LONDON — A squad of “babysitters” in orange jackets pumped helium into a giant “Trump Baby” balloon and let it soar above Westminster Abbey on Friday, kicking off a day of large, peaceful and often mocking protests against President Trump’s visit here.
Police did not give an official estimate of the crowd size. Organizers claimed more than 100,000 were on the streets.
The demonstrators looked like London: urbane and liberal, bringing their kids and dogs along. Many signs were handmade and droll. “Special relationship? I want a divorce.”
In interviews, some said they thought Trump a bully. Others described him as a misogynist or sexual aggressor. There were a lot of placards with the word “grab” this or that, referencing Trump’s “Access Hollywood” audio recording.
The marchers said they worried about climate change, the European Union, immigrants, Palestinian territories, gay rights, civility and the rise of right-wing populism. The word “fascist” was used. Many mentioned Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents when caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, an enforcement tool now put back in the box.
Although the U.S. Embassy in London warned Americans to “keep a low profile” during the demonstrations, for fear they could be attacked, the crowds were filled with American tourists and U.S. citizens living abroad.
“I think that when you disrespect, you are going to be disrespected,” said Paul Phillips, 54, a tourist visiting from Buffalo, who watched the Trump Baby balloon — depicting the president as an angry baby wearing a diaper and clutching a cellphone — go aloft.
The main afternoon march started at Portland Place near the BBC and snaked past Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus before ending at Trafalgar Square, which was filled.
The protesters’ outrage was stoked by an explosive interview that Trump gave to the Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, in which he dismissed Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to exit the European Union as deeply flawed — and said her strategy of aligning rules and regulations for traded goods between Britain and the European Union would effectively “kill” any chance of a great trade deal with the United States.
In the interview with the Sun, Trump grumbled about the protests. “I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told the paper. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”
This was welcome news for the organizers of the blimp.
“It’s worked spectacularly well. We’ve basically run him out of London. He’s got the message: He’s not welcome here,” said Leo Murray, the brains behind the Trump Baby project.
Murray, who was wearing red overalls that said “Trump Babysitter” on the back, said he and his mates chose to protest with a giant balloon because “we wanted to cheer people up.” He added that “this would be an effective form of protest against Donald Trump because he’s famously vulnerable to personal insults.”
Melissa Woolsey, 41, a firefighter from Seattle who has been traveling in Europe, said the protests demonstrated solidarity with Americans who oppose Trump.
“It’s actually made me feel really hopeful that we’re not alone in our views,” she said.
Denton Brown, 50, a writer in London, said he knew he would be on the streets as soon as he heard Trump was coming. “I’m against this president in every way,” he said. “What he says and does about women, immigrants, LGBT. You name it.”
He said he believes that the protests — and the wide publicity given to Trump Baby — “will definitely get under his orange skin.”
Organizers of Britain’s protests aimed to stage some of the largest demonstrations since 2003, when hundreds of thousands hit the streets to oppose war in Iraq.
“I’m marching because of the disdain that Trump has shown for Britain and because of his disgraceful treatment of minorities in the United States,” said David Lammy, a leading member in the opposition Labour Party.
“Whenever London experiences a tragedy, it’s also the case that Trump licks his lips and tweets,” he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a frequent Trump foe, said the protests were not “anti-American — far from it.”
But he said that Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States means “speaking out when we think one side is not living up to the values we hold dear.”
The protests are “not simply about Donald Trump, the man,” said Asad Rehman, 51, an organizer of the Stop Trump coalition. “It is actually an expression of opposition to the policies and politics he represents, which has echoes across Europe and in the U.K., as well.”
But Trump, the man, has also helped to “galvanize a large cross-section of people across multiple issues,” he said.
Polls suggest Trump is unpopular in Britain — and more so in London. But he does have his fans.
Damien Smyth, 52, has temporarily changed the name of his London pub from the Jameson to the Trump Arms to honor the visit.
The place is festooned with U.S. flags, and a sign above the entrance reads: “Welcome our American Friends.”
Trump, Smyth said, has done “wonderful work since taking office” and has “made the world safe again — that’s the most important thing, and has done tremendous work with the economy.” Smyth, whose wife is from the Bronx, said that while “no one was perfect,” he admired Trump for going into politics and said that other successful business executives should do the same.
He said that the “silent majority” in Britain likes Trump, but “it’s not cool to say you’re a Trump supporter; these people are shunned.”