Masking up on demos

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Escarabajo
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Jan 13 2009 14:09

Actually Alan, I'm back in the UK now and was on the demo as I thought was obvious from what I wrote. And in Oaxaca most anarcho types avoid masking up (on demos) for exactly the same reasons that people on here are objecting to it. otherwise, i pretty much agree with you.

As for whoever said that masking up doesn't prevent you getting your ass kicked, that it true. but it does make it harder (though not impossible) for you to be identified. which is obviously the whole point.

Like I said, my experience of the day was that alot of people were interested (though not necessarily receptive after having it explained). not one person that i encountered seemed to have a problem with the mask (though doesn't mean no one did), and the thing that most people centred on were the red n black flag, asking what they represented. i'm not saying that masking up can't have a negative effect but its kinda hard to quantify unless there's some specific instance of it happening. The point is that the masking up (and black clothes) is supposedly a security measure. I agree its doubtful that the black clothes are much use unless the vast majority of people present are dressed like that but covering your face if engaged in anything a bit dodgy is just common sense. again wheher its necessary to parade around in it the whole time is open to debate.
to me the issue is whether the possible security risks of not being masked up outweigh the possible advantages in terms of outreach, both of which can be fairly difficult to determine.

i largely think this is a bit of a fuss about nothing, on both sides. in situations like saturday i'm fairly ambivalent about the general need for masks, but certainly don't think that we've missed a golden opportunity because of their use. Far more constructive were Raw's comments about what we should have done that we didn't or what we could've done better. That being said, I masked up at various point where i thought it was a good idea, and didn't get nicked as often seems to happen to me through my own stupid fault. maybe that was cos of the mask,maye it wasn't. but it certainly hasn't done me any harm. if we were really doing everything we should be in terms of link-building and outreach etc to the best of our abilities then i really think the whole mask issue would be relegated to the sidelines, where it belongs.

Bobby
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Jan 13 2009 14:14

Actually can I take this back because sometime it is fuckin embarrassing when all any layperson knows of an anarchist is someone dressed in black or some ejit appearing before the corporate television responds to a question of what is anarchism as 'oh against poverty'.

Just as well, cause in Belfast we generally have a good, reputation- ask boul

Bobby
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Jan 13 2009 14:17
weeler wrote:
Bobby wrote:
weeler wrote:
Mask up for rioting, know beforehand whether you plan to engage in rioting on the demo. Don't do this half-assed brit/american thing of trying your luck on every demo but never really going for it.

like Dublin 2004? I can fondly remember yourselves dressing up as a ninja. Do you remember the glory days? I also tried but knew it wasnt for me and could still get away with doing shit dressed up 'normally'

edit, might have misread your intention here but lets not openly reminisce about what illegal actions people have or haven't taken part in.

relax weeler, you being way over the top as nothing really happened

Bobby
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Jan 13 2009 14:19
Escarabajo wrote:
Actually Alan, I'm back in the UK now and was on the demo as I thought was obvious from what I wrote. And in Oaxaca most anarcho types avoid masking up (on demos) for exactly the same reasons that people on here are objecting to it. otherwise, i pretty much agree with you.

As for whoever said that masking up doesn't prevent you getting your ass kicked, that it true. but it does make it harder (though not impossible) for you to be identified. which is obviously the whole point.

Like I said, my experience of the day was that alot of people were interested (though not necessarily receptive after having it explained). not one person that i encountered seemed to have a problem with the mask (though doesn't mean no one did), and the thing that most people centred on were the red n black flag, asking what they represented. i'm not saying that masking up can't have a negative effect but its kinda hard to quantify unless there's some specific instance of it happening. The point is that the masking up (and black clothes) is supposedly a security measure. I agree its doubtful that the black clothes are much use unless the vast majority of people present are dressed like that but covering your face if engaged in anything a bit dodgy is just common sense. again wheher its necessary to parade around in it the whole time is open to debate.
to me the issue is whether the possible security risks of not being masked up outweigh the possible advantages in terms of outreach, both of which can be fairly difficult to determine.

i largely think this is a bit of a fuss about nothing, on both sides. in situations like saturday i'm fairly ambivalent about the general need for masks, but certainly don't think that we've missed a golden opportunity because of their use. Far more constructive were Raw's comments about what we should have done that we didn't or what we could've done better. That being said, I masked up at various point where i thought it was a good idea, and didn't get nicked as often seems to happen to me through my own stupid fault. maybe that was cos of the mask,maye it wasn't. but it certainly hasn't done me any harm. if we were really doing everything we should be in terms of link-building and outreach etc to the best of our abilities then i really think the whole mask issue would be relegated to the sidelines, where it belongs.

yes and no

Escarabajo
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Jan 13 2009 14:20
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I do wonder however what exactly is the likelihood of someone being identified as an "anarchist troublemaker" at a protest due to lack of facegear, and subsequently arrested and/or fired?
Has that happened to anyone here?

