Photos by Pamela Giani
On November 5, Anonymous paid tribute to the final scene of V for Vendetta with their Million Mask March. But rather than blasting Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and obliterating Parliament with petrol bombs, they adopted the far more legal approach of donning their Guy Fawkes masks and spending a few hours shouting about corporate corruption, austerity, and how no mainstream media will cover their events.The next day,
A few days later, Anonymous UK released this video, lashing out at the BBC via their animated avatar for not reporting the march. Confusingly, the BBC did actually report the march—in a pretty measured, non-partisan way. Regardless, the video called for another march, this time against media bias, concluding with footage of the November 5 demonstration and accompanied, weirdly, by Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.
That march happened this Saturday, so I went into central London to see whether Anonymous would manage to attract the same amount of BBC attention as they always have—i.e., a decent, responsible amount, given that the BBC is a public broadcasting service and not an anarchist zine stapled together in a commune.
Arriving at the demonstration, I found around 200 people assembled outside the BBC's Portland Place studios, with between 40 to 50 Occupy and Anonymous members leading the proceedings. Some were wearing V masks and holding anti-BBC and anti-establishment placards, which was probably a fun photo-opp for the open-top bus tourists passing by.
This man was spitting bars to show his support for the cause, like a time-ravaged MC NxtGen. After he'd finished getting everyone all fired up, several people took to the soapbox to address the crowd with various tirades, the targets of which ranged from media bias to tax avoidance to the general state of the economy.
I had a chat with Kerry Anne Mendoza, one of the speakers and an independent journalist and blogger. She told me that she joined Occupy in 2007 and is disillusioned with the mainstream media.
"I’m really fed up at the BBC and the mainstream media for failing in their duty to reflect reality—it’s as simple as that," she said. "Particularly in the last couple of years, when you’ve got mass protest happening on almost a daily basis up and down the UK... If the duty of the BBC is to inform, educate and entertain, they’re failing in at least two of those principal duties right now, and it's just not good enough. We really need the media to take on their role as the fourth estate. They have an important function to hold power to account. To really add to that informed consent that makes any democracy workable, you need to have a populace of people who know what’s happening so that they can create a view about it. And the BBC aren’t doing that. In fact, quite the opposite."
A few minutes into my conversation with Kerry, her friend walked over and started chatting. He told me that he was just an average guy with an interest in politics, but said that Kerry had inspired him to go out and do something.
"It's inspiring words and commitment from people like Kerry that's making people want to stand up, man," he said. "You’ve got to look at what is going on out there. If you're going to be nonsensical and just sit there and be complicit in the system, you’re not going to be helping."
I also spoke to Dave (pictured above) from Occupy London, who focused much of his speech on the economy. "It's virtually impossible to get a straight message out about what's wrong with the economy and what [can be done to sort] the economy out, because the mainstream media are captured by corporate financial interests," he told me.
"We pay for the BBC—it's a public stakeholder thing. We deserve fair, proper coverage and we’ve not been getting that. Occasionally on a midnight on a Thursday you might hear some decent economic analysis, but the main message getting across to most people is the narrative of the three main political parties […] We're infested with corporate interests parasitising the rest of us."
As with most Anonymous and Occupy events, every attendee seemed to have a different reason for being at the protest. I heard everything from complaints about a corrupt media and government to calls to free imprisoned hackers (like the guy on the placard above). There was anger about rising energy bills and unemployment. Other than the usual outliers who attend any demo of this type—such as the one guy who said that the government is controlling everyone's minds via the mass media—the concerns seemed pretty legimitate. Alas, I often come away from these actions with the nagging feeling that such a multifarious list of gripes will only lead to an unfocused and ineffective protest.
The masks get made fun of quite a bit, which to an extent is unfair. They're supposed to be symbolic of everyone being equal—of there being no leader—which is perfectly fine and understandable and actually makes quite a lot of sense in a movement like this. (There's a long history of leftist movements self-consciously avoiding formal leaders.)
But the masts also neatly sum up the problems that groups like Occupy and Anonymous often encounter. Campaigning against the mainstream media while wearing a piece of pop culture iconography that's licensed to Time Warner shows just how poorly thought out the movement's actions can be, as does the fact that nobody seems to know exactly what they want out of these protests.
It's fine to campaign against media bias, but if you haven't got anything constructive to say, you're just a bunch of people complaining that the BBC give Huw Edwards more airtime than an animated YouTube avatar in a Guy Fawkes mask.
After the speeches had finished, the majority of the crowd dispersed. However, these guys were determined not to let the event fizzle out, so decided to occupy a traffic crossing.
After forcing a cab driver to temporarily drive on the sidewalk, they gave up their occupation and marched down Regent Street under the watchful eye of two bored policemen.
I asked a man in a mask where they were going. "I don’t know—I just want to piss some people off," he chuckled, before disappearing into the crowds of pre-Christmas shoppers.
Anonymous's marches are often ridiculed, but there are impressive elements to the movement. For instance, I can't think of many other organizations that would be able to sync up protests in over 400 locations in the same way that Anonymous did for their Million Mask March. And there are bound to be people with rational, productive ideas mixed in among those who just want to wave cardboard placards at police officers, but their voices are lost in the mass.
It was explained to me several times on Saturday that, even though the people at the demo have different agendas, they should still join to express their grievances together, but I couldn't help wondering if this is counterproductive. Surely if a movement had clearer objectives, it'd get taken more seriously, and maybe even attract more coverage.
Follow Murray on Twitter: @murrayonly
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