Trafalgar Square 21st of January 2017. The rally that rounded off the Women’s March on London following the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the USA the day before and protesting against the values and attitudes he embodies, has finished.
It’s been a long day and despite the brilliant sunshine, a cold one, especially since the numbers participating meant some of us were standing waiting in Grosvenor Square long after those at the front had already set off.
Now the statues and monuments are casting long shadows and a significant proportion of the 100,000 women, men, children (and the odd dog) who attended have already dispersed.
But even so a fair number of us can’t bring ourselves to leave just yet.
There are marchers spilling out of the surrounding café and on the street chatting with each other and with relaxed looking policewomen and men, whose presence has not been needed and has been barely noticeable throughout the day.
Within the square groups of people are listening to live music, or gathered around sound systems, or strolling round to take photos of the vast array of hand knitted pink pussy hats (each one the same but a little bit different), the costumes and sculptures and the endless variety of banners; funny, angry, beautifully crafted, hastily scrawled and everything in between.
The group that grabs our attention most is that surrounding three young girls who are using the edge of the fountain as a stage. Hard to tell their exact age but to me these three look to be in their early teens, somewhere between 13-16 years old. One of them is wearing a hijab and between them they reflect the rich and glorious ethnic diversity of contemporary Britain.
They are also swathed in banners, badges and signs that reflect the diverse issues that have informed this march and which reflect on current politics in this country and Europe as well as the US. By these signs they declare themselves amongst other things to be not just anti Trump’s racism and sexism but pro – immigration and pro– justice and equality for a wide range of marginalised groups.
They are performing marching chants of some verbal complexity delivered in perfect uninson and at such tongue-tripping speed that those of us older folk who try to join in are quickly left behind. Their rhythms hold a faint, playful echo of schoolyard skipping rituals and their faces are lit by broad smiles that show immense pleasure in their own wit and inventiveness and in having attracted an audience.
But there is a real seriousness to this performance too. It is a proud, public assertion that insists on the right to speak and to be heard. It is a declaration of solidarity and of resistance. It symbolises a hopeful, alternative vision of the future to that represented by Trump and by the short-sighted, small-minded, right wing politicians that have risen up in the UK and Europe, whose performances are characterised by aggression, divisiveness and lies, lies, lies.
These three young women’s spontaneous performance embodied much of what we (a ‘we’ marked by differences) were marching for (as well as against) not just in London but in hundreds of places across the world. And it summed up the extraordinary atmosphere that characterised these events. Whether the half a million strong march in Washington USA or the 15 strong march in Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia (population 65) they were marked by calm determination, civility, inclusiveness, humour and creativity.
Hope not Hate.
We shall overcomb