Fireworks night is a popular celebration with many happily embracing the creeping cold, armed with heavy layers, food and wine, or perhaps a lover. Traditionally, we marvel at the display, ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’ accordingly, enthused by the bright lights.
However, this year’s November the 5th saw a return to the historical meaning behind the yearly-scheduled spectacle. The Anonymous Operation group (AnonOps) organised for a protest to take place worldwide, calling this movement Million Mask March. The idea was for the public to unite against the government in a non-violent way to remind the State of the people’s power. It would be a continuation of #OpVendetta, a call to extend the earlier international 15-M, Arab Spring and Occupy Movements. London’s event was located opposite the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it served as a direct reminder of Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the government through his Gunpowder Plot of 1605. London’s 2013 meeting thus also acted as an indirect threat, revealing the cracks and discontentment in our current society and leading many to question our future political stability.
Participating in the protest, I was amongst those who met at 6pm at Trafalgar Square, London. From here, there was a short, mostly silent march to Parliament with all sorts of passionate protestors holding up signs to publicise their beliefs. People wore masks and headpieces in an attempt to cover their faces and remain anonymous, as was the intended protocol for the protest. Once we reached Parliament, we established ourselves, taking to the streets and filling the Square. We remained like this for a few hours, with people chanting on megaphones, milling amongst themselves and becoming familiar with the different arguments.
In reality, the protest brought together a mixed group of people; even Russell Brand attended (his usual look decorated with the Anonymous mask). There were those who used it as an opportunity to self-promote – I bought a rap CD about the Bedroom Tax [find out more at http://www.girofunk.org] – and those who pragmatically distributed information and leaflets about politics and upcoming events, such as the People’s Assembly… There were passionate, radical protestors, many of whom were rather aggressive in their demonstrations and often confronted and provoked the police, but they were content to be amongst other more peaceful demonstrators, such as those who sought protection for badgers (a surprisingly large group!), students, friends who were reunited unintentionally and people that played music – both on the drums and through the megaphone (Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley was a popular song choice). At one point there was a clearing and one woman started fire dancing to music, much to the enjoyment of the crowd, until the police broke up the spectacle. Later on, two girls dressed revealingly in rags and wearing what looked like Halloween make-up enacted a contemporary dance, snaking between the audience and the police, distributing snippets of information scrawled with handwritten messages such as “When the bodies are tuned together, we win”. The audience drew their own conclusions as to the purpose of the dance. People were united and free to talk to one another, ask questions and exchange ideas. In my eyes, the police were very understanding towards demonstrators; they passively accepted the protest and all its spectacles, instead peacefully watching it unfold in front of them, stepping in only to prevent danger, minimise conflicts and reorganise traffic.
Truthfully speaking, I thought the protest lacked structure. The Anonymous movement is iconic for its lack of leadership. Instead it favours “a loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives”[i], which is characterised by supporters wearing the appropriately stylised Guy Fawkes masks. Although anonymity is a trademark feature of this protest, anonymity created ambiguity among fellow demonstrators. Despite the conjunction of interests – from badgers to austerity cuts – there lacked a concise united feeling. People in attendance seemed confused by the various approaches offered and there was disorganisation spreading ideas about the post-protest assembly. Eventually, people became divided by rumours of a wrap-up meeting on the other side of the river. Some eagerly followed the alleged gossip, longing for a summary of the protest and some explanation to strengthen their sense of belonging. However, this confusion resulted in dividing the crowds and ultimately led to the early end of the protest.
Despite this seeming lack of united front, the protest was a success. The relatively peaceful carnival-esq vibe that ensued after the march reflected the original intentions and ideas of AnonOps. The Facebook page previously expressed that they wanted to “change the rules [of protesting], by turning this ‘new tradition’ of petition into more of a festival of ideas, performance art and symbolic new age discussion that has formed the political views of the youth of today.”[ii] In this sense, AnonOps achieved exactly what they set out to create. Effectively, a street party took place outside the Houses of Parliaments, and only 11 people were arrested, despite an estimated 2,000 in attendance. And of course, the detention of individuals is what the media concentrates on…
AnonOps have been running this yearly march since 2011 with numbers growing almost double each year! It is important to generate support for this movement, in order to mobilise social change and to be able to express the needs and desire of the public. Fireworks are a symbolic metaphor for the public’s voice, so let us be heard!