The association began with the 2006 film V for Vendetta. Anarchist hero V dons the visage of Guy Fawkes, the long-faced, goateed rebel who was part of a plot to blow up the British Parliament in on November 5, 1605. Though Fawkes and his small team of plotters ultimately failed at their infamous Gunpowder Plot and were executed, their rebel spirit lives on. The day has been celebrated in the United Kingdom each year since, commemorating King James I for surviving the assassination attempt. But this year, 406 years later, the fanfare – or at least the famous face of political rebellion – takes a different form: the masked crusader has become the face of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
(PHOTOS: 2011: The Year of Guy Fawkes)
But fear not, there’s no terrorist threat against governmental institutions. Instead, the ensuing centuries and growing political disillusionment have spun Guy Fawkes into a revered and feared fellow, shifting the meaning of the mask. “Before he was originally seen as a terrorist trying to destroy England. Now he’s seen more as a freedom fighter,” Lewis Call, assistant history professor at California Polytechnic told the Associated Press.
Political dissent is the flavor of the day as the Occupy protests carry on across the world. At the source of the original scheme, London’s Houses of Parliament saw a spike in demonstrations as part of the Occupy London movement. A group of protesters, many donning Guy Fawkes masks, attempted to march into Parliament Square, though the Associated Press reports a heavy police presence was able to turn them away.
But perhaps the most politicized movement of this November 5th is Bank Transfer Day. The protest calls for Americans to transfer their money from “too big to fail” corporate banks to smaller local banks and credit unions. The movement is a reaction to many national banks implementing debit card fees and frequent rate hikes. It seems to be working: according to the Credit Union National Association, at least 650,000 people have switched to credit unions in the past month. And naturally, the Bank Transfer Day Facebook page prominently displays the Guy Fawkes mask, shrouded in an American flag, to rally protesters to action.
The mask has become one of the most popular faces – it’s currently Amazon’s bestselling mask – among modern-day protesters. First adopted by hacking group Anonymous, the anti-hero Guy Fawkes is seen as the original political rebel. The mask affords the protesters anonymity (as their name implies) as well as a conniving likeness. And, though Warner Brothers (TIME’s parent company) owns the rights to the masks, protesters say they’re purchasing knockoffs from abroad to circumvent the corporation.