Black Lives Matter vs. Anti Mask Protest


Both the 19th of September and the 7th of June 2020 were protests, but that is where the similarities start and end. One, I intentionally intended, the other unintentional, and yet, both sparked an equal interest and opposite feeling. The 7th of June was one of several Black Lives Matter marches, and the 19th of September was an Anti-Mask Protest.

My friend and I attended the Black Lives Matter march very much on purpose, feeling frustrated and enraged by the disregard of the American Government toward the prominent black community that has contributed so much to their country. From the start of the march, the atmosphere was charged. People seemed not angry, but passionate. Passion that swept through the crowds like wildfire and filled every protestor with loud voices and hearts. We marched from the American Embassy to Parliament square, and despite the rumours spread on the internet, we never saw a moment of aggression toward anyone. The police were there to protect, not oppress, and many walked amongst us with no conflict from the crowd.

It was not until I stood amongst that crowd, I think, that I truly understood the meaning of the word ‘empowered’. You hear it tossed around online, this mystical term which no discernible meaning, but in reality it is so much more than what it seems. To be empowered is to be part of something, to feel like the sound of your voice is part of the beat of a drum, to scream until your voice is hoarse and not have it matter because it meant something, it meant you gave everything you had to be heard. The atmosphere was, once again, charged. Charged with empowerment so powerful it was tangible.

This was not how the anti-mask protest felt. I was wondering the streets of London when my friends and I bumped into a small crowd of scatty, angry people chanting out of time. We had no idea a march was taking place at the time, and ironically (although we did not realise at the time) asked each other why they were not wearing masks. Unconcerned, we continued on our walk along the river, before deciding to walk around to Trafalgar Square to sit by the fountains.

Upon arriving, we quickly realised the protest we saw earlier was a little more than a small, disorganised crowd of angry radicals, and instead was a colossal mass of incensed angry radicals yelling for something we still could not discern. It was not until we bumped into an interview as we crossed the road that we realised these people were calling for the removal of the compulsory ‘muzzle’ rules. The man being interviewed told the cameras that the government had been ‘planning this since 2014’ and it was ‘blatantly obvious if you looked back’. Shocked and slightly giggly, we walked around an empty Trafalgar Square (the police had closed it off) to observe the protest from a better vantage point.

From afar, we saw more police than I had ever seen in one place, and more importantly, the whole protest. The atmosphere was undeniably charged there as well, but not with passion, with anger. The chants were indistinguishable, everyone was calling random, vulgar things over each other, and no semblance of any sense of shared community was visible. They seemed to be just as aggressive toward each other as they were toward the idea of wearing a simple mask.

The passion that inspired and ignited the Black Lives Matter march was gone. Replaced by anger and ignorance, the anti-mask protest was a ghost of what a march should be. The empowered community turned into an erratic mob, the tangible fervour into disconnected resentment. It was an unfortunate reversal of my perception of protests, and I will always strive to remember the true connection I felt with everyone at the Black Lives Matter march instead of the distorted atmosphere at the anti-mask protest on the 19th of September.