Yes. To me in Oaxaca on 26 November of last year after being identified from photos taken by the cops on a demo a few weeks earlier. then filmed (masked up but with decription based on the earlier photos) and 'outed' as the principal organiser of anarchist violence. Sadly, completely untrue and based solely on the fact that I was easily identifiable. Luckily I haven't had any comeback from it personally, though many other highly visible activists have e.g. the attempted murder of a comrade on Saturday.

Ok so the situation isn't the same here yet, but I think that one similar in many respect, is not far around the corner. Again, maybe demos like saturday don't really call for it, or maybe they do. like i said i don't think its that relevant. I also don't really think that demos and marches (though useful) are necessarily the best places for us to be getting our point across. though I am by no means arguing that we shouldn't try. By their nature they're pretty transitory affairs and the real work needs to take place elsewhere.

knightrose
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Jan 13 2009 15:50

As a note from afar, as it were. Someone complains that the block on Saturday was poor. I'd ask how much effort went into organising it. Too often I read that "there will be a block, meet up at such and such a time." Frankly that's pathetic.

On a demo like Saturday there wasn't really ever going to be a successful ruck - aside from the possibility of defending marchers against the police, which is quite unpredictable. In those circumstances people need to be honest and admit that the anarchists are there as a form of moving propaganda - to show others that there is an alternative.

So:
Who took on responsibility for leaflets?
Who took on responsibility for placards?
For flags?
For banners?

If nobody did, then you might as well have stayed at home.

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Django
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Jan 13 2009 17:28

A few days after the Manchester demo, we debriefed ourselves over what we got out of it, and what we'd do differently if it happened again. Though I felt it was generally positive for a number of reasons, the reason I was there wasn't to have it out with SWP stewards, shout anti-police slogans and dearrest people who had turned up with the intention of having some kind of a confrontation with the police. I was there 1) for solidarity with asylum seekers (who were on the march, and would have been at real risk if things had properly "kicked off") and 2) to put libertarian communist and internationalist ideas on the radar of people who who are disgusted with the war, immigration policies, their quality of life etc but are looking for a broader perspective to make sense of it. Thats why I dressed smart and left my black hoody at home.

I don't think we really managed to engage with anyone who didn't already have some kind of interest or curiosity about anarchism. We gave out a lot of literature, but it was mostly to these people. A comrade talking about it at the debrief put it this way - anarchists have a serious PR problem. At a time when people are losing their jobs and houses thanks to the most serious crisis of capitalism in decades, we have to work on our propaganda, slogans, manifestations on demos etc with the intention of people outside the 'scene' or milieu taking us semi-seriously. Shouting "fuck the police" repeatedly and hurling abuse at McDonalds is no way to do that. On the other hand, from my experience in these kind of situations, acting like a relatively normal person and having rational conversations with people that don't involve intimidating them is.

So I think we have to think about how we are going to make anarchist ideas "relevant" to the everyday lives of people outside the ghetto. Unfortunately, the appearance of anarchist blocs at these demos seem more focused on making people in the ghetto feel its existence is worthwhile. And unfortunately for some that seems to mean being as much of a h@rdcore @na@chist as possible.

So at these kinds of demos, our focus should be on having good, coherent and accessible propaganda, and most importantly being in a situation where "normal" people can take it seriously. And if that propaganda is coming from a group of anti-social looking ninja/black bloc types thats not going to happen.

qwertz
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Jan 13 2009 19:09

I echoe knightrose's comment on the need for organisation when going on demos as a bloc.

Django - as part of the group that co-organised the bloc in Manchester, I disagree slightly with the outcomes of your debrief (we should have held one together smile)

Someone from our group had been arrested on a demo a few months earlier, because she wasn't masked up and was recognized by the FIT (she was bailed to not go on certain demos). While she wasn't on that Manchester demo, those who masked up (I don't know who they were btw) might have been in a similar position (though I concede that's unlikely).

