Last night I travelled to central London to observe the annual Million Masks March organised by Anonymous. I had been curious to see what would come of it and wanted to document what I witnessed.
When I arrived I was met by a motley group of protesters, many wearing Guy Fawkes masks inspired by the 2005 film V for Vendetta. Others sported balaclavas and an assorted mix of other masks most notability a Donald Trump one.
I was immediately struck by the police presence. It was heavy and oppressive. Keen to prevent the violent scenes seen in past years riot officers were always only seconds away to deal with rule breakers and quash any violent impulses. By the end of the march, the police seemed to outnumber the protestors.
From anti-capitalists to anarchists to Antifa many divergent ideologies were brought together under one name last night. Although this show of unity is certainly good for the movement it had its problems. The gravest was that it led to the lack of a single unifying message around which to rally. The most prevalent appeals were ill-defined calls for “change.” Other than songs about killing politicians what exactly the proposed mechanism of change is supposed to be wasn’t immediately clear.
The loud chants of “WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!” lost some of their power as the protestors meekly obeyed all instructions from the police for the first hours of the protest.
At one point while marching down Whitehall a man lit a firework and was immediately surrounded by a gang of police officers and a swarm of Londons media.
There were moments of hilarity when a middle-aged man stripped down to a mankini and danced provocatively behind some of the police. Another tonal shift occurred when one of the protesters grabbed the microphone to show off his beatboxing skills.
At around half past eight the protestors decided to break the conditions of the protest and the police momentarily lost control. Nothing came of this brief rebellion because lacking strong leaders the protest fizzled out as different groups went in different directions. One of the larger contingents was eventually kettled on Wardour street where several arrests and searches occurred.
In the end having witnessed all that I had, I was disappointed. I do sympathise with many of the ideals expressed by the movement: most notability ridding governments of corruption, removing censorship, and allowing individuals greater personal liberty but last night was not the roaring success some of the protestors likely sought.
After the violence and destruction of past years, this protest was tame in comparison. It was also ineffective. To truly make a mark the protest needs strong leaders, clear messages and more boots on the ground. Only time will tell if they’ve learned these lessons from last night.