We’ve all heard it before. “Remember, remember, the fifth of November/Gunpowder treason and plot/We see no reason/Why Gunpowder treason/Should ever be forgot…”
It is a well-known 18th century rhyme and a memorable quote perhaps immortalized by the film V for Vendetta. The movie features Hugo Weaving as an enigmatic vigilante sporting a Guy Fawkes mask (both as symbolism and to cover his gruesome burns via government experimentation) who delivers such fervid lines as, “Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” While the verses of the Guy Fawkes poem are widely recognized and even plastered over social media today, it is unlikely that everyone is familiar with its origin.
Guy Fawkes Day is a British observance mostly celebrated in the U.K. and other countries that were formerly a part of the British Empire (lookin’ at you, North American colonies). It takes place on Nov. 5 (today) and memorializes the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The Gunpowder Plot conspirators, led by Robert Catesby, planned to bomb the Houses of Parliament (House of Lords) during its state opening, aiming to assassinate the King along with members of Parliament. The conspirators were ardent Roman Catholics who believed King James’s intolerance toward Catholics to be unjust, with his severe penal law against those who practiced the religion.
Once he was out of the way, the conspirators planned to instigate an uprising of English Catholics and reestablish Catholic rule in England. Alas, the conspirators were betrayed and the plan did not come into fruition. Guy Fawkes, among the most famous of the bunch, was caught right before lighting the fuse to a massive 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was taken into custody and subsequently tried, convicted and executed. The others suffered the same fate or were killed while resisting capture. And so began the tradition noted in the poem, as parliament dubbed Nov. 5 a national day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance.”
Despite its history, this observance is no longer a tribute to parliament, but rather a tribute to the conspirators who had the audacity to challenge authority. People around the world wear Guy Fawkes masks in protest, as seen during the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring, to hide their identities. Today, the Million Mask March World Event, brought together by the Anonymous movement, takes place near political institutions around the globe. Activists planned rallies in more than 400 cities, including Washington D.C. and London, with Facebook pages set up in countries from Nigeria to Belize.
A website (non-official) says that the event is a “call for Anonymous, WikiLeaks, The Pirate Party, Occupy and Oath Keepers to Unite Marchers, Occupiers, Whistleblowers and Hacktivists” to mobilize and protest. The website also states, “There is no official site, and nobody is in charge: it’s a movement, not an organization.”
With that in mind, it is a feat that Anonymous now has as powerful of a web presence as it does, successfully receiving worldwide attention on issues such as anti-censorship protests against government/corporate websites and calling attention to allegations of corruption in local and international cases. A Facebook event page for the Million Mask March, with a cover photo of numerous Guy Fawkes masks, states that the march’s mission is “to remind this world what it has forgotten, that fairness, justice and freedom are more than just words.”
In D.C., the rally is scheduled to move from the Washington Monument to the street by the White House, with more than $2,000 raised for transportation and accommodations for the Anons. Similarly, in London, thousands of individuals intend to rally at Trafalgar Square, a hotspot for past Anonymous Guy Fawkes Day congregations that successfully occurred in large numbers. Unlike V in the film, activists plan to march silently and “resist peacefully” in the event of police action.
While the Guy Fawkes rhyme was established in the 18th century and the movie V for Vendetta debuted in 2005, the spirit of Guy Fawkes is very much alive today — perhaps more than ever — as individuals come together to protest political injustices all around the world.