But I would grant anyone the right to go on an anarchist demonstration unrecognized, if they want to (whether that's because of filming cops/press/other protestors, or simply for not wanting to be seen by workmates/family members/Redwatch types/fellow students etc). Not everyone's daily environment is such that they can proudly claim to be a radical political activist!

Also there were a few particulars on that demo, such as more FIT and filming cops than usual (a lot more!) and FIT teams with photographs of activists that they were trying to match with those in the bloc (for whatever harmless reason).

Also, the ruckus all seemed to begin with a few cops taking objections to cut-out Gordon Brown masks (the first attempted arrest was over this, I think). After that a few people thought it a matter of principle to not back down to their demands.

That's not that I don't see the problems that this brings!!
Particularly many of the slogans shouted made me feel like running away in shame. Which leads back to knightrose's point. Organisation could also include a few speakers on megaphones or something. But, hey, the GMP stopped the biketrailer PA to come on the demo...

caz
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Jan 13 2009 20:23

Hi - I've joined to participate in this discussion after lurking for a couple of days. I was on the demo and saw the anarchists who looked like a very self-contained block and I do think dressing in black establishes some sense of dress code and gives the impression that you have to embrace it before you can join, so I didn't feel I could approach the group.

Secondly, I would have really appreciated having seen some of your literature on the demo. Did you leaflet? The statement on the conflict you have recently posted online helped clarify for me what I find objectionable about the SWP position i.e. the cheering on of Hamas as opposed to identifying with the struggle of Palestinian people. I did come away feeling very disappointed by the speakers at the demo who it seemed were content to leave the protestors with the idea that somehow these demos will put pressure on the British government which will lead it to act to stop the conflict.

knightrose
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Jan 13 2009 20:40

qwertz makes the point that the Manchester Stw demo was organised. In fact we had a number of meetings beforehand to do so. That was AF and No Borders, with Solfed also attending. We had similar success a couple of years ago - again as the result of a lot of seriously hard work by ourselves and Solfed.

Obviously we must draw lessons from what we did and we need to be more clever in future, but the event was on the whole quite beneficial. One simple technique we've used in the past is to make sure comrades are giving out our literature to people watching the demo.

It beggars belief that in a city like London, with four or more organised anarchist groups that there isn't a permanent mechanism in place for organising on demos.

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JoeMaguire
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Jan 13 2009 23:04

As I said on urban I thought the block was helpful.
# We had a better impact than the sum of our parts, despite the lack of chants and propaganda.
# I thought due to the fact that we were singled out and followed by a number of cops from the word go, minimal covering of faces was fine. Yes it is fetishised, but there were comrades involved in some compromising situations albeit not the frontline which I thought warranted it. We can stop being clandestine, when the state gives up its surveillance of activists.
# I was also not too happy with only a handful of people I knew of wandering round in a large crowd of people some of whom were shouting parochial chants and having liberals lecture me when I asked them to return like for like with the cops.

raw
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Jan 13 2009 23:23
knightrose wrote:
As a note from afar, as it were. Someone complains that the block on Saturday was poor. I'd ask how much effort went into organising it. Too often I read that "there will be a block, meet up at such and such a time." Frankly that's pathetic.

On a demo like Saturday there wasn't really ever going to be a successful ruck - aside from the possibility of defending marchers against the police, which is quite unpredictable. In those circumstances people need to be honest and admit that the anarchists are there as a form of moving propaganda - to show others that there is an alternative.

So:
Who took on responsibility for leaflets?
Who took on responsibility for placards?
For flags?
For banners?

If nobody did, then you might as well have stayed at home.

Good questions. The call of the block was handled like most initiatives in London by un-affiliated individuals. This is something that is hopefully going to be changing in London as we attempt to re-organise our movement here.

In terms of a process of organise such a mobilisation - (and yes beyond all the remarks they are useful, they make ourselves visible, they empower people and give a sense that we are part of something larger and not mere individuals typing text on a bulletin board) - I would suggest the following:

1. A call is prepared by groups or individuals for a response
2. A meeting is organised and a response is planned.
3. Roles are divided up between groups (Flags, banners...etc)
4. A plan of action is a agreed
5. On the day people are informed of what was proposed by the organising group

It makes the whole process more transparent, less cliche and there is a visible organisation on the day. Its possible to do this, its needed all we need is actual institutionalise it and make it part of our culture.

