As a youth I went on a lot of protest marches. They were fuelled by angry chanting and collective hatred of whatever injustice we were there to protest – live animal testing, nuclear proliferation, Thatcher.
Banners were brought by the unions and black flags were brought by the anarchists. The occasions usually ended in confrontation, animosity and sometimes battles with the police.
I understood the anger but was disillusioned by the violence. I didn’t actively decide to stop but I can’t remember the last protest march I attended.
However, we live in troubling times (to use a classic English understatement). It feels to me that we are at a cross-roads in history and we need to make the case for choosing a path that leads to equity, tolerance and empathy.
So, when our Prime Minister invited the 45th President of the US to visit Britain, I was determined to add my voice to the inevitable collective protest.
Even after a year of delays before a date was announced, even when it was a weekday, even though he wasn’t going to visit the capital, I was still committed to being on the streets of London on Friday 13th July.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous. What if I found an angry mob? Would I really want to be caught up in the kettling of a Stop The City type protest?
I needn’t have worried. As I emerged from Oxford Square tube it was clear that this was going to be a joyful day, filled with a sense of carnival celebration – maybe it was the sunshine.
It was all very loud, of course. We’d been invited to #BringThe Noise and lots of people did that through whistles and vuvuzelas. Trumpets Against Trump took the call even further and there were lots of percussion bands, weaving amongst the crowds.
But the thing that stood out most was the witticism of the placards. Maybe the media fuels this type of creativity, or maybe the Insta-generation just love self expression. It gave us all a lot of laughs and gave me something to focus my lens on. Here’s a selection of my favourites…
10. I loved the obscurity of this reference. It’s a line from the film School of Rock.
9. I first saw a version of this sign on the news a couple of years ago. There were several versions of it on the march. But I particularly enjoyed the moment of connection between me and this man on the tube as we each made our way home.
8. There were many variations of this idea. I love the extra, apologetic last-minute additions.
7. I suppose it isn’t a banner but you’ve got to admire the dedication they’ve put into this simple ‘sign’.
6. I had a lot of admiration for anyone in a costume (it was a really hot day).
5. So little cardboard but so much dedication to the sign – great type spacing and beautifully edged in black.
4. What’s not to like about a Bowie quote?
3. Although the march was surprisingly focused (these things can become a mess of conflicting causes) there were a few placards that highlighted the similarity between our current crop of cartoon characters.
2. Simple, to the point and beautifully rendered in green paint on red, with an all-important black outline.
1. My favourite from the day was this simple satire, held quietly behind a barrier as we filed into Trafalgar Square.
So, can these signs make a difference or are they actually damaging? We seem to live amongst such polarised views;I can’t imagine anyone’s opinion will be changed by a witty epithet.
As Peter Cook said about his own satirical club that was modelled on the political cabarets of Berlin in the Thirties, it “did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler”.
But maybe our collective voice will be heard. We definitely can’t keep quiet and hope it all goes away. What else can we do but keep making the case against extremism and bigotry, and do it with a smile on our face and joy in our heart. I’ll be back on the streets again sometime soon, I’m sure.