This year, Pennsylvanians casted their ballots to elect a new governor, House Representatives, and Senate members on Election Day, Nov. 4. At the end of the night, the Republicans took the lead, winning more seats than the Democratic Party.
The next day, however, many individuals around the world protested and held marches, not because of the election results, but because of a centuries-old tradition that began in Medieval England: Guy Fawkes Day.
For many Americans, Guy Fawkes Day is something out of the movie “V for Vendetta.” This British holiday is a spirited celebration that commemorates a dramatic moment in English history.
Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido, was born in 1570 and grew up in York, in the north of England. His father was a Protestant, but he died young and Fawkes’s mother remarried a Catholic. Fawkes converted and later fought in the Eighty Years War, taking the side of the Catholic Spanish over the Protestant Dutch.
Fawkes was part of a group of men who plotted to assassinate King James I, a Protestant, and bring a Catholic back to the throne. This group kept a store of gunpowder underneath the House of Lords, and when the police showed up to investigate they found Fawkes guarding said gunpowder.
Fawkes was arrested on Nov. 5, 1605. He and several other co-conspirators were found guilty of high treason for their roles in the Gunpowder Plot. Although the execution didn’t take place until January 1606, the Nov. 5 date is most strongly associated with Fawkes’s memory. (Hence the poem that begins with the line “Remember, remember, the fifth of November.”)
Guy Fawkes Day, which is also called Bonfire Night, is usually marked by lighting big bonfires and burning effigies. The effigies typically depict Fawkes, but throughout the years Brits have burned effigies of unpopular politicians, coaches of losing sports teams and other public enemies. Local pubs may host bonfire parties with live music and food, and it’s also popular to set off fireworks.
Although the original purpose of Guy Fawkes Day was to remember Fawkes as a villain and caution others not to follow in his footsteps, the 21st century has turned him into a kind of folk icon. In 2002, he was voted #30 on a BBC poll of the “Greatest British Heroes,” and is sometimes toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.” Outside of Britain, the Guy Fawkes masks that were seen in V for Vendetta have also been worn by Anonymous and Occupy protesters.
This year on Nov. 5, many people in London were arrested as thousands of anti-capitalist activists marched through central London to protest against political oppression. Several people threw missiles, including plastic cones and road signs at the police and several fireworks were let off by protestors.
Steve Foster, 36, who travelled from Liverpool for the event, said: “The inquiry into institutional pedophilia is probably the main reason why I am here. I want to see a real inquiry and I want to see prosecutions and people jailed in the establishment, where we all know it is rife.”
Among the crowd was a 66-year-old woman, who gave her name as Maggie, from Plymouth.
She said: “I have come along basically to say to the government, ‘enough is enough’. They are bringing in so many austerity cuts, the welfare reform hasn’t been thought out properly, yet many seem to think it is working. I hope that people strive for humanity, to be a bit kinder to one another and not to believe all the lies.”
The protest in London was part of a worldwide event, with demonstrations taking place in countries including Cambodia, Chile, Canada, America and Mexico.
Guy Fawkes Day, ultimately, should be used to celebrate everyone’s rights to freedom of speech, assembly and protest the government. All humans should be allowed these fundamental rights.
All over the world, people should use Guy Fawkes Day to demonstrate that the power lies not in the government, but in its citizens. Everyone should remember, remember, the 5th of November.