The peaceful transfer of power is the hallmark of our presidential elections.* Throw protests in, and we can be legitimately proud to be American — though I want to say “You broke it, you bought it,” to some of the protesters as a nation in a state of political flux surveys the aftermath of broken shop windows and cars used as kindling. (Insurance companies don’t usually cover riot damage. Try writing “Cigarette lighter malfunction” on the claims form.)
I guess when you figure the system itself is broken for allowing a man whose first ever political office turns out to the one shaped like an oval, who it’s fair to say has forever broken the mold of our vision of commanders in chief, it’s like an exclamation point to make sure everybody’s listening.
Britain’s “special relationship” with the US ensures that when you hurt, we feel your pain. At least that’s one explanation for the protests we had over here. Another one would be, everybody likes a party — even a political one.
I went to the US embassy on Friday, admittedly to be a wallflower. Although it seemed like a good place to bear witness to history being made, it wasn’t my first choice: that would’ve been the “Inauguration Day Watch Party” being held by Republicans Overseas at the exclusive Royal Over-Seas League in the fashionable and ritzy (literally: The Ritz is down the street) neighbourhood of Mayfair. Buckingham Palace is a short walk away for tea with the queen.
Although I’m Independent rather than Republican, I thought it might be interesting to spend the evening with ears open and mouth shut so as not to accidentally extol the virtues of Bernie Sanders, for whom I was rooting way back when. Perhaps more importantly, the Republicans had the good sense to be holding their event indoors. It was, as the British say, bloody cold out.
Alas, I’d left it too late, they were fully booked. Even if they hadn’t been, I noted the online invitation mandated “business attire,” which my fleece decidedly was not. So I kept the £15 entrance fee in my pocket and walked over to the embassy, still in a very good neighbourhood and more accommodating to the sartorially-challenged, spending a bit of it on lukewarm hot chocolate.
The first protester I saw was a woman holding a sign saying “Not my president” on one side and “USA’s wretched day” on the other, with another announcing “Yuge mistake” on a cord around her neck to ensure there could be no mistaking her feelings on the matter.
She slowly paced the sidewalk in front of the embassy, alone except for a man who contented himself with a business-letter sized printout announcing “You’ve elected a shameless clown”. But it was early yet; too early for wallflowers. I took a brisk walk down nearby Oxford Street, famous for its shopping opportunities, and bought Pop-Tarts, which are considered a delicacy by some of us.
Back at the embassy a little later, the demo was taking shape. Lots more people holding signs, and more importantly, lots of photographers, who weren’t above giving directions as if to fashion models, to get better shots. Reporters shivered balancing MacBooks on their knees. I did a lot of pacing and snapping of photos myself.
Met a guy who protested the Vietnam War at this exact spot almost 50 years ago. We had a friendly chat. He said NBC wanted an interview, but he wasn’t sure if he should do it. I think he was worried how it might be edited. Can’t say I blame him.
When the speeches started I listened politely, but to be honest I’ve heard it all before, if not always in an English accent. Although I lean left, that doesn’t silence my inner critic. “REJECT THE PRESIDENT ELECT!” said one speaker, a few minutes after Trump stopped being that. Timing is everything.
“We’re here because of an ancient electoral system” is another quote scribbled in my notes. Of the criticisms you can make about the college, “ancient” doesn’t strike me as being a good one; the Magna Carta, which was a pretty big step in the right direction for freedom, is about 500 years older.
“There cannot be progress without struggle,” I also heard, more or less a quote from the great Frederick Douglass. I wasn’t exactly sure what the speaker was hoping to achieve other than street cred, but amen, brother.
The music wasn’t bad. ‘London Calling’ gave way to ‘Dancing on the street’ — more like jumping up and down to keep warm — then ‘Son of a preacher man’. At one point a man walked by playing polka music on his own sound system. He may have been at the wrong protest.
*Along with an unhealthy dose of fanciful propaganda from the usual mainstream suspects, all in aid of making us believe we’re choosing between candidates capable of taking the country in radically different directions. Hey, I wrote this for a small conservative town newspaper in a conservative state. What did you expect, Truthout?