What’s It Like In The Middle Of The Million Mask March?

Andy Thornley
By Andy Thornley Last edited 101 months ago
What’s It Like In The Middle Of The Million Mask March?

Hundreds gathered — many wearing Guido Fawkes masks made popular through the film V for Vendetta — all with an axe to grind with the establishment.

The Million Mask protest has taken place each 5 November for the past few years, with anti-capitalism and civil disobedience a permanent fixture. To find out more we headed to Parliament Square, to talk to people on this year's march.

Man with bleeding head
Terrence told us he had been the victim of police brutality after being hit on the head with a baton

The first person we spoke to gave his name as Terrence. He was quite distinctive from his fellow protesters, mostly because of the blood streaming down his face. He said he was at the front of the crowd holding his hands up when the police charged forward and an officer hit him on the head with a baton.

He said that he shouted to them not to assault him as he wasn’t going to assault them, but the police took no notice and hit him anyway. We left him at that point so he could receive medical treatment, and sought out other people who weren’t as injured.

Men in Guido Fawkes masks
Dave (middle) told us the protesters were there for many different causes

Next we spoke to a man called ‘Dave’. He said: “There’s so many reasons we’re here tonight. One; austerity. Two; the Government are corrupt. Three; internet censorship – where do you start?

“People are marching here for so many different reasons and it’s hard to sit here and list off: one, two, three, four. There’s so many. Governments — that’s where it all starts though. Half of them are paedophiles and they’ve all got knighthoods — the Queen’s honours list is like the sex offender’s register.”

Despite speaking passionately about the reasons he and his fellow protesters were in Parliament Square, he didn’t think that the message would actually get through to politicians.

“Because it’s never going to get on the telly. The only time it ever goes on there, we’re in the wrong. The news is owned by corporations. If they want to portray it a certain way, then that’s how it is portrayed."

Andrew Rosindell MP
Andrew Rosindell MP (right) said that without a clear message, MPs wouldn't listen to the protesters

We thought we’d put that point to one politician who was observing events in Parliament Square, Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP for Romford in east London. Did he think that politicians take any notice of protests like these?

“No. Not at all. Why should we?"

"They’re not protesting about anything it seems, except they don’t like the country as it is. But unless they’ve got a clear message to explain what their purpose is, there’s nothing to listen to. It’s just noise.

"If they’ve got better ideas, then great, we’ll listen. But what are they saying they can do better that’s not happening?

"If you want to change things, you’ve got to come up with something better and convince people around you that your ideas are worth listening to. I’ve come out to have a look, but there’s nothing that convinces me about anything.”

The crowd began to fracture into groups. Reports came in over Twitter and via text messages that a police car had been attacked near St James's Park tube. Another message said a group was running up Regent Street. Next there were reports of protesters at the red carpet premiere of the Hunger Games’ latest offering. Unsure of which group to follow, we headed up the Mall as a contingent of protesters was intent on making a visit to Buckingham Palace.

A man holds a pig's head up to the police line. It's unclear if he meant this as a slight towards the police or David Cameron

We were met with line after line of police, with officers, the final line on Victoria Monument with riot shields and dogs. Here we stayed for a few hours as protesters went to and fro between St James's Palace and Buckingham Palace in a vain attempt to pay a visit to one of the royal abodes. The police tried to block them from heading back down the Mall, but soon realised that they had nowhere near the number of officers needed to stretch a line all the way across St James's Park (and lake), and so sensibly allowed the protesters to drift back.

Finally, we headed back to Trafalgar Square, the scene where it had all started a few hours before. Here, we saw not the final throes, but an energised and invigorated crowd looking to push on towards Leicester Square. Before we knew it, we were caught up in a containment, or kettle as they’re better known. A ring of police officers encircled us and no-one was allowed in or out. This led to further scuffles as people wanted to go either home or go protesting, only to be shoved backwards by police wearing riot gear.

Wearied by our unconventional tour of Westminster, we showed our press pass to an officer who, after a bit of negotiating, eventually let us out. Our night was over.

This march felt perhaps less like a protest, and more like a release valve for people with various issues linked by their dislike of the establishment. We witnessed protesters goading police officers, but also instances of heavy-handedness, not least the wounds we saw inflicted upon Terrence in what was a difficult night for many people. The Met reported 50 arrests, mainly for public order offences, but said three officers were injured and required a trip to hospital, including one who was thrown from his horse.

Did the Million Mask March achieve anything? It depends what the goal was. If it was to win over politicians like Andrew Rosindell — then no, it was an abject failure. If it was to hit the headlines, then the goal was partially achieved. Unfortunately it appears to have been for all the wrong reasons.

Last Updated 06 November 2015