In the icy lemon sunshine of 20 January 2017, a group of protestors lined London’s Millennium Bridge, drumming. Two scarf-clad organisers held placards that spelt “Open Hearts”.
Protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th US President might seem like a waste of time when you could spend the day under the covers instead. But the protestors were upbeat. Sophie Dyer, a part-time student and graphic designer I met on the bridge, told me her group were “trying to avoid mentioning his name”.
When I asked her what had catalysed her interest in political activism, she said: “Everything. 2016.”
One of the trademarks of the times is the way the alt-right learnt from each other, from Donald Trump crowning himself “Mr Brexit”, to France’s Marine Le Pen sipping coffee at Trump Towers. Now, progressives are trying to do the same.
The protestors were part of the Bridges Not Walls protests. Ten hours before I stepped onto the Millennium Bridge, New Zealand activists had already got started. As the sun rose over Europe, banners unfurled from bridges in Dubai, France, Spain, Sweden and Norway. In the UK, there were also protests in other cities including Edinburgh and Oxford.
The demonstrations are about Trump – the name is a direct rebuke to his pledge to build a wall on the southern border – but they are no less about Brexit, or, as environmental campaigner Annabelle Acton-Bond put it, “right-wing populist movements”.
Acton-Bond said she had come to show solidarity with American friends who opposed Trump, and those groups who would face greater oppression because of his victory.
But she added: “It is about coming together supporting each other geographically, and across different [political and social] movements.”
In the election post-mortem, one of the questions confronting progressives is whether voters and activists were too focused on their own issues to see the bigger picture. This varies from controversial debates over the role of identity politics, to the simpler fact that thousands of voters in the rustbelt who might have otherwise helped Clinton opted for the Green candidate Jill Stein.
But while Bridges Not Walls paid homage to different causes – LGBTQ rights were represented on one bridge, climate change on an other – each remained part of the whole. The UK Green Party used the event to launch a “Citizens of the World” campaign aimed at resettling more child refugees.
Meanwhile, Trump and his European allies are moving fast to redefine normal. Already, media critics are being blocked from presidential press conferences, divisive appointments have been made and the intelligence authorities undermined.
As US opponents of Trump can learn from those in the UK resisting a hard Brexit, resisting this kind of right-wing populism comes at a cost, whether that is personal infamy a la Gina Miller, or the many hours spent dusting off books on constitutional law.
The question for transatlantic progressives, though, is whether they are prepared to leave the morning sunshine for the less glamorous elbow grease of opposition – the late night email exchanges, the unpaid blog posts, the ability to compromise – that will be needed to bend the arc of history back towards justice.