British-Asian author, comedian and actress Meera Syal was among millions of women who took to the streets last weekend in historic protests against the “erosion of women’s rights” following US president Donald Trump’s inauguration last Friday (20).
Syal and London mayor Sadiq Khan joined thousands of protesters last Saturday (21) in London, while in America, Hollywood stars walked alongside ordinary citizens outraged by the new US president’s “divisive and misogynistic” campaign rhetoric and behaviour.
Syal held an Amnesty International placard with the slogan “we stand together #againsthate.”
She told Eastern Eye: “I attended the march to join everyone alarmed by the erosion of women’s rights and, indeed, the rights of all minorities in the present political climate.
“The turnout not only in London but so many other countries, especially the US, was amazing and life-affirming.
“It shows how many people are angry and disgusted not only by Trump’s election and administration, but also by the spreading intolerance and bigotry which they have helped to make ‘acceptable’.”
Syal, a mother of two, added that the 70-year-old president’s attack on equal rights was not just about Americans, but “all of us too” and would have an impact on the future of British residents and “our kids”.
An estimated 100,000 people turned out in the capital, with campaigners and organisers saying nearly five million protesters around the world took to the streets to demonstrate their discontent.
Scores of protest marches also took place across the US and around 600 sympathy rallies were held across the globe.
The weekend’s demonstrations highlighted anger over Trump’s comments and policy positions toward a wide range of groups including Mexican immigrants, Muslims, the disabled and environmentalists.
In contrast to the heated, often shrill tone of the presidential campaign, and the grim imagery of “American carnage” Trump evoked in his inaugural address, the mood during last Saturday’s protests was largely upbeat, even festive.
Chanting such slogans as, “We need a real leader, not a creepy tweeter,” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” many marchers wore knitted pink cat-eared “p***y hats” in a reference to Trump’s boast, in a 2005 video made public weeks before the election, about grabbing women by the genitals.
While women made up the bulk of the protesters, many were accompanied by husbands, boyfriends and children.
Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, told Eastern Eye the campaign group supported the movement because they “abhor” the values Trump stands for.
“It is time to assert the values of equality, compassion and solidarity over the politics of privilege, hate and division that Trump and his like have come to symbolise,” she said.
“We can’t let them shape our world. We must speak out. If we remain silent we are complicit.”
The Women’s March began with a simple Facebook post from Hawaii grandmother and retired lawyer Teresa Shook to about 40 friends, but word travelled quickly and the event took on a life of its own.
Its rallying cry was heard far beyond its shores, with protests held from Paris to Prague, Sydney to Johannesburg, and in some 20 cities across Canada.
In London, the event ended with a rally in Trafalgar Square where Labour MP Yvette Cooper said: “We are marching because the most powerful man [in the US] thinks it’s okay to grab women ‘by the p***y’.”
Manjit Gill, CEO of Binti, a social enterprise which aims to provide sanitary towels to all girls and women, described the energy in the capital as “electrifying.” She told Eastern Eye that she was motivated to march to make a stand against injustice towards women.
“I wouldn’t say Trump inspired me to march against him, there is just a general consensus that women’s rights are not as important as everything else going on in the world,” she explained.
“I don’t want to go backwards. We’ve fought for so long to get to where we are today, but now we are going backwards in different parts of the world. There is a feeling that if we work together we can make a change.”
Gill said she marched alongside men, women and children of all races and from different walks in life. “By protesting, we stood up for change and for moving forwards.”
Mother-of-two Nadine Ballantyne was protesting with her four-month-old baby in tow.
She said she had been frustrated and angry about what had been going on in America and wanted to show her solidarity with women there.
“The demo was one of the best I’ve ever been to. There was a real feeling of togetherness and unity,” she said.
“I have two small boys and I’m so sad to see women being talked about the way Donald Trump does. It’s so important to give them an example of women making changes and not accepting sexist behaviour.”
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Boston and Chicago saw a mass outpouring of dissent against Trump. Smaller protests were held in such cities as Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin, and Bismarck, North Dakota.
Several celebrities took part in the marches, among them singers Miley Cyrus and Rihanna and actresses Charlize Theron and America Ferrera.
Trump did not acknowledge the mass protests that marked his first full day in office, but tweeted: “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump had the lowest favourability rating of any incoming US president since the 1970s.
Trump’s inaugural speech last Friday set the tone for his presidency – populist, nationalist and determined to break with the legacy of his Democratic predecessor.
But if that was Trump’s day – though marred by sporadic outbreaks of vandalism and more than 200 arrests – last Saturday belonged to demonstrators, fired up by fresh memories of the sex assault allegations that tainted his campaign.