The Masquerade Project
by Marc Herbst
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 protests 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
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 events 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
wasnt 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
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 collectives 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."