In the middle of July Donald Trump graced the UK with a presidential visit and the British public reacted the only way they could; politely asking him to f**k off. A crowd of literal thousands marched across London in an organised protest, complete with the now infamous “baby blimp” floating above the crowd, and protests were arranged up and down the country for those who couldn’t make it to London. Leeds was no different, and on the Friday evening of his visit I took to the streets with a few hundred like-minded individuals.
We were not protesting Trump himself, who was democratically elected (admittedly under dubious circumstances) and as president of the United States has the right to visit the UK. We were protesting everything he stood for; racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, and his irrational legislation surrounding access to abortion, the right to discriminate, the separation of immigrating families, and gun violence. As such there were representatives of just about every field who are violated by these problems, together forming an immense crowd that quite literally brought the city centre to a halt.
The protest began in a square outside a shopping mall where everyone gathered, took photos of the best signs, and shared their reasons for being there. When asked what I “stood for” I replied that I didn’t stand for much and after a moment’s hesitation the crowd understood my little joke. I then went on to remind the crowd of how, during his election campaign, Trump had mocked a disabled journalist for being disabled, something which I still feel has been too easily forgotten.
About an hour after gathering in the square we set off on our march (or in this case, roll) around the city centre, escorted by the police to control traffic and prevent any violence. A samba band played as we marched, all of us chanting and holding our signs proudly. People watched us from roof-top terraces and bus windows, and the cameras were inescapable. The atmosphere was not one of anger or disrespect, even from the commuters who had to wait for us to pass by, but one of peaceful solidarity. There was not a hint of violence anywhere. In fact, the only person seemingly opposed to us was a lone, white man perched precariously on a flower pot, holding a sign which called us sheep for following the crowd and declared how we must repent to God for our sins. Even at this provocation he got nothing more than a few small insults.
Normally I have difficulty moving in crowds as people tend to step over the front of my wheelchair or simply stop dead ahead of me so that I have to go around them, which means waiting for a gap in the crowd. Yet during the entire march I had not one person impede my path, or indeed treat me any differently than the other protesters. I felt almost as safe and respected as I do at my beloved wrestling shows.
At the end of the march I pulled away from the crowd to go home, clutching my hand-made sign as it began to disintegrate. What exactly did that sign say? “Disability doesn’t mean I can’t protest discrimination”.