Acheux en Amiénois, September 30
Day 67 of the March on Brussels. From Amiens, 28 km
We are happy and singing. Not only when we enter the villages or the towns, but also in the countryside. We are singing to the cows. “Les vaches avec nous! Les vaches avec nous!”
We pass a handful of villages every day, and most of them are dead. But they are differently dead than the villages of the South. They are not completely abbandoned and falling apart, but most of them do not even have a bar. Without a bar as a central meeting point, there is no community. Most of these villages are small agricultural centers, a couple of farms, a couple of houses, and a church. The rest is silence.
We walk near the front line of the Great War. This is where the British Royal Expeditionary Force was deployed, the land of captain Edmund Blackadder.
For four years, almost a century ago, these sweet rolling hills were the theater of infernal madness. After the initial advance of the Germans in 1914, the war soon came to a halt in the muddy trenches. In 1916 the allies decided on a ‘big push’. The idea was more or less to order the soldiers into no man’s land, have them mowed down by the German machine guns, and continue to send more troops until the enemy ran out of ammunition.
Believe it or not, but the British wasted 60.000 lives on the first day alone, more than the Americans in the entire Vietnam War. In the end, after half a year of fighting, the Battle of the Somme claimed over a million lives. By that time, the allies had advanced almost ten kilometres.
I vaguely remember an essay by one of my favourite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, who did prison time during WWI for being a pacifist. He argued that even though an enormous part of the working force was condemned to the trenches and many women were working in the ammunition factories, still, life went on in Britain. People had food every day, basic services kept on functioning. His conclusion was that people work much too much, for the sake of overproduction. They could keep society going in limited numbers, working only a couple of hours per day. All excessive labour is harmful. It leads to destruction. But if it were used for constructive purposes, we could create Utopia.
These last few days the Central Committee has taken on the good habit of discussing things during the morning march, and exchanging additional information in the evening. We are well infiltrated in the official structure of the march. Comrade Getafe is giving form to the new Communication commission, Christ is in Dinamization, which prepares the assemblies and the policy, Roberto is in Intelligence, in Action and – as a former banker – in Economy. He is our treasurer. I’m in the shadow, dedicated to Intelligence and Strategy.
At this moment, Brussels and beyond is our main focus. As I understood, for the seven days between our arrival and the big demonstration on the 15th, there will be organised ‘forums’ and ‘agora’s’. I haven’t understood the difference, except that one is Roman and the other is Greek, meaning the same thing. Public square.
I fear we are focussing too much on debates. And if these debates are anything like our internal assemblies, we might slowly sink into a swamp of bullshit. The revolution is exchange of ideas, sure, but not only. In the very first place, the revolution is Rock ‘n’ Roll.
We would like to see Brussels as a creative happening, with lots of music, films and art. In such a context we could attract many people. Then we can create, first of all, a Continental Assembly, and the information infrastructure to sustain it, where we can gather initiatives, actions and propositions. The next thing would be to create thematic working groups and decide on the general direction we want our society to take in matter of Economy, Agriculture, Health Care, Environment etc. etc. People with ideas, and people with relevant knowledge on the subjects could then make practical calculations about the feasibility of the projects.
In Brussels we should lay solid foundations for our movement on a continental level, we should start creating a parallel power structure which can regulate our society once the current institutions, heirs of the Great War and all that followed, will disintegrate.
We near our final goal for the day. Our medical support vehicle is waiting to bring us water and the latest news. In a Portuguese demonstration, police have joined the indignados. In New York a hundred police officers refuse to charge our comrades occupying Wall Street.
Without the protection of armed goons, the one percent of people which detain the economical and political power, are done for. This is going to happen, people. And it’s going to happen all over the world.
The hot sun felt like summer today, and we enjoy it as long as it lasts. We have advanced to the infamous river Somme, to the city of Amiens. Close to the river, in the more popular neighbourhoods, I have found traces of the low lands to which we are directed. The smell of French fries, and the presence of canals.
After the first few days from Paris, we have had certain problems of convivencia. When the distances become longer, the marchers become fewer. Many go by bus, train or hitch hiking, but they let their backpacks be transported by the comrade Charlie’s van.
When I say that this march seems to go ahead thanks to divine providence, that isn’t completely true. It’s thanks to comrade Charlie. He does logistics, kitchen, and mediation in conflicts. But yesterday, when he arrived and saw that all of the none walkers were drinking beer and didn’t help him unload the van, he was fed up with it.
