Mansle, August 31
Day 37 of the March on Brussels. From Angoulême, 27 km.
Notwithstanding the decadence that has been eroding the life out of these French villages, they still maintain a fascinating kind of beauty.
You can feel it in the early evening when the sun cuts sharply through the streets to crown the houses with yellow light. All the doors and most of the old wooden hatches are closed. There is no traffic, there are no people, all you hear is the doves and the tinkeling of cutlery, the sole proof that the village is still inhabited.
When the clock tower strikes eight, the only bar on the church square closes, and the handful of aging customers shuffle home. A young cat is playing on the streets, the shops look like they haven’t changed their presentation or their merchandise in thirty years.
These places awaken a sense of melancholy, and that is exactly what makes them so beautiful. Melancholy as a longing for something that is both familiar and authentic. Here you can still feel it, under the rubble of postmodern times. In the city it is hard to find.
Voracious capitalism in the country side has resulted into the spawning of rich country villas and the decadence of these villages. In the city it has led to the gentrification of the old centres, and the relocation of the common people to concrete suburbia. In both cases, life on a human scale has been eradicated.
I’m sitting on the side walk, listening. I love this sense of melancholy, and I dream about what these kind of places could be like if they weren’t dependent on cities, government assistance, big distribution or tourism. I dream about a village that only depends on the creativity and practical genious of its inhabitants.
But beware, I’m not just a romantic dreamer, and neither is the revolution an anti-modernist movement. Life in a self sufficient village wouldn’t be a return to the past, and it wouldn’t exclude the inhabitants from the benefits of the city. Human wit knows little boundaries, and there is no reason why man wouldn’t be able to build a web of fast, free and sustainable infrastructure for all, connecting villages, cities, continents and people without any borders in between.
The revolution is creative energy. It aims to bring together the human potential for intelligence, technology, organisation and cooperation, and to make it work for the benefit of all.
Day 36 of the March on Brussels. From Berbezieux, 40 km
We did a third consecutive day of hard marching. Even some of the dedicated walkers had to give forfeit. I liked it though. We had to walk many more kilometres for it, but we saw some of the best French countryside so far.
On our exit from Berbezieux we are escorted by two local girls on their bikes. They didn’t know anything about the march until it stopped in their village. And they couldn’t resist to go along when our colourful parade marched on, if only for a bit.
After the girls on the bikes came a car from a French tv station. They shot some panoramic views of people walking the country roads through the vineyards and interviewed a few of us, then they went.
If in these days the march is working out fine and giving a well organised image to the outside world, part of the merit goes to comrade Waldo. He is from Paris, he has been with us for over a week and he knows how to organise things without having to raise his voice. Many of the Spanish people have a strong ego and they are not very good at listening. But comrade Waldo can be reasoned with. Tomorrow he is going ahead, he will be our man in Paris.
The two comrades from logistic support have done another great job today. They received us for brunch on a hill top in a vineyard, they have been accompanying us with love and dedication wherever we went. And that, together with the quiet and panoramic route, is what makes these long walks not just bearable, but memorable.
The traveller, and with that I mean the true traveller, has but one direct desire. To see what is over the horizon. Thus, he walks. And when he finally arrives on the top of the slope that has been in front of him all that time, he discovers that there’s a valley on the other side, and yet another horizon. So he walks on. Hour after hour, the traveller swirls through the land, down and up, and everytime he discovers new valleys with corn fields, vineyards, and dead sunflowers.
Then once in a while it happens that he arrives on a hilltop to see that the new horizon has taken the capricious form of a city. A city on a hill.
We are on a lawn just outside the city, people have been dropping in for some time, fighting the pain in their legs. They are received with juice and cookies. It’s over six o’ clock. The logistics team proposes to drive everybody up into the center in time for the assembly.
Some people go, but I think it’s ridiculous. After walking fourty kilometres I’m not going to hitchhike the last few meters up to the old town. Together with comrade Getafe, one of the Famous Forty who camped in Sol the first night, and two comrades from Germany, we walk up.
Angoulême is a wonderful little city. We have occupied a central square with view of the country below and we are surrounded by curious locals who greet us with a smile. We feed on this positive energy. It’s what makes us go on. And tonight’s ravioli of course. Mamma mia the ravioli!
The countryside is changing. After the endless woodland plains of Aquitania, we are now walking through the sweetly sloping hills of the Charrente. The most we see is vineyards, some corn, some fields of burned flowers, and empty country roads to connect the ailing little villages.
