July 2002
volume 1, issue 1



The Masquerade Project

In the heat of the Democratic National Convention in 2000 LA, Rage Against the Machine shouted "We built this city, and we can tear it all down" from a stage at the protest’s Ground Zero. Screaming in appreciation, glaring back with anti-corporate superiority, or ignoring the spectacle at their back and rocking the storm-fence separating their throng from the Democrats, those who gathered at Figueroa and Olympic were there. There- for an incalculable number of intentions, present with multiple protest styles, gathering with an incalculable number of tastes. Since before the Seattle protest and beyond, the "large-scale protest" has actively engaged or tacitly tolerated "a diversity of tactics."

In the buildup to the International Monetary Fund protests planned for this past September 29th in Washington DC, a New York City-based collective made clear their intentions on how they planned to activate their piece of the "diversity of tactics". Called The Masquerade Project, this group trolled the internet with a proposal and a request for funds. With funds, they intended to first purchase then decorate as many gasmasks as possible, and with safety in mind, to spread them to any DC protester who needed one. On first browse, I was captivated by the beefy masked models that looked just as ready to tear the city down as they were to fabulously vamp amidst the pepper spray and tear-gas steam.

Having participated in the Quebec A-16 events, L.A. Kauffman said that she and other members of the Masquerade Project were somewhat frustrated by this event’s overly militarist feel. They applauded the confrontation of the protest; it was the "testosterone overload of the tough boys in black" that, along with the ever-increasing violent police response was, as Kauffman said, "obliterating the space for festival, a place to enact a more positive world." "Our side was coming to mirror the thuggish police, the way we looked in the media was that we were not the kind of people you want to make a new world with."

Parallel with this machismo was an attitude enforced by some protesters that protecting oneself against the teargas volleys wasn’t cool. Many protesters at the "frontlines" later suffered from toxic shock and had to be treated at convergence spaces by movement medics. The collective realized just how toxic the weapons the police were using were. They felt that it was important for someone to be saying, "Protect yourself," and to proactively set loose this bold yet supportive and caring vision.

It is noticeable that though tens of thousands of tactics have attended recent globalization protests, only a handful of images have become iconic, to be distributed worldwide by corporate media. Intrinsic to the collective’s critique was the idea of "capturing media time." The Masquerade Project saw itself as more than a media intervention- they would ensure that instead of "BOMB-WEILDING ANARCHISTS DUELING WITH THE UPHOLDERS OF LAW AND ORDER", NBC would feature a much more slippery image- one of queer unique bodies in carnival together and in contradiction to these strange and oppressive police officers in their cookie-cutter uniforms. They would present an image of how people in the New World dressed, behaved and cared for one another.

Members of the Masquerade Project were in their Manhattan homes when the World Trade Center Towers collapsed. With Lower Manhattan a huge burial ground, the collective knew almost immediately that the frivolity of their project was no longer appropriate- imagine- they had planned a fashion show fundraiser at a lofty catwalk the very next night. With people still scouring for bodies and a rush on self-protective gear, the City of New York put out a call for gasmasks. After little debate, the collective gathered their masks- having removed the shimmering sequins, the luxurious fur, the transformative feathers- and shoved each breathing apparatus into growing Hefty bag. Half a dozen of the Collective anonymously brought the bags to a collection center to be distributed to the rescue workers.

The September 29th IMF meeting was cancelled. /VIEWING/ Viewing the media as easily manipulated, Kauffman sees the globalization movement as having so much potential to create a storm for positive change. It speaks simple and obvious truths about democracy and justice. That is why the movement is so scary to the powers that be, because with a little dreaming about who we want to be "we can easily look like the good guys."