The Central Committee prepared an internal assembly and announced that everyone will have to carry his own bags as from tomorrow. It was a threat. When people are faced with the necessity to carry their stuff, they start to think about what they really need, and what they can discard. People are used to accumulate, and so they were scared out of their wits.
In the end, according to plan, it was decided that only the people who are actually walking can bring one piece of luggage along in the van. The others will have to arrange themselves.
For the great part of the day I have been walking along with comrade Juan, who joined us in Paris. He is from the Communications commission of Acampada Málaga. We spoke a bit about Spanish history from the War of Succesion at the beginning of the 18th century up until the latest attempt of a military golpe in 1981. Comrade Juan knows his history, and he knows how to synthesise it.
A recurring theme is the existence of two different Spains. You could go back to the middle ages to make to this point, to the seafaring merchants of Catalunia and the feudal warlords of the highlands. The two states of mind have always persisted. On the one hand there is the Spain of the army, the Spain of god, nation, king and order. On the other hand there is the Spain of self determination and freedom, the Spain of the people.
Still, these spirits have never been confined to a specific category. In 1808, the populace rose up in favour of a decrepit monarchy, out of resentment against the French invadors. A few years later the intellectual elite styled the most progressive Constitution of the age, which was duly repressed by the royal establishment. In the century that followed, between one military coup and another, the liberal ideas and the feudal practices flowed and reflowed in Spanish politics.
The civil war in the 1930s was the exemplary expression of this conflict between the dark ages and the enlightenment. It was all the more symbolic because it encompassed all the great political philosophies of the 20th century. The anarchist trade union CNT had over a million members at the time. They formed their own militia’s on the republican side. It was like waging war, real war, in ‘15M-style’. They would take an old truck, paint it red and black, attach a gun to it, if they had one, and call it a tank.
The fascists won the war in the end. And only very recently has the spirit of the other Spain returned to the streets and to the squares.
Another recurring issue, linked to the former, is the question of centralism. Madrid as capital, against the autonomic regions, peoples and villages.
I have noticed this same issue in our movement. Officially, every popular assembly is one hundred percent autonomous. The 15th of May was a nation wide protest in Spain. But the whole history of the acampadas began in Madrid, on Puerta del Sol.
Sol has been an example for many. The first people camping out there in the square, and everyone who assembled in their support, have shown that all those people longing for change are not alone, and that together they can make a difference. As a result, acampadas sprung up in all cities down to the smallest towns of the country. Later, all the Spanish popular marches converged on Sol. But those marches didn’t come to Sol because it was the center, like someone might think. They came to claim the fact that each different assembly was distinct and autonomous. They came to share their experiences on a level of equality. Sol just seemed the appropriate place to meet.
At the moment, there are two assemblies meeting in Puerta del Sol. One is the original Asamblea General de Sol, which represented the acampada in its day, and the other is the Asamblea Popolar de Madrid (APM), which represents the assemblies of the neighbourhoods and the villages of the region.
For some time now, people have been saying that the General Assembly of Sol is no longer necessary. They argue that sovereignty resides in the neighbourhoods, and that the APM is the only representative assembly for Madrid.
We’ve had this discussion in the march as well. When ‘Sol’, asks us to reorganise our Communications, “or else…”, then some of us have the instinctive reaction of saying: “Who do they think they are?” These people generally agree that the Assembly of Sol should be dissolved.
Comrade Getafe and me argue against it. First of all, because Sol is not part of one of the neighbourhoods. Sol is Sol. Second of all, for sentimental reasons. Getafe was one of the Famous Forty, and I have camped in Sol for three weeks. It is our ‘native acampada’. But most important, as for me, Sol is a point of reference, a megaphone, a symbol.
Every revolution needs its symbols. And thanks to Sol, the sun itself has become one of the symbols of our movement.
Breteuil, September 28
Day 65 of the March on Brussels. From Beauvais, 34 km.
With only ten days remaining it is necessary to think about Brussels. Up until now, we have been improvising. Our organisational schemes have been fabulous, there hasn’t been an important matter for which a working group hasn’t been created to address it. But in practice, thinks are left to improvisation at best, and divine providence in all other cases.
