The people of Cambridge make their voice heardLouis Ashworth

Approximately one thousand people turned out in Cambridge yesterday evening to protest against Trump’s recent travel ban and the UK government’s response.

Inspired by the journalist Owen Jones’ call for a Downing Street protest, many people from the town and University gathered in opposition to the immediate 90 day travel bans, preventing citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the US. The President has also issued an executive order, suspending the entire refugee admission system for 120 days, and has indefinitely ended the US Syrian refugee programme.

Video: Cambridge protests against Trump travel ban

There has been major national and international backlash against the response of the British government, as Theresa May has failed to openly criticise Trump. 

This is history and we are in it. Do something, say something, make a difference.

Julian Huppert, former MP for Cambridge

Crowds formed around Great St Mary’s Church, with strong chanting and several speakers addressing the gathered group. The event, organised by fourth year MML student Francesca Ebel and CUSU Women’s Officer Audrey Sebatindira, was set up just two days ago, but still managed to gather support from a large and diverse range of people.

Protesters held their banners highFreddie Dyke

Protesters held banners with such slogans as “Respect existence or expect resistance”, “Build bridges not walls” and “Theresa the Appeaser, let go of his (tiny) hand”. Chants included “Refugees are here to stay, let’s deport Theresa May”, and “Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!”.

Just under £500 was raised at the protest, for the organisation ‘Women for Refugee Women’, whose aim is to challenge the injustices experienced by women who seek asylum in the UK.

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat politician and former MP for Cambridge, addressed the crowd: “Cambridge will not stand for this. It is so alien to our values. It is unacceptable.

“People look back on history and think, “If I were there I would have done something.” This is history and we are in it. Do something, say something, make a difference.

“When he stops behaving like a demon we will stop demonising him.”

Yesterday the Vice-Chancellor of the University Sir Leszek Borysiewicz issued a statement regarding Trump’s actions: “I cannot accept a policy that undermines academic freedom, disrupts partnerships, and blocks the pathways to understanding between peoples.”

Large crowds gathered outside the Great St Mary's ChurchLouis Ashworth

While he could not attend the event, Daniel Zeichner, the current MP for Cambridge also condemned Trump and Theresa May’s actions: “Trump’s reckless behaviour within hours of the British Prime Minister’s visit shows that the early visit by Theresa May was poorly judged,” he said. “Other, more experienced leaders, who were also not so desperate to curry favour, were more sensible.

“The travel ban is insulting and unacceptable, and there should be no question of any presidential visit to the UK while this remains in place.”

Travel ban on Trump?

Theresa May has not retracted Trump’s invitation for a state visit to the UK, despite an online petition which has already gained over 1 million signatories.

When Trump comes, if he does come, we will shut this country down

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU

Huppert suggested that Theresa May’s actions could be explained by that fact that she “desperately needs a deal from Trump because of their own march towards Brexit”. He added, “I think that it is a great shame that there are not more countries that have spoken out.”

Anne Alexander from the Cambridge branch of the academics’ union, University and College Union (UCU), read a statement from the union’s General Secretary Sally Hunt, before making her own plea: “We need to get out into the street. We need to be mobilising to say that when Trump comes, if he does come, we will shut this country down.”

Trump – a symptom, not a cause?

Joint organiser Audrey Sebatindira, who is also CUSU Women’s Officer, at the marchLouis Ashworth

Organisers Audrey Sebatindira and Francesca Ebel asserted that the protest is about more than last Friday’s executive order. Sebatindira stated that Trump “is a symptom, he is not a cause.”

“Rather than speaking to Trump,” she said, “I would prefer to speak to the people that voted for him and those who hold on to racist, sexist, and white supremacist ideologies and to challenge that.”

Ebel echoed this sentiment, “This march wasn’t just about Trump. We also wanted to reflect islamophobia in the UK and the UK’s detention of refugees and immigrants here. This is a globalised problem but one that’s also happening in the UK and goes back a long time, people need to remember that. Deportations were happening under Obama.”

Fellow speaker Nikhil Goyal, a postgraduate student from New York State, was keen to emphasise that this is everyone’s fight. He expressed his hope “that more people, whether you’re young, old, a worker, or you’re involved in any kind of facet of society, that you join protests like this and other actions, because we need you, we need power in numbers.”

Ebel also spoke of the need for people to support others in their plights: “It shouldn’t be about just the issues that affect you as an individual, you should think about how things affect other people, especially vulnerable minorities at the moment.”

Huppert argued that – despite our differences – at the end of the day we are all humans together, and should fight for one another: “Boris Johnson said he would stand up for human rights of British nationals. We should stand up for everybody’s human rights. This march is about people coming out here as humans. We are better when we are united, we’re better when we’re tolerant, we’re better when we’re open. Those are important human values.”

The next step

When asked what they thought the next move for the opposition movement was, following the protest, both organisers agreed that the focus should be on “keeping up the momentum”.

“Protest is necessary but it feels like everyone can go home and then nothing happens,” Sebatindira said, “It’s important not to let life go back to business as usual.” 

People come together in a show of support for those directly affectedFreddie Dyke

In practical terms, she added that people should try to raise money for all the services that “will have their funding removed by Trump”, namely Planned Parenthood and any charity that provides services for immigrants, refugees, People of Colour and queer people.”

On a local scale, she said that people should “keep looking to their own communities and ask whether similar things aren’t happening here and what we can do in our own communities to stop it.”

Video: Varsity’s live coverage from the event

Huppert also suggested practical action: “We need to support those organisations who are standing up for basic human rights. We need to write to people, we need to make it clear to our government that this is not acceptable. ”

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