The changeable weather and the cold clouds blowing in from the ocean are behind us for the moment. Our luck continues. And with southern sun in your back, you also realise that this is maybe the perfect season for walking. You can find apples and sometimes pears. The blackberries are almost finished, but there’s figs, and if you’re lucky you can find a tree full of late summer peaches, ripe and juicy. And there’s the grapes of course, red and white. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I have a feeling 2011 is going to be an excellent wine year.
Today as well we’re walking together. We are less than we were in the days before Bordeaux. Maybe sixty, counting everybody. But it gives us the opportunity to regroup. Without holding fruitless internal assemblies we are organising ourselves among each other. The Route commission and the Kitchen commission are working pretty well, and that is what counts at the moment. An Action commission has been formed a couple of days ago, and the Dynamisation commission is trying to find ways to get our internal assembly to work again. All in all, the positive spirit reigns. It’s getting better all the time.
We arrive in Barbezieux, another of France’s sad little villages. This must have been a vital country community once, but those days are long gone. What’s left is the silence and the closed hatches of the houses. There are still people living here, there are the usual shops, and two huge supermarket halls which cater for the hinterland, where many people from Holland, England and Germany have bought a country home.
I have the impression that the villages themselves suffer because they don’t have a real economy any more. They are bypassed by the main roads, there are hardly any artisans or small farmers left, the agriculture in the surroundings supplies only the big distribution. People have emigrated to the city, or if they still live in the village they depend on the city for work.
I think that a village is a perfect size for a community on a human scale. There are many people would like to live a life in closer contact to the land, even though some of them don’t know it yet. The village could return to be the centre of a local economy based on sustainable agriculture, but it has to be as much as possible self sufficient. Freedom is not the possibility to choose between Leclerq and Carrefour to get the same products. Freedom is being independent from the big distribution and eating healthy products from the land where you live.
At this evening’s cosy little assembly in front of the castle of Barbezieux there were once again some local people from various well oranised civic associations. We have a lot in common with them, we are all fighting the same system of wasteful consumption. So other than in Tyrosse, this time we were much more open towards collaborating with them. They need a common demonitator that brings them together, and we need their experience and organisation.
Little by little we’re learning from our errors, and working on our strategy and communication. France is not Spain, and we cannot expect all the world to participate in our assemblies and restart from scratch when many of them have been working on alternatives for years.
The 15M movement is only three and a half months old, and already we did incredible things. But the road to a complete change of our society will be long. We will have to compromise and make maximum use of our ‘liberty of action’, we will have to recognise the people who share our goals, and unify them.
Up until now I have limited myself to walking the march and documenting it. I haven’t been active in it’s organisation. I waited until the march was such a mess that people came to me to ask if I wanted to play a role. So yesterday evening we sat in McDonald’s, the only place where we found access to internet, and we were plotting. The internal assembly isn’t working, so the idea surfaced to form a junta and to take things into our own hands. Nothing outside the principles of the movement of course, because there exists a concept called ‘liberty of action’, and you can stretch it as far as you like.
This morning it turned out it wasn’t necessary to take far reaching measures. Something had changed overnight. As if we all felt that something had to be done, discipline had returned, and the marching spirit came with it. In retrospect I think the rain we experienced in Bordeaux had helped a lot. Instead of turning the march into a disaster, it brought us together. Apart from that the menace of rain scared away the hippies, and that’s a good thing. The people who remained were determined to bring this march to a good end.
We departed around eight this morning. The route we fixed the evening before was the longest up to date, marathon length. We arrived twelve hours after we left. We went in group, all the way. Almost everyone joined in, the supply along the route worked out perfectly, and despite the crazy length it was a great walk.
First thing we crossed the Dordogne in the mist, and while we walked the bridge, the fog lifted, the sun came out, and the East bank appeared in all its beauty. It was a good sign. We will reach Paris, we will reach Brussels, and we will be strong. After all, we are the arrowpoint of the revolution, and we are conscious of that.
It’s a great adventure, dear people. Long marches have been undertaken before, both military and civil. But we are different. We don’t have a leader, everything is self organised. We are anarchism in practice, and we’re proving it can work. Not only in an acampada, but also in a march, with all the practical and social problems it brings.
Today we brought a map, and that was a fabulous improvement. We took the old abbandoned roads and while we’re starting to make headway into central France, we are discovering a parallel infrastructure that leads through a phantom country.
Ever since the motorways were built, the small villages of France have been languishing. There was a time that all the traffic came through these villages. The bars and the taverns flourished. Now you can hardly recognise the old signboards bleached by the sun. The windows are blinded, the roofs fall apart. There isn’t a living soul on the streets and you can walk for miles without ever encountering a car.
