Thousands of protesters filled central London on Friday to demonstrate against President Donald Trump during his visit to the United Kingdom.
The day’s protests in London began with the launch of a six-meter tall blimp depicting Trump as an orange baby outside Britain’s parliament, which launched despite the fact that activists said they had received threats it could be shot down.
Protests swelled early in the afternoon, with crowds assembling close to the BBC headquarters in central London before marching through the streets. Under a hot midday sun, the crowds chanted “hey, ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and “Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay.” More than 200,000 people had expressed interest in attending the London protests on social media, though the exact crowd size is not known. London police said they do not routinely release estimates for crowd sizes at protests, instead leaving it up to organizers.
"Trump Babysitter" Sheila Menon explains #TrumpBaby to me: "This is a great example of a longstanding tradition in Britain of political satire. Using a creative means of protest to highlight some very serious issues." pic.twitter.com/lLlj45pq0j
— Billy Perrigo (@billyperrigo) July 13, 2018
While the protests were unfolding, Trump attended a meeting and press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May and later Queen Elizabeth outside the capital, having left London early in the morning and thus avoiding the protests. During a press conference with May, Trump backtracked on explosive comments published in The Sun newspaper overnight, where he criticized May’s Brexit strategy and said Britain would be unlikely to secure a bilateral trade deal with the U.S. Trump declared the story “fake news,” though the newspaper released a recording of the interview.
However, Trump protesters in London seemed unconcerned with the day’s developments. Many emphasized they were there to protest Trump’s character. “He’s a bully, he’s a racist, he shouldn’t be here,” one mother attending with her children said.
Wotsit: a British brand of cheesy orange potato snack pic.twitter.com/3b60EBH4Hy
— Billy Perrigo (@billyperrigo) July 13, 2018
A woman in a wheelchair carried a sign reading “Donald Trump is not a role model.” She said she wanted to show Americans who don’t approve of Trump that “they’re not alone.”
One of the organizers of the march, Owen Jones, spoke to TIME last week. “Many of the rights and freedoms we have were won because people organized and protested and fought back,” he said. “That is a tradition we need to reclaim, because otherwise what we are going to see is the far right keep on growing. They’re going to keep on exploiting people’s grievances, their anger, their insecurity, because of a broken and unjust economic order which allows people to say, ‘It’s not because of the people with power. It’s the Muslims. It’s the migrants, the refugees, the people at the bottom of the economic order who are responsible for all of your ills.’”
Many on the streets in London emphasized the protests were against Trump rather than America. “Love America, hate Trump,” read one sign seen by TIME.
“This protest is not anti-American,” said London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan in a statement on Thursday. “Most of those marching on Friday will love the United States, just as I do.”
Khan had been attacked by Trump overnight, too. The President criticized Kahn for what he said was allowing too many immigrants into London. (Responsibility for border controls lies with Britain’s government rather than the Mayor’s office.)
Numerous British political figures were visible in the crowds, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Before the protest, Dawn Butler, an lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party with responsibility for women and equalities, told TIME: “Theresa May has failed to be a critical friend to Trump. It’s disgraceful that after recent harrowing images of children being incarcerated in appalling conditions, taken from their parents, she is now rolling out the red carpet for his arrival. His brand of hatred and bigotry goes against what our country stands for. That’s why I and tens of thousands of others will be out protesting, to stand up to his poisonous politics.”
Although the protest was well-attended and forced road closures in London, by the afternoon, the crowd size did not appear to be the biggest in Britain’s history. In 2002, a demonstration against the invasion of Iraq drew between one and two million people onto the streets, gridlocking London.
Current scene at Trafalgar Square. The vast majority of the march has now entered. pic.twitter.com/5t6UA6tb5H
— MPS Events (@MetPoliceEvents) July 13, 2018
Jones, one of the organizers, said last week that he expected the crowds to grow into the evening. “It’s unique because it’s a Friday night and we don’t normally have protests in this country on Friday night for quite obvious reasons,” he said. “It’ll start during the day, but I expect it’ll get particularly big from 5 p.m. onwards, when people come out of work.”
A man wearing a kilt and holding bagpipes stood in Leicester Square, normally a thriving tourist attraction but thronged with protesters on Friday. Was the protest good for business? “No,” he replied, gesturing to people walking past with trumpets and megaphones. “Not with this racket.”
What did he think of Trump? “Lots of people have asked me that,” he said with a grin. “I don’t want to say.”