(07/11/2015) There are usually a cohort of people in a protest who insist on turning up the heat. They are ordinarily few yet always the first to smash roadworks, throw traffic cones and generally make things a little less peaceful. This year’s Bonfire Night, however, saw these negligible ‘anarchists’ – who advocate some sort of regime change – multiply, rise up and challenge the rule of law on the streets of London. This took the form of the self-branded Million Mask March, essentially a very tame and highly mobile riot. And beside from the injuries, damage and arrests, it all had a touch of hilarity to it.
The march – organized by internet posse Anonymous – had some vague anti-establishment auspice but in reality, it was just a night of mindless disorder. Fireworks were deployed, an unattended police car was set ablaze, shop windows were smashed, bins were cast into the street and an atmosphere of general anarchy reigned supreme. The main chant, which became mundane surprisingly quickly, was ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ and it was echoed with conviction throughout the evening. But I failed to discern a single tangible demand. It could hardly be called a protest. The whole thing felt more like a bitter parade. A parade that needed a fair bit of coercive supervision.
In order to do this supervision, the Metropolitan Police deployed their full arsenal as well as drafting thousands of extra officers. We are talking riot vans, horses and a helicopter. Even the Transport Police offered some support – or solidarity at least. Aside from arresting, the police spent their evening either blocking certain streets or chasing the march down others. It was all a game of cat and mouse through some of London’s finest and most famous quarters. The protesters, with the police in pursuit, made their way past Parliament, down Whitehall, through Trafalgar Square, up to Leicester Square (during the Hunger Games premiere funnily enough), across Piccadilly Circus, then slightly back on itself to Buckingham Palace, through Green Park, past Oxford Circus and down Regents Street. Somehow, it even managed to penetrate the narrow streets of Soho. This sporadic route reflects of the pointless nature of the whole thing and I even saw someone try and smash the window of a dentist. I can understand the more high end shops receiving righteous blows from the rocks of equality, but a dentist, come on. If I had any faith in this movement, it would have been totally lost there.
Eventually after much running, chanting and fireworking, the group wound its way back to Trafalgar Square. Upon climbing onto the base of Nelson’s Column there was a brief sense of victory. They had a come a long way and much had probably been achieved. People cheered as all watched the biggest improvised fireworks display yet. But the pyrotechnics weren’t exclusively celebratory. Just as I noticed Dale Maily filming a news report next to me, we were suddenly bombarded by rouge fireworks. For those brief moments of flashing and banging, things felt more like Aleppo than London. But as soon as I regained my senses I couldn’t help but think how ridiculous it all was. Some of these people were acting as if we were living V for Vendetta and had some righteous revolutionary cause to pursue. Or at least that’s what it seemed like.
When the evening truly claim to a close – after the police kettled the stragglers by the National Portrait Gallery – the anatomy of this march became clearer – confused tourists omitted, of course. Firstly there were the vagrant activists. Though these guys partook in plenty of chaos, they justified it with a genuine and often deserved disdain for the establishment. This march seemed to give them some sense of purpose although their political philosophies were often vague and incoherent. Dale Maily’s satirical report on the matter is grounded in a worrying amount of truth. But there is another other faction in this group: the scruffy troublemakers. They pretended to fight for the same cause as the activists but really they were just there to, well, fuck shit up. When else can you shoot fireworks at police?! Of course, inane chatter transcended both groups and there was an overwhelming stench of ignorance in that wretched police cordon. Oh yeah, someone couldn’t wait any longer and decided to relieve themselves right in the middle of us trapped souls.
Maybe I would be more understanding and less cynical if the evening was marketed differently…
‘November 5th Mess Around! Location: Central London.
Come on down to Central London this November 5th for an evening of mindless destruction. Let’s be honest, we all have those urges to throw bins around, scuffle with police and partake in some good old fashioned anarchy, don’t we? Normal protests don’t quite cut it so let us gather together at Trafalgar Square this Thursday and show the West End how to really party. Roadworks? Mess ‘em up! Windows? If it breaks, we can smash it! Bins? Oh you better believe those suckers are getting tipped over. Safety in numbers chaps so don’t be late. Bring your own Guy Fawkes mask and fireworks.’
See more pictures of the evening below:
(Click to enlarge.)
All photos and text by Dean Forrester