Angry, Anonymous and Confused: London’s Million Mask March

Demonstrators were undoubtedly vocal but their protest was chaotic, incoherent and most likely futile.

On Thursday the 5th of November thousands of protesters gathered in central London for the Million Mask March. The event was organised by the mysterious internet collective Anonymous and was held in conjunction with similar events across the world.

I reported from the scene and witnessed as crowds of people, many of whom wearing guy Fawkes masks, holding banners and letting off air horns and fireworks, bought the usually busy streets of London to a standstill.

Police warned of violence, crime and disorder and deployed some two-thousand officers to manage the proceedings. Undeterred by stringent controls three Met officers were injured, police horses attacked and a squad car trashed and set ablaze. Protesters were angry yet their message was incoherent and confused.

Unlike conventional single issue protests; it was difficult to identify a single cause for the gathering. When questioned what the march was hoping to achieve few protesters could provide any concrete answer if respond at all.

Dr Anastasia Kavada is an expert in internet organised social movements and collective activism at the University of Westminster. She says the March is part of a new form of social protest movement that does in fact have a common agenda.

“It is an anti-authoritarian movement. I would put it together with WikiLeaks and the new movements of radical transparency. They believe in the privacy of the individual but transparency when it comes to the major institutions and corporations. It is against corruption, it advocates for a kind of democracy but it doesn't try to build democratic processes, what it tries to do is disrupt. So they are taking up all these very different issues but I think there is a common ethos there, this is an ethos that has to do with transparency, accountability and with the equal distribution of power.”

So the Anonymous movement it may be argued, although disparate in its member’s specific agendas, does seem to have common demands. And indeed when speaking to protesters it became apparent that despite a multitude of agendas common themes supposed by Dr Kavada were evident.

Perhaps it is suffice to highlight the wrongdoings in society alone without offering solutions to the problems identified. Yet with a method predicated on disruption and often violence the efficacy of the gathering to result in any kind of meaningful change, I would suggest, is fundamentally limited.

If the group doesn't attempt to ‘build democratic processes’ then, short of destroying society and starting from scratch, it follows that they are dependent on other organisations with an ability to affect change sympathizing with their cause. These may be political parties, NGOs, pressure groups or similar bodies. Yet I would argue that no such group would want to identify with Anonymous owing to their disruptive and all too often violent method of activism. As a result the noise, the anger and the frustration, although genuine, understandable and increasingly apparent; is ultimately futile and meaningless.

We all want a better and fairer society; without that motivation our culture would not have made the vast and impressive strides it has in the modern era. But in order to bring change we must cohere to the frustrating, difficult and limited pace of the messy ‘business of compromise’ that is politics. It isn't perfect but perfection doesn't exist beyond our imaginations.

We must strive towards a better society by deploying the tools of considered argument and debate; not by disengaging, shouting and breaking things. Only if our demands are coherent and substantiated will others stand a chance to be persuaded. Short of destroying that which has taken tens of thousands of years to develop it is ultimately only through engagement and persuasion that genuine change might be able to be enacted.

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