This has worked out incredibly well so far. Really. When I think about it I am amazed how our bunch of vagabonds has been able to keep this march going. We have a place to sleep every day, we have food in the morning, during the route, and at night. We have the possibility to shower almost daily.
In Paris we left things to chance and we grabbed the occasion whenever we could, but Brussels has to be different. Brussels is the final goal of the march, and we will need to make a statement.
Today during the march the Intelligence commission has joined forces with comrades Getafe and Jesus Christ to form an unofficial Central Committee, with the intention of reviewing the state of the march and making preparations for Brussels and beyond.
It turns out that some very grave things happened in Paris, of which I will not reveal the details for the internal safety of the march. They will have to be dealt with in the next couple of days. The proverb says that if you want to have something done well, you have to do it yourself. Fortunately, this isn’t always true. There are some people in our group which can be trusted to do a good job.
One of the things that we decided upon was the foundation of the International Archives of the March, where all digital and paper documents we have produced will be classified and stored, together with the acts of the assemblies. Jesus Christ has offered to be our first librarian.
Another problem in the group is the conflict between comrades Cowboy and Alexis. It touches on our basic values of peacefulness.
To understand this, you have to know that comrade Alexis has a special talent for making himself unpopular through the frequent use of denigrating remarks about others. He openly criticises the majority of participants in the march for various reasons. He is convinced that without his own contribution to the assemblies and the organisation, the entire march would disintegrate.
Comrade Cowboy has developed a particular dislike for comrade Alexis, and after repeated provocations of which I ignore the details he dealt him a blow in Paris.
Since then, Alexis has been demanding that the group pronounce itself in his protection and that Cowboy be expelled. His argument is that a peaceful movement like ours cannot tolerate violence of any kind.
He is right. But things don’t work this way. On a human level, most people are much more attached to Cowboy than to Alexis. They refuse to pronounce themselves on an expulsion. Alexis has given the Internal Assembly two days. After that, he himself will leave. There’s no room for the two of them in the march. He has also threatened to use internet as a weapon. At the moment he uses our official blog for his personal communications.
It would be a shame if Alexis went, because I think that as a movement we have to try to overcome personal antipathies. But there is nothing to be done. True conflict cannot be solved through consensus in an assembly. And if the group decides to stick by Cowboy, even though that implicitly means accepting an act of violence, then we will have to accept the consequences.
As for the Mediterranean march, they stayed in Paris for a couple of more days in the end, and they will take the short route, led by lady Blue.
I’ve had the occasion to observe her in our days in Paris. And I have to admit that the boys from the Mediterranean probably need her leadership. She lacks imagination, but she has organisational and communicational skills which are badly needed by the group. They wouldn’t make it to Brussels without her. Still, I’m happy they took a different route. This way we won’t have to deal with sudden rearrangements in the distribution of the pieces in our march.
Day 64 of the March on Brussels. From Ste. Geneviève, 22 km.
We had a magnificent walk today, through a sunny shire that awoke silently out of the morning fog. It was only twenty-two kilometers, we did it without a lunch stop, and it was enchanting right to the end.
We arrive in Beauvais, a rich little town, but friendly. We are allowed to camp in the public square, we can hold our assembly, and people are curious.
Near Beauvais there is one of Paris’ major airports. I arrived there myself one day, and while I think about it I wonder about the concept of distance. As an air traveller you can arrive here from anywhere on the planet in less than a day, and you would consider yourself already in Paris if it weren’t for a cab ride of at most 45 minutes.
For us, the distance between Paris and one of her airports has been three days marching.
At the assembly in front of the town hall, an association fighting for the rights of the sans papiers had been present. They denounced the persecution of ‘illegal’ immigrants, and their mass expulsion. They also denounced the state in which some immigrants are forced to live, out in the open, under bridges, without any solidarity from the authorities at all. He called for society to be civilized, and to treat human beings with dignity.
Our camp here in Beauvais is packed together on a part of the central parking place. This makes for interesting urban planning. Little squares are created, closed in by tents, where people get together for jamming purposes. The kitchen, as always, is the center of our town.
In this urban density, it is easy to gather information. And that is what we do, as Intelligence commission. But we also selectively diffuse it. At the moment we are studying the way our internal information flow actually works. Because obviously there are different ways, apart from the internal assembly and the workgroups, of spreading information, depending on the people whom you talk to.
