Thousands of people worldwide joined Million Mask March rallies organized by the amorphous Anonymous movement. Rallies, both peaceful and confrontational, protested austerity, surveillance, corporate greed and corrupt governments.
In a mass demonstration of people power, crowds in 450 cities around the world filled the streets wearing Guy Fawkes masks. “The corrupt fear us. The honest support us. The heroic join us” – under this motto protesters united in a global mass-march to deliver various messages.
From Sydney to Los Angeles, from Johannesburg to London – thousands came forward to make their voices heard. Among key ideas which virtually connected all different protests were anti-capitalist idealism and the rejection of NSA surveillance. Some rallies had a sense of carnival, where whole families with kids marched in protest, while other gatherings – like in London and Washington – turned more intense, with people not hiding their rage.
RT’s Sara Firth, reporting from inside the march in central London, found herself in the thick of it - squeezed in between more than 1,000 protesters and large cordons of police.
Chanting "Here we come, Tory scum!" protesters smashed police barriers along their way from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, where some of the masked protesters even managed to climb on top of the palace gates and throw a firework at the palace itself.
Among the crowds was comedian Russell Brand, a noted supporter of Anonymous and the Occupy movement, who was wearing an Anonymous mask on top of his head. Brand, who recently called for a "socialist, egalitarian" revolution in an interview with the BBC and called for people not to vote for any of the current mainstream UK political parties, was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters outside the Houses of Parliament. Some commentators have even suggested that Brand could lead the Anonymous group - a controversial concept, as the movement has prided itself on being leaderless and spontaneously organized from below.
In an article Brand wrote for The Guardian hours before taking part in Tuesday's demonstration, he insisted that he was not looking to lead a movement, but simply to participate.
"Luckily with organisations like them, Occupy, Anonymous and The People's Assembly I don't need to come with ideas, we can all participate," Brand wrote. "I'm happy to be a part of the conversation, if more young people are talking about fracking instead of twerking we're heading in the right direction."
Separate UK protests coincided with the Million Mask March in London, with demonstrators rallying against growing austerity measures in the country. Britain’s Green Party called on anyone who is opposed to the “heartless” cuts instituted by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to join in a rally on Westminster Bridge. Green Party spokesman Romayne Phoenix echoed many of the same complaints lobbed by Million Mask Marchers.
“This heartless government’s austerity measures have hurt the poor thirteen times harder than the rich,” he said. “They’ve slashed funding for vital public services, cut away the social safety net of benefits and seem determined to hammer the final nails in the coffin of the National Health service, an institution this country is proud of. At the same time they’ve let the banks ratchet up huge profits, allowed train operators to continue to rip-off customers and defended the energy companies whose soaring prices are forcing many people to choose between food and heating.”
As the evening wore on in London, protesters lit up the sky with fireworks - a traditional Guy Fawkes Day celebration - across the street from the Houses of Parliament, while some danced and at least one person held a banner in praise of RT host Max Keiser, who presents his cult, anti-bankster program from the city.
While the London event was mostly about protesting government austerity measures, American activists had the NSA’s invasive surveillance methods near the top of the agenda.
Major crowds marched through Washington DC, claiming ownership of the streets they were passing. “Whose streets? Our Streets!” they were chanting, blasting against American inequality.
The Washington rally began near the Washington Monument and several protesters were detained along the way for stepping off the sidewalk into the street. The marchers made a detour to the Federal Reserve building, chanting ‘End to Fed!’ but their final destination was the White House. The protesters spent several hours calling for Obama to step out and explain himself.
“Five years after the financial crisis and banks being bailed out, we're still suffering. People are drowning in debt. We live in a country that is fundamentally unfair, we no longer have the rule of law,” a participant smartly dressed in an Anonymous mask, plus a suit and tie, told RT correspondent Gayane Chichakyan in front of the White House.
“From the NSA, to Edward Snowden, to Chelsea Manning, all over the world, people are speaking out, whistleblowers are speaking out, regular people are speaking out and saying enough is enough. We want justice and we want it now.”
At the culmination of the event, protesters exercised their right to freedom of expression by burning the American flag - right in front of the White House, in a sight more usually associated with countries such as Iran or Pakistan.
On the West Coast, crowds marched through downtown Los Angeles to show their solidarity with the movement. Many of them have links with the Occupy Wall Street movement, born two years ago. "If they won't let us dream, we won't let them sleep!" some of the placards promised, while others told it tell straight off: “It's a good day for a revolution!”
South America also joined in the global protests. Several hundred protesters blocked off roads in Brazil’s central Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, marching against government corruption.
"We want to change this corrupt system," Eron Morales de Melo, a veteran protester dressed as Batman told AFP. "We are paying high taxes and this doesn't get invested in education. We don't have good healthcare, public security is precarious, as is public transport."
Hundreds protested in Australia’s Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. One of the Australian rally participants told ABC News that the non-centralized nature of Anonymous made it difficult to pinpoint an exact message behind the global rally.
"There’s so much that goes on in our world, and with Anonymous, because there’s so many of us, it’s really hard to have an orderly or structured discussion, rally or march on one point. So it’s probably best that we just incorporate all of them.”
Australia itself has been targeted by Anonymous recently over reported spying on Indonesians. Hackers calling themselves Anonymous Indonesia defaced some 200 websites with the .au domain in a gesture of protest.
Indonesia, meanwhile, also had a masked protest on Guy Fawkes Day. Anonymous Philippines marched to Batasang Pambansa complex Tuesday noon to protest rampant corruption in the country. Police officers briefly blocked the march after it gathered along Quezon City Circle, but later allowed them to proceed to the vicinity of the House of Representatives.
Several dozen demonstrators rallied at the Nelson Mandela Square, a popular shopping center in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of the Million Mask March. According to the 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa ranked 69th out of 176 countries. Organizers of the rally put corruption and tax fraud on top of their agenda.
In Japan, the Guy Fawkes-themed action had an environmental twist, as masked activists conscientiously made their contribution to cleaning the streets by picking up litter.
The global action on November 5 is Anonymous’ annual celebration of Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday commemorating the most prominent member of the failed Gunpowder Plot, a 1605 attempt to assassinate King James I of England by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The plotter and his facial likeness in particular have come to symbolize the fight against tyranny for the Anonymous hacking collective.