Anonymous, who take their rebellious politics and iconography from internet memes and the V for Vendetta film, have used the 5th of November as a day of action for the past few years. Guy Fawkes Night this year was no different, but there was an added plot twist. With the reincarnation of #occupy's London branch getting kicked out of Parliament Square just over a week ago, Anonymous were determined to take it back. The police had made it clear that they would not be allowing this to happen, which Anonymous took as a challenge.
"This tiny square [Parliament Square] represents all of our liberties," I was told by an Anon as I reached Trafalgar Square, the starting point for the march. "It's our right to be here, and we will take it for our own." While the event wasn't living up to its "Million Mask March" title, the first thing I was struck by was the sheer number of people present; estimates put the figure at several thousand, a number that included Russell Brand. The second thing was the overpowering aroma of weed.
"I'm here because my rights are being taken away. Data is recorded, and they're intruding into my private life," said 17-year-old Ali, who had donned a suit for the occasion. He'd come along with a group of mates, making it their third protest together, having also taken a stand on Palestine and the environment in recent weeks. The guys told me they'd "stay until the end, until [their] voices had been heard". Then one pointed out it was a school night and they'd need to be back by half eleven.
By Nelson's Column, a blue-bibbed Police Liaison Officer was being surrounded by a crowd and generally goaded while fireworks were set off. I went over to two of his colleagues, PC Keith Leahy & PC Lincoln, to see how they were feeling. I was told that blue-bibs were worn because they weren't real police. "What if you saw someone doing something naughty, would you nick them?" a bloke behind me shouted. "I wouldn't, no," Keith explained, his hand-cuffs ready at his belt.
They handed me a list of rules: no music, climbing on buildings or monuments, fireworks, disruption or graffiti. Surrounded by people doing most of those things, I got the impression that it had turned into a bucket list for almost everyone there.
By around 7PM there were thousands of people in Trafalgar Square. Climbing on the lion statues, I found Jimmy, who had come down from Stoke-on-Trent for the occasion (although he made it clear that he'd leave Stoke-on-Trent for any occasion). We talked about how shit the government is, and why we need a revolution, but the conversation quickly went a bit David Icke.
I'd heard the 9/11 truther spiel before, but Jimmy took it up a notch, saying that the census ("I mean, they just know everything about you if you tell them"), and moon landings ("they found something on the dark side, a base, and they were told to leave and never come back") were part of the Illuminati's conspiracy to control the world, too.
Before I could ponder this for too long, we were setting off, marching down Whitehall.
I spoke to John Rooney, a 23-year-old Dubliner who appeared to be taking a power nap beneath a National Grid van, much to the dismay of the bloke driving it. It's all been kicking off in Ireland recently, and John had decided to take the struggle international. "I know the Irish Government are being pressured by the IMF, and the UK is part of that." He didn't seem too keen on moving when the cops asked him to. "I was dragged across the street by Irish coppers recently, and spent six days in hospital, and had 20 seizures."
17-year-old Jess told me she came down for the night to learn, and now knew "that everyone hates the feds like I do". Others told me they were there to fight against austerity, people getting killed in police custody, and for a free Palestine.
Arriving at the Palace of Westminster, the obligatory stand-off with the cops began. Barriers were shaken, chants were screamed and people tussled with the police a bit before running off, breaking through the police lines.
Nobody seemed that bothered about taking Parliament Square, which I'd thought was the whole point and we were quickly off to the next destination on our revolutionary walking tour, which turned out to be Buckingham Palace. As chants of "burn it down" and "god fuck the queen" echoed around, we made our way to the palace. A group of tourists from Hong Kong joined in, I assumed they'd come to link up protests there. Turned out they thought the crowds were for Prince Charles.
Fireworks flew at the Palace and a few metal barriers flew at the police, who got their sticks out again.
Then it was off down Piccadilly. The shutters of the Ritz flew down as we passed; the hotel must be getting really bored of being emblematic of the largesse of the rich. Next to a branch of Costa, a homeless guy was sitting down, looking a bit bemused at the protesters. "Everyone, give dough to this guy!" someone shouted. And so they did. "I've lived on the streets for two and a half years, but this is fantastic. These are the kindest people I've ever met," said the homeless guy.
We headed down Regent Street, and it felt like the cops were being outflanked. Road signs were smashed, bin bags went flying, one copper even got a Pot Noodle in his face. By the time we got to BBC HQ (the Anons see the Beeb as some sort of propaganda broadcaster) the Met had caught up, but the cat and mouse game carried on past Selfridges, down towards Park Lane.
Sitting down on the road outside the Hilton on Mayfair, I spoke to a 20-year-old called Felix, who was doing wheelies on a Boris Bike around the police cordon. I asked if he was disappointed that Parliament Square wasn't a new tent city, but he didn't seem too fussed. "That's not the point. It's not very organised, but there's a lot of young people here. We've got nothing to do." He wasn't at all pissed off that the tarpaulin revolution didn't pan out as the call-out video had described. He just wanted to show his discontent.
To be honest, I found the night a bit weird. What had started as a targeted attack on the government ended for me on the corners of Hyde Park, with a bloke playing the guitar and some Catherine wheels being set off. But I guess it was never really about Parliament Square, so much as a generalised outbursts about notions of inequality, unfairness and GCHQ clandestinely checking up on you when you're browsing the web. Obviously the number of conspiracy theorists is always a concern at these things, but there seemed to be a shared understanding that this was the howl of a generation that has more debt, less privacy and fewer prospects than its parents.
More stuff like this: