It is said that the last man to enter the British Parliament with honest intentions was Guido Fawkes, who planned to blow the place up with gunpowder. On November 5 each year, Britons celebrate his failure to do so by burning him in effigy.
But not all British citizens are pleased that parliament is still standing, and some – such as notorious hacking collective Anonymous – have seized on Guido Fawkes’ symbolism as they seek to further their anarchic causes.
Last night, on November 5, they organised the #MillionMaskMarch – an effort to mobilise their supporters and, in the words of one promotional poster, let the Government know “the true power of mankind”.
With some trepidation I found myself emerging from Embankment tube station and meandering up to Trafalgar Square. Would tonight really be the night that the secret community of freedom fighters would rise up and seize power from the the elite? Was Parliament going to be blown to pieces, as the true representatives of the people looked on united in the anonymity of their gimp masks?
Were the lazy keyboard warriors who spend all day pretending to be superheroes on the internet actually going to move from behind their keyboards and brave the outside world?
Well, the place was packed. Throngs of masked anon-droids had turned out in the biting cold to protest against … stuff. I set about discovering exactly what that was.
In keeping with the anarchist spirit of the event, there was no main stage or speaker; rather, people were milling around in their own little protest groups.
“Stand up, stand up, stand up for your rights,” came the repetitive chant from one corner of the crowd. I headed over to press the chanters on what exact rights they wanted people to stand up for. While a conclusive answer was not forthcoming, someone in a badger mask did inform me that they were there on behalf of the voiceless badgers.
I headed off to visit my old friends, the fracking protesters, who were standing by the fountains and chanting with some vigor. It took a while to work out the exact words to the chant, but eventually I pinned it down to “frack free Balcombe”.
Balcombe, however, is rather hard to chant – and even in some cases pronounce at all – under the influence of herbal remedies. (Medicinal purposes, I’m sure.) I waited a while to see if any anti-frackers would expand on the chant, but before they had a chance, the square was interrupted by the arrival of Russell Brand, appropriately adorned in a golden anonymous mask.
“It’s Russell fucking Brand,” one masked man next to me screamed.
“Quick, I want to touch the Messiah,” shouted another.
While the crowd were mesmerized by Brand, I perused my free copy of “The Fifth Estate is a mass propaganda attack against WikiLeaks” and waited for things to kick off. I had just reached page 8, “WikiLeaks modernised the press”, when the battlecry of “Parliament, Parliament” rose up. It was time to change the system.
The crowd surged down Whitehall towards the Mother of Parliaments and I tagged along, hoping to snatch some vox pops.
Unfortunately, aside from one nice lady who offered me a Guido Fawkes mask, few of them wanted to articulate their concerns – certainly not to someone who works for “a corporation”. Dejected, I plodded on. As we passed the Cenotaph, an older gentleman nearby pointed and shouted: “Fucking glorious dead and and all that shit.” He seemed talkative, so I sidled over and struck up a conversation.
“I’m not a part of Anonymous,” he cautioned. “I’m here as a free agent. See, the thing is, if you’ve got any intelligence you know what’s going on. I’m pissed off at our corrupt government stealing from the poor. The system is rigged in favour of corporations, of which the government is one.”
“Did you know that you’re a corporation? When you were born and they gave you a name, that’s when you became a corporation. Ever notice that your name is always spelt in block capitals on official forms? It’s because they’ve made you a corporation.”
My anonymous friend then enlivened the rest of the walk with screeds against illegal “star courts” and “straw men”.
“Look it up on YouTube if you don’t believe,” he said. “I can see you don’t believe me. It will open your eyes.”
As we reached Parliament Square, I began to eye the line of policemen behind me nervously. The thought of being kettled in a hormonal masked anarchist ball was not appealing. My new friend noted my discomfort.
“Don’t worry,” he reassured me. “When the police ask us to move, I’ll demand to know which law they are using. You see they’ll quote some ‘Act’ – and Acts aren’t actually laws.”
Sure enough, when the police asked us to move forward, my new friend carried out his threat – until the police threatened to arrest him. Then he grudgingly agreed to move. “You can only push them so far,” he grumbled.
The square was getting crammed and as several protesters were noting, there was both a profound sense of anti-climax and a distinctly unpleasant vibe coming from the crowd. I decided to make my escape, and headed for the police lines. After pleading, “Officer, officer, I’m a journalist!” I was let out.
As I headed back down Whitehall, I turned and caught a glimpse of cheap supermarket fireworks being set off by the crowd, their pitiful pink star trails barely raising an eyebrow as they whizzed overhead.
The revolution wasn’t going to happen tonight, but at least the notorious hacking collective had made it out of their parents’ basements. Maybe next year they’ll get round to actually taking down the system.