A few weeks ago I saw a sign in Newtown advertising a Trump protest in Hyde Park on January 21, 2017. I knew I had to go check it out and interview some people. I contacted the organizer and she said she would be glad to talk with me. A few days before the protest, I learned that there was going to be a Women’s March in Sydney, also beginning in Hyde Park, and then marching to Martin Place in front of the US Consulate (That is where it got interesting).
I woke up on Saturday morning, got on the bus and headed to Hyde Park. I really had no expectations but had a feeling it would be a lot of people because lots of Aussies I have met have asked me about Trump. When I got to the park I came across thousands of people. These people were mostly there for the Women’s March, but many were also protesting Trump. The Trump protest from the sign was on the other side of the park. I told the organizer I would meet her later.
There were lots of signs, some serious, some funny and some outright bizarre. I spoke to many of the people and asked about why they were there. I also asked why they were against Trump, if they thought a Trump presidency had any direct or indirect implications on Australia and if they felt a Trump presidency and Brexit could give rise to people like Pauline Hanson and the right in Australia. The answers people gave were not that different than the answers you would hear in United States. The most common criticisms were that he was anti-woman, anti-immigrant, etc… The words racist, bigot and xenophobe were used a lot. Many people were also concerned that Trump did not think climate change was important and were worried about the implications on Australia if it worsens. One girl, holding a sign saying Trump Doesn’t Care About Polar Bears, told me, “Climate is worldwide,” and felt the Trump administration was going to ignore it for the next 4 years.
Many of the people I spoke with were also concerned about the rise of the right in Australia but maintained they did not think someone like Pauline Hanson would be Prime Minister. Some, however, were concerned that the election of Trump and Brexit could signify that global attitudes are shifting to the right. One woman told me, “When America sneezes, Australia gets a cold.” One thing that impressed me was how informed and articulate most of the people I spoke with were. Many of them also had a good understanding of the American political system.
I went to go meet the organizer of the Trump protest as the thousands of people at the Women’s March headed towards Martin Place. She voiced many of the same concerns the others did and added she thinks Trump is a racist, bigot and does not care about people. She also said he is just an elitist billionaire who only cares about other billionaires. The Trump protest was much smaller than the Women’s March so I decided to head over to Martin Place and catch up with them. Little did I know what I was in for.
I have to add in that I will never forget a hat and sunscreen again in Sydney. The sun here is killer and I got sunburned after walking around for 4 hours.
I found the crowd assembled at Martin Place. There was a series of speakers and the crowd was really excited. I met an American who has lived in Australia for 14 years. He was against Trump but added that he agreed with him on his position on trade and being against the Trans Pacific Partnership. Up to this point I had not seen any police. Everyone was relaxed and things were peaceful. Keep in mind there were thousands of people participating in this march. When I got to the top of the plaza I noticed a wall of police blocking the road. I asked one of them if there was a counter protest. He told me there was and it was across the street. I headed that way and came across a pro-Trump rally with around 60 people. They had American flags, a Confederate flag, a Gadsden flag and others. If I had no idea where I was I would have definitely thought I was in the US.
These people were totally surrounded by police. I tried to get access so I could talk with them but was denied by police. I did not understand what the problem was and initially thought the police were there to stop these people from antagonizing the others. I was wrong. Soon after I arrived a small group of the anti-Trump crowd approached the pro-Trump people. They started screaming and yelling things like, “Fuckin Nazis,” “Fuck you,” “Fascists,” among many others. The pro-Trump people were responding with things like, “You are the fascists,” “We won,” and “End globalism.” As more anti-Trump people approached it began to get more intense. Eventually the police were able to push them back.
Once things calmed down I was able to talk to some of the pro-Trump people and one of the organizers. They told me that the police were there to protect them because the left wing always does what I witnessed. I later spoke with the police captain and asked if that was accurate. He confirmed that it generally is the left wing people that get aggressive and antagonize the right wing people. The Trump people I spoke with told me they are happy to let the other side march but the other side does not think they should be able to. I will add that the anti-Trump people that came over were a tiny fraction of the total group but were very loud and aggressive.
The pro-Trump people I spoke with said they were tired of the global elite and were worried about open borders, refugees, bad trade deals and the disappearing middle class. Interesting to note that people on both sides voiced similar concerns about big corporations and the corporate elite. During the election I had told many people that I thought Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had very similar domestic messages, albeit much different ideas on how to implement them. Many of the pro-Trump people feel the right wing is rising in Australia and cite Trump’s election and Brexit as a signal that Europe and Australia will be next. Like the other side, I was impressed with how informed and articulate these people were.
It was quite a day. I thought there would be a lot of people but did not anticipate the sheer size of the crowd at the Women’s March. Australian people are easy going and generally willing to chat. I was glad to have spoken to so many people and thought it was great how polite everyone was, on both sides.
Whether or not you support Donald Trump, it is clear that his campaign has divided people. Maybe the division was always there and now it is just more pronounced. But the fact that so many people in Sydney, Australia came out to either protest or support Donald Trump is telling. It is also clear that global attitudes are shifting. Both Germany and France will have presidential elections this year. The results of these elections will have global implications. People look to the United States as a world leader and what our president says and does can and does affect the rest of the world. The next 4 years will be interesting, both in the United States and around the world.