My first journalism piece about the million mask march.
“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. We see no reason why gunpowder treason, should ever be forgot.” Or so goes the old nursery rhyme as a warning to all that if you rebel; you will burn. A lot has happened since 1605, power has changed hands and Parliament is now firmly in control of England. Guy Fawkes is now nothing more than an effigy burned on a bonfire, just a distant memory in England’s long history. So it is surprising to see, that this long ago rebel has made a global come back.
For the last three years, the world has become the stage of the Million Mask March or formally known as OpVendetta. The brain child of the Hacktivist group Anonymous, the march was created as a way for people to protest against corrupt governments and corporate businesses. Born from the internet Anonymous claims itself to be a collective of individuals with one voice. Their motto is ‘We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us” and are well known for their hacktivist actions against corporate and government websites.
The hacktivist group can be distinguished via the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks, and call themselves ‘Anons’. The idea of the Anon mask was taken from the cult hit film V for Vendetta and has since became a symbol for their anonymity, a right which they continue to fight for on the internet and in their personal life; including the Million Mask March.
Organised to coincide with the fifth of November, thousands of people worldwide take to the streets wearing Guy Fawkes masks. This year there was 482 marches organised world-wide, with 22 taking part in the UK alone. These marches are not officially sanctioned by the police or city officials and seem to have little news media’s covering them during the events, yet its popularity grow each year. Over 5000 people were estimated to have taken part in London’s Million Mask March this November compared to just 500 that attended in 2011.
There are no official organizers of the Million Mask March; however websites sprang up all over the internet with instructions for those attending to ‘not collaborate with the police’. Along with instructions that where in-depth overviews of a person’s right to their anonymity and the laws concerning being asked by police to hand over their personal details. It is little wonder then that with the extra protesters and the uncooperative attitudes, that there was also heavy increase in police.
Although there have been few arrests in previous marches; the police presence seemed to be scaled up for a full riot. This over cautiousness via the police angered some of the protesters who described it as being “hemmed in”, and with the heavy barricades lining the streets, it seemed as if they had tried to funnel protesters towards designated meeting points. This caused protesters to rebel and to destroy the barricades and in some cases ignore the designated areas altogether.
Yet even with the minor skirmishes between the police, the atmosphere of the March had an almost festive feel to it. Starting at Trafalgar square, protesters peacefully marched towards the Houses of Parliament and then onto Buckingham palace; with some small groups marching onto the BBC in protest for the lack of media coverage. Among the Anonymous protesters there was also a variety of groups in attendance including; religious groups, Green Peace, social workers, Fathers for Justice and people who generally feel let down by their government and the system itself.
With the growing tensions in today economic climate, the Million Mask March has become a way for people to unite and voice their opinions; their fears and shine a light on situations that they feel are being censored. Kelly Cotton, a mother fighting the social services for the custody of her children, highlighted the sensitive issue of forced adoption and the way in which the family courts is currently run.
In an interview, she spoke passionately about her own experiences and why she chooses to attend the Million Mask March. “I have Asperger’s and after stay in hospital, I came home to find my children have been taking into care. After appealing to the courts I was hit with detaining order, which means I cannot fight any decisions made about my children.” Kelly also went on to list some worrying statistics and facts about how the family courts are being run. “Social workers are being given targets and quotas on the amount of children that are to be taken in to care and given up for private adoption. With the current Fostering campaign being pushed through by the government, it is just another motive to get more children taken away from their families and adopted into others.” Kelly stated that she attends the Million Mask March as a way to voice the “truth” about the corrupt family courts and to protest about the unjust and illegal way it is run.
An Anon from Fathers for Justice had a similar story concerning the family courts. In an interview he explained that, after he separated from his partner he was denied access to his children and when like Kelly, he attempted to appeal, he too was barred from the court. “The government has withdrawn legal aid when it comes to the family court and now I have no finical support to pay the legal costs!” he said. “It’s unfair. How can I fight for my children if they make it impossible for me to do so?” The Anon went on to explain that in protest he camped outside the Prime Ministers residents for ‘three months’ until someone finally came out and’ listened’ to what he had to say. He believes -like many others at the march- that people need to come together and stop the corrupt governments and Politician's for destroying ‘our’ lives.
This theme of using the Million Mask March as a means to protest against the system seems synonymous in one way or another with nearly all the protesters. The issues highlighted by some of the people, are issues that can or do affect many of us, yet the question has been raised to the effectiveness of these marches. Can a collective of people really make a difference? Most of the Anon’s interviewed believe that they can, but admitted they needed more people to “wake up” and join in the fight.
Russell Brand, comedian and ex drug addict has become a rallying point for the Million Mask March and is attempting bring its issues voiced by the people to the main stream media. He actively voices his opinions about the corrupt UK governments and states he refuses to vote as it is like ‘voting for the same person’. His appearance at the marches seems to be attracting the attention of the media, if only in small doses.
It seems that the very censorship and repression that the Anonymous group actively fight and protest about, seems to have some merit. There are few marches in the world that gather such a large, synchronized and collective attendance world-wide and yet there is very little information or news reported on the new movement that is the Million Mask March. It has taken the appearance of a celebrity to gain any media interest on the protest and even then all the news reported from the mainstream media, was information sourced after the fact.
If so little is reported by our own leading media companies, how is each year the Million Mask March is gathering so many new followers and participants each year? Like the internet in which the Anonymous group emerged from, it is on the internet that they find the most support, although this too seems to be mostly via Face Book and Twitter. Yet the internet is a powerful tool, like Anonymous has proven with their hacktivist tactics against the many it has deemed corrupt or unjust. It can spread the news faster than any reporter ever could and has no bounds as to how far its influence can spread. Is this the reason behind Anonymous and the Million Mask Marches success?
Anonymous aim to continue organizing these protests until 2016 when November the fifth falls on a Saturday. Their hope is to gain as many supporters as possible, that the world leaders have no option but to pay attention to their people and listen to what they have to say. Whether or not they can achieve their goal is unknown. No one can tell if idea that a collective of individuals can really make a difference will work, but if the last few years are anything to go by, then protesters of the Million Mask March are going to try. All we can know for sure is that when the next Guy Fawkes Night comes around, England and the world should get ready to expect them back, masks and all.