celebration, protest, revolution

Bee's picture
Fri, 11/04/2011 - 01:03 -- Bee

Here in the United Kingdom we don't have Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July.

This seemed like a real loss at first but everyone I mentioned it too was dismissive. They said, yes, but we have Bonfire Night: on November 5, all across the country, in towns large and small, people gather to light fires.

The practice has evolved over the centuries into a carnival, with rides and fireworks. To an outsider it would appear to be a leftover pagan tradition, a celebration of the turning of the seasons.

But the origins are much more sinister and specific. Guy Fawkes Night celebrates the torture and execution of Catholic dissenters. Our bonfires burning bright are symbols of state supremacy, of the monarchy; our municipalities still burn a Guy in effigy.

This information has largely been transfigured, distorted, erased. It isn't polite to talk about it - or wonder aloud if our children should be taught the entire story instead of a sanitised version of the past.

Over the past few years we have experienced a global economic crisis. We have watched as an attendant global protest movement evolved - and many of us have been caught up in it. We don't always agree about policy, politics, or politicians. We don't always get along. But a large majority of people now agree that the system is broken - and we want real reform.

We've seen peaceful encampments attacked and broken up by police. We've watched as our fellow citizens are tear gassed, smashed, as riot cops come down hard on children. Here in the United Kingdom, all manner of debate has been discounted. Orderly protests have been disrupted and denied. Our government is wilfully ignoring the voice of the people, whether expressed by famous academics, or kids rioting in the streets.

We are told that we are not allowed to congregate in public parks, march on public streets, or camp in public places. Yet we still have Bonfire Night: a government sanctioned gathering to celebrate the murder of revolutionaries.

Every school child is still taught the opening lines of this poem. The full text and the meaning behind it have been censored:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God's providence he was catched
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, holloa boys
God save the King!
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

A penny loaf to feed ol' Pope
A farthing cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to rinse it down
A faggot of sticks to burn him
Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!


elienos's picture
Submitted by elienos on

How Morbid. I've got my Guy Fawkes mask.

Its just such a counter-revolutionary holiday you got over there. I mean, there were so many Guy masks in the beginning of OWS. Until the cops told them it was illegal for two or more people to wear a mask in public unless participating in a masquerade. I still don't know why they didn't turn the occupation into a masquerade party to side swipe that 161 year old law.

Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

Heh. I suppose that's why we celebrate the 4th of July! WOO REVOLUTION! (That's non-threatening now that it's 200+ years in the past).

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

I don't know the full answer, but one issue is probably about right of way. There are big restrictions on both where people walk and on public gatherings, precisely because of the history of peasant revolts and political turmoil. The protests can't get close to things like the stock exchange, Bank of England, etc., because the core of the City has something called the "Ring of Steel." It is a mostly invisible but tightly planned evacuation area that the police can close on two minutes notice. It was developed because of the IRA bombing campaigns, but it is still there. All of the buildings and roads are situated to control access. I've seen tourists hassled for taking photographs of monuments. My children have been on field trips turned away from public places. Very, very, very tightly controlled, is England.

I'm honestly amazed that the St. Paul's occupation has lasted this long, and caused such a huge amount of controversy. On the first night I thought it would be cleared within hours.

rease's picture
Submitted by rease on

wow, they actually burn em? disturbing.

my ears perked up about the idea of occupy as a masquerade party. i think emma goldman would rise from her grave and dance if that happened.

what if folks organized occupy balls and concertos? bring an orchestra and serve wine and orderves or however you spell it. occupy birthday parties. occupy art shows. occupy cooking shows with renowned chefs sponsored by health food stores. firepits, and ice carving. light shows and corcus acts. i mean, really, if were going to keep this going, we need to keep up the moral and diversity of protestors, right? oh wouldnt it be grand! occupy movie screenings and dance recitals. occupy knitting classes. occupy basketball practice in the streets. occupy dog trainers. occupy jersey shore intepreted in pantomime. oh the cacophony! what fun!