This one is just to important for it to be a side story.
It’s 9:50, January 30th, 2017, and I just returned from one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life – a rally to protest the “Muslim Ban” by Donald Trump into the United States. While I understand the ban wasn’t technically directed towards Muslims (that would be severely unconstitutional), it was a direct attack on Middle Eastern/Muslim dominant nations. Regardless, this event was set up to send a message that many people in Edinburgh, as well as the U.K., will not tolerate blind hatred and discrimination towards people of any race without any judgement of where they came from. Moreover, it was a message to Theresa May and the British Parliament that the people are united in their efforts to resist this type of ideology; that they do not agree with their government’s inaction against the President of the United States.
Our API representative, Tara, explicitly warned us about going to this event, and highly recommended we stay put as it could be a threat to our safety … but I HAD to go. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t. As a political science major it would be a major sin to miss a gathering of this magnitude and context. For myself too, it would have been a great disservice to not see and be part of something much, much larger than I was. So, instead of studying Gaelic or going to the gym, I decided to go out and be a part of something more.
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous in the hours preceding the rally. I had never been to one, after all, let alone within a major city. Would their be violence? A terrorist attack? I had know way of knowing how the night would come to pass. So, before I left I made sure I double-knotted my shoes tight, in case I had to run. I also let my scarf hang a little looser, in case I had to shield my mouth from tear gas. It sounds like a bit much, I know, but I felt much better going into the event prepared than I would have otherwise.
Starting at the Mound, next to the National Gallery, I arrived to a scene of a few hundred people, for I had left a little early to get my bearings. I sat atop the mound, and took some photos of the fledgling crowd, as it was still rather impressive in size.
Before long, the crowd swelled exponentially, and I realized that I was where the speakers would be. My heart started to race. Long have I dreamed of being in a position where I could speak to the masses, and it would have been so easy hear. If I but raised my arms, and bellowed out the poetic plasma that I know my voice can be. But, no, I did not speak. I did ask the stage coordinators if I could though!
Me: “Sir, I am but a humble American, would you mind if I speak at your rally?”
Coordinator: “Yes, I do mind.” a.k.a. “Fuck off ye daft fool”
Despite the fact that I couldn’t get on the mic, they didn’t make me leave the stage. In fact, they didn’t even make me move out of the way for the speakers! Seriously, check the Edinburgh newspapers, I guarantee I am on the front page somewhere! I was literally right behind them, and everyone saw me. They probably were all thinking: “Who’s this kid in the green jacket and red scarf?” Cameron mutha fuckin’ Pratt, that’s who! I refrained from making a scene on the stage, and clapped when everyone else clapped, nodding my head as to seem like a friendly face. It was surreal, and in the video that I will link at the end of this post you can truly see how close I was to the action. Completely, freaking, mental.
Upon the conclusion of the opening speeches, I stood on the mound for a bit longer next to a police officer. Curious, I turned to him and had the following conversation:
Cam: “Sir, may I ask you a question?”
Police Officer: “Of course! What is it lad?”
C: “When you have this many people here, what goes through your head? What are the police concerned with in large crowds like this?”
PO: “Ah, that’s a wonderful question! But let’s start here, where are you from?”
C: “My name is Cameron, and I am from the States; from Vermont.” point to my hat
PO: “Ah, well Cameron, here in the U.K. we value the right to assemble, albeit peacefully, and protest things we don’t agree with. It is the same for you is it not?”
C: “Yes, but many people fear that may change with Trump in power, points to crowd, all these people seem to think so too.”
PO: “Aye, but where would you rather be, sitting at home, watching this happen, or being part of something you care about?”
C: “I’m here now.”
PO: “Yes, and as long as you are here peacefully, we will protect you, freedom of speech is sacred to us here, as it should be around the world. That is what I am concerned with – to protect those who wish to make their voices heard, and to keep the flow of traffic moving, of course.”
C: “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear! Thank you so much for your time, have a good night!”
PO: “You too lad, be safe.”
As best as I can remember, that was the exact conversation I had with the police officer. He was incredibly friendly, and willing to answer any question I asked. A legitimately good person, I wish him well. As it happened though, a local reporter from the Edinburgh Evening News, Fiona Pringle, overheard us, and asked to interview me, to which I jumped at the opportunity:
Fiona: “Hi, do you have a second for an interview?”
Cam: freaking out on the inside “Of course! I’d love too!”
F: “Great! Where are you from?”
C: “My name is Cameron, I’m studying abroad at Uni Edinburgh; I’m from Vermont, in the States.”