Lastly, take out all the involvement of anarchists on street demonstrations in London over the last 20 years and I wonder how many people would have been attracted to it. Lets continue the tradition and expand it.

raw
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Jan 13 2009 23:24

There is already a group that will buy and manufacture 200 red and black flags to be used for demos in London this year. They will be available to groups in London and would add a visibility to anarchists on demonstrations.

raw
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Jan 13 2009 23:34
madashell wrote:
raw wrote:
To be honest I saw every other person on that demo with some sort of palestinian scarf as a mask, or other such things. It was a very cold day so having a few comrades in black masks didn't go out of place. It didn't/wouldn't stop anyone from communicating with anyone they wanted to. I really don't understand what peoples problem is. Like someone had said it was around 15-20 people who had masks on - some people don't want to be ID by the cops so fair enuff.

Do you really think the police are going to successfully arrest all those people who were rucking without a mask at the end of the demo? It's a fucking paranoid fantasy on the part of a few activists who want to believe that the Man is trying to take them down personally.

Quote:
There are more important issues at hand, more practical issues. For example, how comes no one has mentioned what we could have done on the day? What was lacking on the block i.e. a unified leaflet, loud speaker - at the end of the day it was an oportunity to offer an internationalist perspective, let people know that we exists.

And do you think that having people clad entirely in black with their faces covered is the best way to do this? Besides anything else, people respond better when they can see a person's face, somebody with their face uncovered in "normal" street clothes will have much more success in getting people to take leaflets or engage in discussion than somebody in black bloc gear. This kind of stuff matters if you want people to be open to your perspective.

90% of anarchist on that bloc did not wear a mask, I don't wear masks but I don't see an issue with it.

raw
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Jan 13 2009 23:39
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Rather bizarrely, one flag was passed to a family who simply wanted something to hold too.

Why do you assume that the guy with his daugther was not involved? He was an anarchist comrade who wanted to support the block. Thats why he asked for a flag.

I think Alan you know very few people in the London anarchist movement, there are many different types of people involved from all over - turkish, kurdish, greek anarchists some in their 40's, 50's and 60's with families who have lived and been involved for decades.

No Offence..etc

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Anrchst
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Jan 14 2009 15:33

How we should dress depends on the rule we are to play. If we aren't like leading the rally or making statements (or engaged in DA), it's almost irrelevant.

Personally, I have issues with fitting in. I'm counter culture BECAUSE I don't like the main culture, so I'm never thrilled about blending in. That said, we should minimize alienation, even though, for many, even just BEING an activist is alienating. I'd rather look like a (radical) liberal than Joe Mainstream. At a minimum, I'm donning a black bandana or a black/red keffiyeh.

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Joseph Kay
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Jan 14 2009 15:37

keffiyehs are pretty mainstream. topman's overflowing with them, or was a year ago wink

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madashell
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Jan 14 2009 16:00
raw wrote:
90% of anarchist on that bloc did not wear a mask, I don't wear masks but I don't see an issue with it.

The issue, for me at least, is that it's counterproductive, even when it's only a minority doing it.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 14 2009 16:50
Anrchst wrote:
Personally, I have issues with fitting in....I'm donning a black bandana or a black/red keffiyeh.

neutral

Jason Cortez
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Jan 15 2009 17:56
vlad wrote:
Actually I have made a serious point about the fact that masking up seems to be a fairly recent development for the anarchist movement, and was wondering how and why exactly it came about.

It came about largely as a result of the Poll Tax Riot where numerous people were arrested and imprisoned mainly through photographic evidence.

=madas wrote:
Do you really think the police are going to successfully arrest all those people who were rucking without a mask at the end of the demo? It's a fucking paranoid fantasy on the part of a few activists who want to believe that the Man is trying to take them down personally.

Obviously not, but clearly a number could be, because it is easier to identify them, (esp if they have been of interest to the police previously) and as the Poll Tax Riot shows(and now with the FIT and CCTV it is easier) if the disturbance is big enough for them to devote serious resources to. That said I think it is often unessarily off putting. But i do find it amusing that members of the AF are so opposed when the AF's resistance advised people to mask up for a number of years and then it was quietly dropped.

