About 700 people turned up, but the police ruined the fun.
About 500 members of Anonymous emerged from behind their laptops yesterday to finally live up to what their masks have long promised: a reenactment of the final scene of V for Vendetta where they blow up the Houses of Parliament. I'm sure you'll be absolutely shocked to learn that what resulted wasn't that, but actually a highly confusing marriage of genuine political protest and internet-fuelled flash-mobbery.
So far, the political left and its affiliated street protest movements – Labour, UK Uncut, the Socialist Workers Party, et al – have failed to really harness people's dislike for a government that’s been pissing on everyone from a great height. At the same time, those same movements have failed to realise that, today, a lot of young people's political beliefs have been formed by Loose Change and the Zeitgeist films. If last night told us anything, it's that Anonymous may have stepped into that void, creating a sort of politics 2.0.
At around 6PM, people started gathering at the foot of Nelson’s Column. Someone humped one of the iron lions. Everyone high-fived and marched around arms-swinging like Cockney mimes because it was impossible for anyone to communicate through facial expressions. People danced to internet anthems "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Chocolate Rain", which were blaring from a nearby speaker.
Then they were interrupted by someone who made a speech about how tonight was “all about the lulz”. He was then interrupted by someone who said that, actually, tonight wasn’t just about the lulz, but was – in fact – deadly serious. “We want justice!” he shouted. It was a bit like that scene at the start of The Warriors, although thankfully no one was gunned down in a way that provoked a city-wide gang war between thousands of terrifying young men in fancy dress, culminating in a ritual execution on a beach at dawn.
This awkward interplay between meme-based lulz and frighteningly sincere political beliefs was everywhere and, at times, it was difficult to tell which was the joke.
The serious criticism seemed to be directed at public sector cuts and the government's attempts to tame the Wild West of the internet. At some points, the arguments dived headfirst into full-on conspiracy theory. While some of the stuff that's come to light in the last month or so regarding secret paedophile rings makes you think twice about any conspiracy claim, the whole thing was pretty confusing.
Did "labels" refer to record labels, clothing labels or social labels? What did any of those things have to do wtih chemtrails? I decided to grab some of the protesters for a chat to suss out what was going on.
VICE: Hey anon, what’s good about the Anonymous movement?
Anon: What makes this movement different from the rest is that the internet puts us on a level playing field with the government and corporations. Hopefully it’ll create a situation where the government is afraid of its citizens and not the other way around.
Are the government afraid of that already?
Well, they’re definitely cautious or they wouldn’t have the police out.
Why does the V for Vendetta mask come into it?
Anonymous started as a joke and on forums we would joke about V for Vendetta masks. Then the first non-internet thing we did was to protest against Scientology, which has a history of following its critics and doing nasty things to people who say bad stuff about it, so we had to mask up and we chose the V for Vendetta mask.
Ah, that makes some kind of sense, I suppose.
But it does kind of symbolise what Anonymous thinks it is – that last scene when they blow up Parliament.
Do you think you could actually blow up Parliament?
Probably not, no.
But do you think Anonymous could lead to a genuine revolution?
I see it getting further towards change than anyone else has.
Don't you think it’s a bit problematic having the symbolism of a movement for radical social change based on a comic book that turned into a Hollywood film?
Erm, nah. It started as a joke. None of us thought it would get this far.
There's always one buzzkill at a fancy dress party who refuses to play ball and, in this case, it was this guy, Ben. I confronted him about his sartorial faux pas.
VICE: Hi Ben. Why are you breaking the dress code?
Ben: I’m here to show my opposition to social injustice, so the Guy Fawkes mask is a bit problematic. Guy Fawkes wanted to blow up Parliament because it was controlled by Protestants and he was Catholic. It was obviously very wrong that he was being persecuted for that, but he wanted to reinstate the power of the Pope over England, which was also very wrong.
Oh yeah, good point!
I then bumped into this white Rasta, who said in faux patois: “More love, one love, truth and rights, equality for all. Rastafari is an international religion, an international way of life. You don’t have to be black to be rasta. Just appreciate the roots, music and the culture for the people. All for the people, not the system. The system is a shit-stem. Bun dem!”
Not for the first time that day, I was left genuinely scratching my head as to whether the protesters really were what they appeared to be, or just a brilliant satire performance art piece. The whole protest could have quite easily been a send up of the UK’s protest scene, like The Thick of It for the streets.
The march on Parliament began and an excited anticipation hung in the air. Was my scepticism misguided? Were these guys actually going to storm Parliament? The familiar chant of, “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoed off the walls. The protest fell into a familiar pattern. Street politics in the UK are becoming pretty formulaic. Here’s how it normally goes:
The march sets off. Because a simple A-B march is kind of boring and ineffectual, a few excited people at the front make a dash for the demo’s target. In this, case the Houses of Parliament.
With radical posturing and adrenaline the only rationale present, and with no actual plan of how to storm Parliament and what exactly that would even achieve, the protesters are thwarted by – surprise, surprise – the police.
The occasional bit of shoving breaks out, but basically people stand in front of the police calling them scum and pretending to be surprised that they won’t join the revolution because they should be “serving the public, not the politicians”.
“Why are you protecting the corrupt politicians?” the protesters ask, while refusing to realise that stopping people destroying Parliament is pretty much the epitome of a police officer’s job.
In this case, with the high concentration of conspiracy theorists and in the wake of the ongoing Jimmy Savile paedophilia case, there was the added twist of people accusing the half of the police and most of Parliament of being one gigantic paedo-ring. This is a slight deviation from the usual script.
Then everyone stands around being revolutionary and, after a while, gets tired and goes home. I guess the revolution can wait for another day. If only the police hadn’t been there, we definitely would have stormed Parliament. But who could have foreseen the presence of the police at a well-advertised protest in the heart of Westminster?
Certainly not these guys, whose, “You should have expected us” sign made pretty much no sense at all.
It’s been said that Parliament is a kind of theatre, one in which the British establishment put on a democratic charade by taking the piss out of each other’s haircuts while agreeing with each other on the big issues – the old ideological battles between left and right being a thing of the past. If that’s true, then it’s mirrored in the UK's current protest scene. It’s basically a pantomime where everyone assumes a role, hams it up and then goes home to prepare for the next performance.
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