Some of us will spread it on indiscriminately, others have a confidential web of people with whom they share it first. Others can be trusted to keep a secret. Knowing these communication links gives you the possibility to create certain reactions by reaching specific targets with specific messages, without revealing the original source.
For this to work it’s completely irrevelant if the information you spread is true or false, or heavily biased. It only needs to be credible.
The spreading of false information can be very important, especially when you are faced with infiltrators. But it is just as important to be able to discredit false information spread by others. Alarming voices about police actions have been circling on the social webpages in moments when there was absolutely nothing to worry about.
In the meantime, and without any apparent link, the phantom of the black pieces is hovering over the march again. Cubano, Legionario and Felix were present in Paris at Bercy. They sat high on the stairs above the assembly, and they watched. These days on the road they catched up with us in their blue van, they circled around us, but they were ignored by most.
One of the few people whom Cubano spoke to was me. I have always maintained the distance of the observer in all the shit that happened before Paris. It seems someone communicated to them our route, and their presence makes some people nervous.
Information and rumours are going around and transforming. We have to keep up with it, and we need to emit our own propaganda where needed. As long as we ourselves are able to distinguish true from false there is no need to worry.
Ste. Geneviève, September 26
Day 63 of the March on Brussels. From L’Isle Adam, 26 km.
It’s good to be walking. I missed the rhythm of footsteps on the stones. And it’s good that we are many. Fresh revolutionary enthusiasm is what we need.
Even if we are stronger than before, we need to adapt to a new situation. And so yesterday we made an effort of internal reform. The commissions were redefined and their members newly appointed themselves.
The Route commission didn’t need any reorganisation. It works like never before, thanks to comrade Abel, who joined us last week from Spain. He is our new knight, replacing our Venezuelan comrade Canario who remained in Paris for the time being.
Abel knows how to read a map and to take the most interesting roads. He goes ahead on his bike and he attaches signs at every intersection right up to the final square, with countdown in kilometers. He impeccably guided the group through the suburbs of Paris. It’s one less thing to worry about.
Communication is another story. I received a message from an aquaintance at the Communication commission in Sol saying that it is impossible to contact us. Both Madrid and Barcelona urge us to construct reliable channels for the exchange of information, or else it will be impossible for them to support us in any way.
The people which have formed the Communication commission ever the since the march began and of whom no-one really knows what they are doing are being ignored. A new commission is being created, and it can only be better than before. Comrade Getafe is active in its formation. He is one of our stronger pieces, an asiduous walker with enough patience to attend every assembly.
The logistical part of our march is an even more impellent problem at the moment. We are more than before, but we are doing less difusion and we count on less popular support. This means that rations are down. Breakfast is reduced from the luscious banquets we enjoyed in Spain to a single piece of bread. Fortunately, there is always coffee.
A very important addition to our food supply comes from the newly created Recycling commission. They recuperate yesterday’s bread at the countless boulangeries. Many of these graciously donate. Sometimes they add some fresh pastries as well.
Today we did a sunny walk from the woodland hills north of Paris back into the plains. I noticed that people are very much focussed on Brussels and the big cities. They seem to regard the villages on the route only as a place to rest and sleep. I also noticed that there are signs of fever going around. The nights are longer than the days by now, the temperatures plumet when it gets dark and popular interest for our assemblies is reduced.
This is the North, the land where the people who have remained to inhabit these villages, return home at six, and close the curtains.
Day 62 of the March on Brussels. From St. Denis, 29 km.
Finally we are on the road again. Yesterday late in the evening the assembly decided on the three possible routes that were prepared by the Route commission. Before it began I had already measured the spirits in the group and I was pretty confident that people would decide on route number one.
The shortest of the three routes was the number two, which goes direct over Compiègne, St. Quentin and Valenciennes. A daily average of 21 km. The number one route is the long one, with an average of 26 km per day. Most people prefer it, because it takes us to some very interesting cities like Amiens, Arras and Lille.
The third route didn’t gain any popularity. It would go over Reims. There was even a variant which would include a train trip to Reims, and from there a large manoeuvre through the Ardennes to be able to hit Luxemburg and Namur.
Indeed, the number one route was voted by almost everybody from the Meseta and Toulouse marches. Many slackers from the Mediterranean voted for the short route. In the end, this morning, we decided to go together for the moment. I woke up late, I had to run. Some groups had already left.
