trump protest, and, to be honest, I hope we can beat the numbers here’.

Spoiler alert: they didn’t.