The last part of our walk leads through the pine forests. The road goes on and on. But today the moral is stronger than the fatigue. The supply car brings us a hot meal in the middle of the woods. It brings us safely home.
We arrive just before sunset in Montlieu. Most of the tourists seem to have gone home. Once again, we are the March on Brussels, and today we showed character. I am proud of my revolutionary brothers and sisters.
St. Vincent de Paul, August 27
Day 33 of the March on Brussels. From Bordeaux, 18 km.
Today we had a little stroll through the sleepy suburbs of Bordeaux on the right bank of the Gironde. It was a ridiculously short leg, considering the distance we have to cover to get to Paris. I have the impression that the route commission is improvising and losing time. We are going to have to do something about this.
Still we enjoyed the walk. With four comrades we seceded from the group that was following the national road and we went village hopping up to today’s stop on the left bank of the Dordogne river. The rain only briefly interupted us. On our way we encountered a military dump store and we considered renting a tank. It would be an excellent support vehicle. But as comrade Perro rightly commented, there is a slight possibility that it will be misinterpreted. If we arrive in Brussels with a tank then maybe people won’t take our claim of being pacifists very seriously.
He gave me his analysis of the first few days in France, and why it went wrong, according to him. In Bayonne the few people that received us had put their hopes on this march. We were their heroes, the Spanish indignados. We had made a real change all over Spain, and now we were coming to France. When they saw that we lost hours and hours in an internal assembly trying to decide if we should deploy our tents or not they were a bit disillusioned. I remember that scene. The police had forbidden us to camp, but some of us wanted to make a statement. The rest just went to sleep under the stars. Very late at night the few people that remained in the assembly decided to camp. But as they didn’t want to wake up the rest, they desisted.
In Tyrosse, the next leg, Abdullah claimed that we lost the support of the French intellectuals and the civil society. The assembly that evening was visited by many people from social organisations and unions. They came to offer their support. Bluntly, and a bit arrogantly, we explained to them that we do not associate with any organisation, only with individuals. They could have helped us with organisation, diffusion and logistics, because the civic associations are very well organised in France. Abdullah denounced a leaping lack in sense of strategy within our movement, and I fear he is right.
The result was that on our third leg, in Dax, we were received, under a bridge, by the local marginados. Because the fact of the matter is that many of the French indignados are people at the margin of society. People from the street, junkies, outcasts of all kind. The middle classes don’t want to be associated with them. Also the creative class of educated twenty-somes, which form the backbone of the movement in Spain, are fearful of embracing the movement because of the bad image of the remaining indignés.
Abdullah is worried about the remainder of the march and the direction that things are taking. Me too. We are picking up more and more ‘tourist of the revolution’ that come camping along with their hippie vans, turning the march into a kind of travelling circus.
“I have been talking to people here. And if I find a right opportunity, I might just take it.” Abdullah wants to create a social community of people willing to work towards a common goal. “I’m 63 years old, and I think the time has come for me to start thinking about what I want to do with my life. Some people already start worrying about that when they’re twenty. Can you imagine?!”
I really like the old man. It would be a shame to lose him, but in the end, each of us has to follow his own road, and this march is only one short leg of life in which we’re walking together.
Bordeaux, August 26
Day 32 of the March on Brussels. From Leagnon, 20 km.
Wet weather is becoming an increasing menace. This morning for the first time we woke up and found it was raining. It was late, yet again, when we woke up. After we had breakfast in the barn, the rain still hadn’t stopped. It meant that the tourists and the sunday walkers would definitely wait for transport on four wheels to Bordeaux. Still, we left with a significant group of walkers and we did the walk together, cheerfully.
The Gendarmerie escorted us for the first part, through the vineyards. They had come to our camping site in the morning to inform us. Like the Guardia Civil in Spain, they are friendly and helpful.
The wet weather came and went today. Sun and rain and wind and clouds all substituted one and other, often in a matter of minutes, giving us hardly the time to adapt our outfit.
When we arrived in Bordeaux we found the police well prepared, nervous, and a little scared as well. We were escorted by two vans, one car and three motorcycles, not counting the undercover officers. It was a bit exagerated. Our group was small, but loud. We sang our slogans in French and Spanish, even though strangely there wasn’t a single Frenchman among us when we reached Place de la Victoire.
They were all in the square, though not very numerous. After Bayonne and Dax I stopped expecting anything from the cities here in France, so it wasn’t a surprise to me. Many of the people who received us were middle aged and elderly lefties. There were maybe a dozen people from the indignés Bordeaux.
