David Stewart, S.J.* | America the Jesuit Review | February 2, 2017
Protesters choked the streets of London around the evening rush hour on Jan. 30 as a series of emergency marches converged. Demonstrators were objecting to the government’s invitation to the new U.S. president to conduct a state visit to the United Kingdom. An impressive array of groups and individuals came together on short notice, joined by many city workers, normally a phlegmatic set but moved in sufficient numbers to make this an inspiring protest. A group coordinated by the Jesuit Refugee Service here in Britain also joined the large protest outside Downing Street.
Though the rallies were billed primarily as protests against the invitation to President Donald J. Trump, protesters also condemned the new U.S. administration’s travel ban against seven majority-Muslim countries. There is considerable anxiety across the country that the London government might have rushed too quickly into a restatement of the so-called special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Theresa May was clearly delighted to be the first foreign leader to get a White House visit, perhaps stung by her former leadership rival Michael Gove’s scooping a newspaper interview with the then-President-elect Trump.
Her satisfaction is not universally shared across the country. The chants swelling up from the London crowds alternated between demands that the proposed state visit, negotiated during Ms. May’s White House visit, be canceled and calls to rescind the 90-day travel ban and the closure of U.S. borders to certain refugees. The many banners and placards on display broadened the list of concerns, covering Mr. Trump’s behavior toward women and his populist style as well. There were many references to the 1930s ride of European fascism, reflected in media reports that covered largely inaudible speeches from a hastily constructed platform near Downing Street.
J.R.S.-U.K. Director Sarah Teather later spoke of “an amazing turnout” in London and the importance of “making our voices heard about welcoming refugees [and] calling on the U.K. government to condemn the U.S. ban with its implications for destabilizing refugee protection worldwide.”
* David Stewart, S.J., a native of Scotland, lives and works in various Jesuit ministries in South London.