I was at yesterday’s Million Mask March in London, where thousands descended on Trafalgar Square donning the now infamous Guy Fawkes masks, with similar protests taking place at the same time in 481 cities across the world.
The protest, organised by Anonymous, and widely linked to other movements like Occupy and WikiLeaks, was described on the Anonymous website as a protest against austerity, the infringement of rights, mass surveillance, war crimes and corrupt politicians.
Some say these protests are unstructured, incoherent and most likely inconsequential – that’s not fair. They are a reflection of the chaotic political climate they seek to abolish. But to succeed in overhauling a corrupt system, the movement must establish clear strategic leadership and direction, like the pro-democracy revolution in Egypt in in 2011 (of course that situation since deteriorated).
If Anonymous and Occupy are to learn anything from the Arab Spring and its setbacks and failures is the need for a united front to prevent damaging splintering. Although last night’s protests were mostly peaceful with only small pockets of aggression, it is becoming increasingly apparent that these movements are growing in veracity — and can no longer be ignored by those in power.
In a political climate riddled with corruption and elitism, where social inequality is rife and there exists the largely unaddressed threat of climate change, people are angry. The fireworks set off in the middle of crowds were unnecessary and even dangerous, and my encounters with police at the protest – one aggressively chided me for trying to take photograph atop the steps of the National Gallery – were also excessive.
The tension, the expectation of violence, was palpable.
As the cold night drew on, protesters divided – some to Buckingham Palace, some to hold a symbolic sit-in in Parliament Square and others to continue their loud chanting outside Downing Street. In the absence of significant media coverage, a group of protesters made their way to BBC headquarters to express frustration at what they described as “a corrupt institution”.
In pictures: Million Mask March in London
In pictures: Million Mask March in London
1/12 Million Mask March in London
A masked protestor holds a flag outside the Houses of Parliament during the Million Mask March
2/12 Million Mask March in London
Russell Brand joins the protesters in Parliament Square during the Million Mask March on November 5, 2014 in London, England
3/12 Million Mask March in London
Members of activist group Anonymous during a protest in Parliament Square, central London.
Ian West/PA Wire
4/12 Million Mask March in London
Protestors clash with police outside Buckingham Palace during the Million Mask March
5/12 Million Mask March in London
A protester stands on a statue on Trafalgar Square during the 'Million Mask' demonstration
6/12 Million Mask March in London
Two masked protestors kiss in Trafalgar Square ahead of the Million Mask March
7/12 Million Mask March in London
A masked protestor gestures outside Buckingham Palace during the Million Mask March
8/12 Million Mask March in London
Protesters clash with police during the Million Mask March on 5 November, 2014 in London
9/12 Million Mask March in London
The activists called for revolution and scuffled with police in central London and outside Buckingham Palace after marching on parliament
10/12 Million Mask March in London
Protestors with covered faces marched from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square and then around the streets of London in protest against austerity, mass surveillance and attacks on human rights
11/12 Million Mask March in London
Protesters clash with police during the 'Million Mask' demonstration
12/12 Million Mask March in London
A masked protestor holds a sign ahead of the Million Mask March
I was shocked when, in an interview on BBC Radio London this morning, I was asked whether these sorts of protests had any value except to destroy. Presenter Paul Ross helpfully informed me that the Egyptian revolution, where women had a huge leading role, is to blame for their current oppression.
That’s right, a white British man told me, a non-white, Egyptian-British woman, that the oppression of women in my country is self-inflicted because people like me had the gall to protest against corruption, persecution and human rights infringements. These women admirably still continue to fight.
What this man failed to realise was that this is exactly what these toppled regimes would say. ‘What was she doing there?’ has become a staple phrase drenched in detestation against those justifying attacks on peaceful protests.
To make the movement legitimate in the eyes of the government and the media, to show those in power that this is more than the folly of random individuals converging in a space; there needs to be unity in vision, direction and demands.Reuse content