According to the latest information gathered by the Intelligence commission, there are five cities in Belgium with permanent Popular Assemblies. These are Brussels, Liège, Namur, Mons and Gent. Note that only one of these cities is Flemish.
Once we arrive in Lille there is the possibility for the march to split in a Flemish branch and a Walloon branch. The Flemish branch would pass by Gent, the Walloon branch would pass by Mons and enter Brussels through Waterloo. We would leave the city of Liège and possibly the city of Namur to be touched by the German march departing from Aachen at the beginning of October. I’ve also heard rumours about a Dutch bicycle march from Amsterdam, which could stir things up in Antwerp.
So yes, we start to focus on Brussels, and we walk again. After a week in Paris, we have to get accustomed to it once more.
The city of Paris itself has its strokes of colour, but in general it’s so bourgeois that you can’t count it as a really vital city. Life begins in the suburbs. The dense multicultural matter of St. Denis slowly gets thinner when you march away from the center of gravity. You pass by town after town of middle class homes and gardens. After that, the spaces become bigger and bigger, as do the houses. The final belt around Paris is one of luxury villa’s on the edge of the forest.
The forest we enter represents a very welcome change. It’s sloping, there are some cornfields in between. The roads are small, and some of them are very old. The one we follow straight through the woods seems to be a Roman one. As I look at the autumn light which filters through the yellow foliage of the trees, I imagine encountering Asterix and Obelix chasing a wild boar, or a platoon of Roman legionnaires.
We arrive at L’Isle Adam, a rich village for the well-to-do family man working in the big city.
Paris has given the march an impulse. We are a large group with many new faces. And even though I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of popular support we found there, I’m content about what we did. I think that as a march we grew stronger after Paris, and if all goes well along the route, we will be even stronger when we get to Brussels.
Day 61 of the March on Brussels.
I’m at fruit vendor’s stand in St. Denis. The two Moroccans behind the counter look at me suspiciously. They talk to each other in Arab. At a certain point one of them asks: ¿Hablas Español?
I confirm. And I add that I’m with the march of the indignados to Bruxelles. They smile, they fill up a bag with bananas and figs and give it to me. “Here, take this to your comrades.”
Walking through the streets of St. Denis I realised that this is the world. A truly globalised suburb where you can encounter the colours and the odours of every continent. With it, come all of the problems. The people here fight a daily battle for survival in a society that considers them potentially dangerous outcasts. In this position, they stick together on the base of race, language, religion, but mostly family.
There is a lot of discrimination between them. They don’t trust the white establishment, but neither do they trust each other. It’s too intricate a situation to understand as an outsider, but it’s clear that making revolution here is not as easy as it sounds.
We organised an assembly of the neighbourhoods today in our squat resort, and as far as the attendance went, it was a disappointment. But many of the people who did attend were active members of local organisations fighting for the rights of the sans papiers, or members of grass root trade unions.
For the first time we explicitly reached out to them and we got a very positive response. ‘15M, linking struggles’ was the slogan. The associations are already moving to coordinate themselves, they are planning encounters between the various banlieues and they would be happy if people of the movement were present to share their experiences. This is the place were the next revolution in Paris will take place. If the banlieues rise up, peacefully, the city will be surrounded.
At least once every day, the Intelligence commission gathers in a secure place to exchange internal or external information. Lately, in our effort to classify all the people who are participating in our march, we have decided to use chess pieces.
Christ is king at the moment, the role of queen is vacant since comrade Rosa left for Spain. We have two strong towers which can open a wedge, we have bishops and knights, and the rest are pawns. This goes for the white pieces. There are also black pieces in our movement. They have disintegrated after the seccession, when king Cubano left together with Jose the tower and Felix the bishop. Some of the black pieces have become white pieces. The others might be reassembling.
None of the chess classifications is fixed. Certain events and certain new entries can change the distribution of the pieces. A pawn can become a knight, the arrival of a new tower can cause a bishop to become a pawn. They can also change colour as a result of a new entry. The Intelligence commission is engaged in monitoring and updating the information about the internal situation daily.
The art of politics consists in the first place in recognising the pieces on the board, in the second place in understanding how they relate to one and other and how they move, and in the third place in being able to move the right piece at the right moment.
This is how it works in our march, and I’m convinced that this is how politics works on all different levels. From the outside, you can see the pieces, but you can’t see the hand that moves them.