The nicest thing of the welcoming ceremony in Bordeaux was the French cheese and the wine. After that we all went together, French and Spanish, to have a little manifestation through the center of the city.
It was happy and colourful. The tourists and the locals looked on curiously from the terraces as the rain gave us a break. Only the police looked worried. Counting all the vehicles in the side streets I think there were more police officers on duty than indignados protesting. They sealed off the city hall with a cordon of officers with riot gear at hand, as if they expected that we were going to storm the place. Instead, we sat down, and we raised our hands. “These are our arms! These are our arms!”
They walked along with us all the way, in uniform, and in civilian outfit, talking nervously into their walkie talkies. Only when the protest ended in the Place de San Michel they left us alone to eat lunch.
Place San Michel is the place at the heart of the old working class neighbourhood in the center of the city where the indignados from Bordeaux tried to start an acampada in late May. The police moved in immediately, there was a small battle, and the square had to be abbandoned. The French government has quelled the indignado movement right at the beginning. If it had been able to create lasting acampadas, the movement could have gone up to another level. But for now, it was the end of it. There are not many active indignados left in Bordeaux. Not for the moment. It could be they are on holiday.
After lunch it started to rain again, and the gathering dispersed. People retreated to the camping site along the Garonne or into the little pubs around the square.
We made it up to Bordeaux, dear friends, and we will go on. But we have no idea of how and what, or even where. The only sure thing is that the next big city will be Poitiers and we should get there in little over a week. We don’t have a fixed route yet, but rumours say it’s going to be hell. The distances will be longer and longer. And as for the weather, we really have been lucky so far. But looking up at the dark clouds floating over the clock towers of Bordeaux, I realise that we could soon be out of luck.
Leognan, August 25
Day 31 of the March on Brussels. From Le Barp, 22 km.
Chaos reigns. For many days now we have been planning an internal assembly to address the problems of the march. One of these is the lack of discipline. There was a time when we got up at six and started walking at seven thirty. This way we arrived in the afternoon in time to prepare actions, to communicate and to hold our assembly at the local town or village square at seven in the evening.
Nowadays people get up late, they march in small groups or alone and the last of the marchers arrive at the destination just in time for the evening assembly. They talk about the better world they want to create, they keep up appearances for the outside world and afterwards they go to sleep. There is no time to discuss among ourselves and get this march on the road again as a well oiled machine.
Yesterday evening we finished the village assembly early so that we could finally have our internal assembly. It was a complete disaster. Late at night, when most people had already gone to sleep, we hadn’t yet reached a consensus on the first point of the orden del día. And this point wasn’t even about our troubles. It was about today’s route.
This morning the internal assembly continued. At eleven o’ clock I had enough of it, and together with Jesus Christ I started marching to the place that we originally designated as today’s destination.
A dangerous wind is blowing in the various components of the group. People are whispering. The French and the Spanish don’t always get along. Here and there you can feel an air of rebellion. There are even rumours going around that some of the marchers are planning a coup d’état.
On the route we hear that the internal assembly has decided in the end to head for the initial destination, a small countryside community just outside Bordeaux. While we arrive there, Jesus and me, we finally encounter the first vineyards.
The community consists of a house, a habitable barn, a yurta tent and a trampoline. The whole place invites you to relax. And so we do. The distance wasn’t that far, we don’t have a village assembly to do, and so we finally have time to try to understand and respect each other.
Among us there is a comrade from Swiss, who has been with us for a couple weeks, and who has been going by car for the last few days. Some marchers have accused her of being one of the ‘tourists’. And she took that very personally. She is 21 years old, she has been addicted to heroin since she was 15, and she has been going cold turkey from the moment she joined the march. So if she is unable to walk, she has a very good reason for that.
The accusations have made her want give up an go back to Switzerland, where the state supplies junkies with pure top class heroin. Fortunately a lot of good people among us rallied around her and have been convincing her to stay. She has undoubtedly been suffering much more than any one of us on the march. I do hope she stays, and makes it to Brussels. Losing her would be an ignominous defeat for the march, and for the human values on which our movement is based.
This evening the internal assembly has tried a different method to get our troubles out in the open. No discussions, just a brief presentation of one minute in which every person mentions three problems which according to him or her are afflicting the march. I think it worked. It was the beginning of a solution. Listening to each other without discussing has reestablished a form of mutual understanding.
We will need it. Tomorrow we enter Bordeaux. And we will have to present ourselves as a strong movement, capable of resolving any social problem with empathy and respect.