F: “So you in particular must have some strong feelings about what is happening; why are you here now?”
C: “Well, I do have my personal feelings on the matter, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m a political science major, and I felt like it was a golden opportunity to get some first hand exposure to an actual political rally. It’s crazy, I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my entire life.”
F: “People don’t protest back home?”
C: “I mean, they do, just not where I am from. That happens in the major cities mostly – look at the Women’s march that happened a week ago. It’s different in the States though, as we kind of have this 9-11 mentality, where we think that large groups are a target for an attack or unrest. Look at the Boston Marathon Bombing.
F: “Yes, that does happen, but you’re still here.”
C: “I am, and I think that’s the point. In order to rise above hate, violence, and discrimination people need to show that they can overcome it through peaceful protests and the like. We could all get gunned down for all I know, but I am still glad that I am here. It’s important to show solidarity.”
F: “It is indeed, thank you for your time.”
As with the police officer, I cannot remember what the conversation was verbatim, but if she does go live, I believe Fiona’s story can be found here. Even if I am not included, it still is a nice little article:
After my conversations, I decided to join in and follow the crowd. The sheer volume of people was massive, and though I claim in the video that I estimate 7-10,000, it was probably more like 2-3, which is a big difference but hey, I was excited. We marched down Prince’s Street, crossed onto Market Street, and went up to the Royal Mile, which we followed down to parliament. Chanting was rife throughout the crowd, the most prominent one I remember being the classic “Fuck Donald Trump”. I did not chant along. I was here to witness, and film, not to get particularly involved in a partisan uprising. There were drummers, including some Djembe players from Drumsoc (represent!) to help the crowd march. Every now and then, people would just cheer loudly, and the echos of thousands of voices reverberated through the streets. The residents of these roads took notice as well, as many people stuck their heads out their windows, either to cheer with the masses or shout us down. It was really quite the production. Along the way, I hopped up onto numerous walls, benches, and signposts to get better angles and videos of the crowd, to which I feel I succeeded in quite nicely. The police were friendly, and let us go about our business. One of them even smiled at me when I stood on an eight foot ledge overlooking the crowd. Edinburgh PD rules, man.
It was hard to take moving photos, so I apologize for any lack of quality. I filmed much better shots. In any case, we had finally made it to parliament. I was not able to get to the stage this time, but the speakers did nothing to inspire me to get closer. I try to be humble, but damn I could have brought the house down with a speech of my own. I respected the fact that these people put all the effort that they did into organizing this, but they need better public speakers. The next MLK was not one of them. It was a little unnerving to hear just how hostile some of the speakers were to Americans in general, and while I did not remove my Vermont hat I did take a bit more caution to not make myself known. In all honesty, it was a bit anticlimactic. The crowd was weary, and the chants and speeches were relatively uninspired. At the end of the day, I guess it is the turnout that matters most.
When the rally finally ended, I wandered home, profoundly moved by the events that had just taken place. Had I really just marched in a political rally? It still feels surreal to me. But, here is what I learned:
- Many Scots are profoundly angry and scared at/of Donald Trump. He is seen as a demagogue and a sociopath.
- Theresa May is none too popular, either. Her flip/flopping of support for Trump has riled up many.
- Liberals in the U.K. are borderline militant against Conservatives, something that is probably reciprocated.
- Political rallies in Europe far outclass the size and scope of similar ones in the U.S. (speaking from my oh so limited experience).
- Peaceful rallies are productive ones, so don’t be the dick that smashes windows.
- Finally, if you do go to a rally, people are much more friendly than you would think, especially the police. They want you to be safe, and if you cooperate with them you will find that they are more than willing to help you out.
So that is pretty much it folks. It’s 11:11, and I am about ready for bed. Never in my wildest dreams would I think this day would become what it was, but oh how glad I am that it did. This was an especially fun post to write, and I hope you enjoy it. Below is the YouTube video I made of all my film that I took of the event, and I am actually very happy with the quality of it. Check it out, you won’t regret it. Cheers, everyone; and remember, no matter who you are or what you believe in, you always have a right to voice your opinion. Never forget that.
*Turn on HD/high quality for best resolution.
3 thoughts on “Marching on Parliament”
I am so glad you went to the protest rally. Participant observation is a long utilized method of the social sciences; from witnessing comes deeper understanding. (And it sounds like you’re having fun, so that’s great too.)
I hope you don’t mind that I tweeted your blog in the hopes that others can learn from your experience — or be inspired to take a semester abroad themselves.
I definitely do not mind; I welcome it! Inspiring/helping others learn is part of the reason why I am doing this.