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Speaking to Black Lives Matter protesters outside the American Embassy in London
by Liberty Phelan, 9/06/20

Despite ominous rain clouds, the threat of the virus, and the statements of Priti Patel and Matt Hancock urging people not to go to the protests, thousands gathered outside the US Embassy in Vauxhall yesterday to protest against racism and police brutality. The Student spoke to a few people about why they were there, and what they thought needed to change. 

Some people explained why they felt compelled to attend despite the risk of COVID 19 transmission at a large gathering:

Fiona, 25 : ‘It’s really important to show what we’re doing with our feet today. There’s a lot you can do back at home, but it’s good to get out in the streets. It makes you accountable for your own actions going forward.

‘There’s just as much systematic oppression here, it’s just not reported and we’re not taught it in schools.’

Roberta Lloyd, 20, from Wimbledon: ‘I’m not black, I’m not a person of colour, but I feel like it’s important to be an ally. I think it’s important to go to protests because you’re actively doing something in support rather than being passive. I struggled with (the risk of coronavirus) because it’s more of a concern for my family than it was for my own health, but if I can go out with my friends then I can go to a protest. The reason for going is actually more powerful than the risk.’ 

Several other protesters also spoke about using the momentum of the US protests to address racism here in the UK:

Ramani, 19, from Battersea: ‘I think when you have a march like this, it shows visually that everyone is here in solidarity. It’s not only showing solidarity with people in America but also showing that it’s an issue here too, particularly police brutality. I think a lot of people don’t think the UK’s a part of that but we definitely are.’

Dominique, 42: ‘As a Black woman, being perceived as not good enough just because of the colour of my skin is really hurtful, and I’m here to encourage people to accept people the way they are. Yes we are different, but nobody is above another.’

As well as what is wrong in the US:

Elisabeth Kelly, 49: ‘I am a US citizen but I’ve lived here for 22 years. I am very active in mobilizing the vote because the current government that we have in the US is a huge part of the problem. We thought it was all fixed when Obama got elected in 2008 and it’s just shown how actually we have got to be anti-racist, we have to actively work against it.’

‘I’m just hoping that November 3rd is a collective war in the voting booth. I’m looking forward to a huge blue tsunami washing away anyone who is standing with this president right now. I want to learn here, I’m a white woman, my parents raised me not to be racist, but we all have to be more active in being part of the solution.’ 

Elisabeth spoke about how critical US citizens living abroad like herself could be in the upcoming election: ‘I’m part of Democrats Abroad. There are nine million overseas Americans and the voter turnout could be as low as 12%. If they all voted we would be the ninth largest blue state. So that’s why I’m here, to make sure all Americans know that they can vote.’

The Student verified these statistics and found they were accurate in the 2016 election. Elisabeth also let us know that there is a ‘Democrats Overseas’ society at the University of Edinburgh who give advice and run events to help students who are US citizens with how to vote overseas.

Many seemed hopeful the protests could lead to positive, lasting change: 

Winston, 29, from Plymouth:I’m just here to stand with everyone for change. It’s been a very good turnout, everyone’s here for the same thing, and that’s cool!

‘I think the fact that we’re all talking about it is awesome, everyone is checking themselves and actually digging deep and asking, “what can I do better?” ‘

Nathaniel, 29, from Croydon: ‘I think it’s good that everyone is talking about [racism], I think it’s productive. It’s something that people felt uncomfortable about, prior to all of this happening. We’re going in the right direction.

‘What should change is the curriculum. They definitely need to do a better job of teaching anti-racism in schools, not just sweeping it under the rug and allowing people to be ignorant.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the protests had been ‘subverted by thuggery’, as eight police officers were injured in London in clashes with demonstrators, while Priti Patel labelled the toppling of a statue of a prominent slave trader in Bristol ‘utterly disgraceful’. There were protests in cities around the country this weekend, including Manchester, Wolverhampton, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with more scheduled throughout this week. 

Image: Liberty Phelan