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Nothing tells the government that protestors mean business quite like having streets cleaned of litter. It may sound ridiculous, given that protests usually have to include violent riots to get media attention, but look at all of the buzz generated from this odd demonstration. The group Anonymous wanted to protest new Japanese copyright laws, so they armed themselves with trash bags and Guy Fawkes masks, then took to cleaning the streets of Tokyo.
The eighty protesters said that they were “allies of the global hacker group Anonymous.” They paired the Guy Fawkes masks (as seen on V in V for Vendetta) with all-black outfits, all matching: “Anonymous” is more than a group name; each group member’s identity was hidden behind a plastic mask. The group assembled in Tokyo on July 7 to pick up litter for an hour in the shopping and entertainment districts of Shibuya. Anonymous typically attacks websites, so an in-person protest is out of the ordinary. In fact, a spokesperson for the group said that this is the first time “a Japanese-led Anonymous group staged an outside operation.”
It’s not just weird for Anonymous, it’s a weird demonstration style in general. Cleaning as a method of protest is pretty odd. This group wanted to be different from other protest groups: they saw the style of mass anti-nuclear protests in Japan and knew that they wanted to do something positive to spread awareness of their cause. Someone in an Internet relay chat suggested picking up litter as a protest. The group released a statement that said, “We prefer constructive and productive solutions. We want to make our fellow citizens aware of the problem with a productive message.”
It certainly did spread the message. If not for such an unusual protest, we likely wouldn’t be talking about their cause here on the other side of the globe. The group was protesting laws against illegal downloading. Last month, new laws were enacted that would put those who downloaded pirated music and movies into jail. Offenders could be fined up to two million yen (approximately $25,000), sentenced to up to two years in prison, or both for illegally downloading copyrighted material.
Anonymous was concerned that surveillance tactics would be used on the public and their Internet use, and that it would result in unnecessary jail sentences without solving the copyright problem. One Anonymous group hacked the websites of Japan’s finance ministry, Supreme Court, political parties, and other public offices. There was no theft of secure information, but additional information and links were added. The clean up crew in Japan claimed that those protests were committed by other international Anonymous groups.
So what do other Anonymous groups around the world think of the new type of demonstration? According to the spokesperson at the clean up, who is an engineer in the computer industry, other allies have found it amusing. No word on whether other groups will adopt similar constructive protests after the success of this one.