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madashell
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Jan 16 2009 17:18
Jason Cortez wrote:
Obviously not, but clearly a number could be, because it is easier to identify them, (esp if they have been of interest to the police previously) and as the Poll Tax Riot shows(and now with the FIT and CCTV it is easier) if the disturbance is big enough for them to devote serious resources to. That said I think it is often unessarily off putting.

Well sure, if it seems likely that things are going to kick off in a big way, I can understand why people would want to do it, but it often seems to be more macho posturing and paranoia that drives some of the people who show up on demos masked up than any sensible concerns about what would happen in a serious situation.

raw
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Jan 17 2009 08:44
madashell wrote:
Jason Cortez wrote:
Obviously not, but clearly a number could be, because it is easier to identify them, (esp if they have been of interest to the police previously) and as the Poll Tax Riot shows(and now with the FIT and CCTV it is easier) if the disturbance is big enough for them to devote serious resources to. That said I think it is often unessarily off putting.

Well sure, if it seems likely that things are going to kick off in a big way, I can understand why people would want to do it, but it often seems to be more macho posturing and paranoia that drives some of the people who show up on demos masked up than any sensible concerns about what would happen in a serious situation.

The point then is not the masks but the lack confidence to kick-off.

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Django
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Jan 17 2009 12:05

What does "kick off" even mean in this context though, and how would it be useful to our aims?

I could understand using masks in certain (mostly defensive) situations, but talking about the "lack of conflidence" of anarchists seems like something else. I can't see how it would be that useful in this situation.

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jef costello
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Jan 17 2009 14:22
raw wrote:
The point then is not the masks but the lack confidence to kick-off.

Is that the aim of a march?

raw
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Jan 18 2009 09:44
jef costello wrote:
raw wrote:
The point then is not the masks but the lack confidence to kick-off.

Is that the aim of a march?

It should have been. This is one capability that the anarchist movement is yet to develop - the ability to co-ordinate destructive responses to the outrages of the state.

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Django
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Jan 18 2009 10:27

What is a "destructive response", and how would it affect Israeli state policy?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like your idea of a powerful anarchist movement is one which can riot, or support a campaign of property destruction. I think the only way we are going to be able to affect serious influence on state policy (though only the policy of foreign states in rare circumstances) is through being an influence inside a working class strong enough to enforce effective demands through disrupting the regular functioning of society.

raw
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Jan 19 2009 11:27
Django wrote:
What is a "destructive response", and how would it affect Israeli state policy?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like your idea of a powerful anarchist movement is one which can riot, or support a campaign of property destruction. I think the only way we are going to be able to affect serious influence on state policy (though only the policy of foreign states in rare circumstances) is through being an influence inside a working class strong enough to enforce effective demands through disrupting the regular functioning of society.

I agree Django thats why I am involved in a local anarchist group. For me there is a creative/destructive tension in anarchist politics which makes it what it is. I think the capibilities to do both is always useful.

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Django
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Jan 19 2009 11:44

OK fair does.

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anarcho-punk
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Feb 5 2009 02:08

Keffiyehs are a great way of masking up, combined with tight black jeans and a non-descript hoody you could be just another topman sheep!
I can see a need in some situations to mask up and items like keffiyehs, which have become fashionable among indy teenagers, are an easy way to do so but they do not stop you from blending in with the crowd at other times. An intimidating look is what some anarchist groups seem to go for these days hence dressing in black but it can be counter productive, it depends on the intent of the march, a march which may turn violent requires a certain amount of not identity protection if you are going to be a bit naughty as CCTV and surveillance systems are quite advanced now and can lead to houses being raided and other such shennanigans. That said in winter masking up could simply be because it is fucking cold.

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Feb 5 2009 02:08

Keffiyehs are a great way of masking up, combined with tight black jeans and a non-descript hoody you could be just another topman sheep!
I can see a need in some situations to mask up and items like keffiyehs, which have become fashionable among indy teenagers, are an easy way to do so but they do not stop you from blending in with the crowd at other times. An intimidating look is what some anarchist groups seem to go for these days hence dressing in black but it can be counter productive, it depends on the intent of the march, a march which may turn violent requires a certain amount of not identity protection if you are going to be a bit naughty as CCTV and surveillance systems are quite advanced now and can lead to houses being raided and other such shennanigans. That said in winter masking up could simply be because it is fucking cold.