In America, you have the right to assemble and to speak your mind. You may not, however, disguise yourself.
When the Occupy Wall Street protesters recently took over Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, a lot of folks were nervous and suspicious. Local residents complained about the smell and the noise. Bankers feared things might turn violent. Mayor Bloomberg warned he would crack down on any misbehavior. The whole thing felt like a powder keg with a short fuse, but surprisingly, things remained generally peaceful.
But then the protesters crossed the line: they started getting sardonic. Several protesters took to wearing the sinister Guy Fawkes mask recently made famous in the film “V for Vendetta.” (As a quick review, Guy Fawkes was a revolutionary who attempted to blow up England’s Parliament in 1605; after he was caught and hanged, he became an anti-establishment folk hero known as the “only man who ever entered Parliament with honest intentions.”) When one of the masked men held up a sign that said, “Class Warfare Ahead,” the police waded in and hauled them all off to jail. Were they charged with inciting a riot? Nope, they were charged with being…masked! The police were enforcing an arcane New York City statute of 1845 which makes it illegal to be “masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, except … when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment.”
News of the arrest quickly spread, and so, naturally, Mr. Fawkes started popping up all over. He’s been spotted in cities across the country. He’s become the slightly funny, slightly scary face of the 99% Movement. The NYC Police Department isn’t laughing, and has vowed to arrest any protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, or for that matter a bandana, a balaclava, or a burqa.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t counted on Halloween! This week, the Occupy Wall Street leaders announced that the protesters will all march in next Monday’s NYC Halloween Parade. They’ve launched a new website, OccupyHalloween.org, encouraging folks to join in. They’ve also made it clear that, since a parade clearly falls in the category of “masquerade party or like entertainment,” folks can dress up any way they choose. As a corporate zombie. As Mr. Monopoly. Or even as a violent, 17th century English Parliament-bombing revolutionary. Hmm…
You want a creepy Halloween? How about a surly mob of masked Guy Fawkses staring down an army of uniformed cops on the streets of the West Village! (Insert spooky crazed laughter here.)