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MillionMask2019

The Million Mask March and Guy Fawkes

The hacktivist group Anonymous announced they would be gathering at The Washington Monument at 9:00am this morning to begin a protest in Downtown D.C. It’s an annual protest that is in its 7th year here in D.C. (23rd year worldwide), and is part of an annual global protest associated with Anonymous. The protest has come to be known as the Million Mask March, or “Operation Vendetta,” and takes place each year on Guy Fawkes Day, the 5th of November. So I decided to learn more about the group and protest, and then to go and observe the protest.

The motives for each year’s march varies, but are usually broad in scope and include some consistent themes and beliefs that are prevalent in the Anonymous movement. They include: corruption in politics and governments; banks, corporations, and big pharma companies; government surveillance; demilitarization; capitalist greed; climate change; internet censorship; police violence; the erosion of civil liberties; self-governance, and; the treatment of vulnerable groups like migrants, disabled people, and those living in poverty.

Anonymous also ascribes to what many people would call “conspiracy theories.” According to the web site for the Million Mask March the group contends that: Jackie Kennedy, and not Lee Harvey Oswald, shot John F. Kennedy; Julian Assange was an orphan raised in a CIA child sex slave camp and was framed in the 9/11 attacks, and; Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender who was recently reported to have committed suicide while in Federal custody is, in fact, not dead but living on a ranch under the protection of the Federal government.

Anonymous associates itself with Guy Fawkes, and those attending protests usually wear Guy Fawkes masks. And they schedule their main protest on Guy Fawkes Day (which is also known as Bonfire Night and Firework Night). Guy Fawkes Day is an annual commemoration observed primarily in the United Kingdom. Its history began with the events of November 5, 1605, when a man named Guy Fawkes, a participant in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James the First had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of the 5th of November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.

Fawkes was sentenced to be executed for his part in trying to assassinate the king. But shortly before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out, Fawkes fell from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

So after learning about the planned protest and the group, I took an early break from work today and went down to The Washington Monument at 9:00am to observe the Million Mask March. I got there at about 8:45am, but didn’t see anyone wearing a Fawkes mask, or that looked like they were there for a protest. But I was early. So I waited. It wasn’t particularly crowded at the monument. In fact there were no more than a couple of dozen tourist coming and going. I waited for over an hour but no protesters showed up. I eventually gave up and went back to work. I checked a site that was supposed to be live streaming the march. But I got a message that read, “404 – Page Not Found.” And later, after the march was scheduled to have concluded, I checked the Facebook page that was set up for the march. Despite multiple posts made today, there were no posts or photos of the march.

So, I find it ironically interesting that the group aligns itself Guy Fawkes, a man and a day famous for failure. If the purpose of the march was to influence people and communicate with the public, today’s march was as much a failure as Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot.

ShutDownDC (1)

ShutDownDC Protest

Today I encountered a protest. That’s not unusual, however. The same can be said almost any day of the week depending on where in you are here in the city. But today’s protest occurred at various locations around D.C. There was a similar protest at the beginning of this week as well. Entitled “ShutDownDC,” the protests were timed for the beginning and end of the week, along with strikes in a number of other cities, in order to coincide with the start of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

A coalition of several climate change and social justice groups participated in this week’s protests. The groups included climate change organizations: “Rising Tide North America” and “Extinction Rebellion DC.”  But it also included such diverse groups as “Code Pink: Women for Peace,” which describes itself as a grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally and to redirect the resources used for those things; the “Democratic Socialists of America,” the largest socialist organization in the United States; “World BEYOND War,” a “global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace”; “Werk for Peace,” a queer and transgender rights movement, and; Black Lives Matter. According to a website for the events, the purpose of the protests were “to demand an immediate end to the age of fossil fuels, and a swift and just transition to renewable energy.”

On Monday the protesters split up and blocked various major intersections and other key infrastructure in the city in an attempt to disrupt traffic and gridlock the city during morning rush hour. Today’s protest took the form of a march, causing rolling street closures and traffic backups. It started and ended at McPherson Square. Along the way they paused in front of certain companies and organizations in order to “call them out as fossil fuel villains.” They included the investment management company BlackRock, located about a block northeast of the White House. which the protest group accuses of being “the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels and deforestation”; the Environmental Protection Agency building on Pennsylvania Avenue, which they describe as stopping at nothing to destroy existing climate protections; the Trump International Hotel, which they say is a symbol of corporate influence in U.S. politics; and a branch of Wells Fargo Bank, which they contend has put $151 billion into fossil fuel industries in the past three years during “a time when really we should be thinking about the managed decline of the fossil fuel industry.”  The intent of today’s march was to again disrupt traffic and cause gridlock for commuters during the morning rush hour.

In general, a protest is a way of making opinions heard in an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy. In this case, however, I don’t think the protests were very effective in achieving that goal. When a protest is designed to disrupt traffic and inconvenience the average working person who is just trying to go to work to support themselves and their families, you lose the support of the very people you are trying to influence. You fail to influence or gain the support of the grassroots people needed to sway public opinion and influence government and corporate action.  And you can end up looking like self-absorbed attention seekers.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]