Since October 15 and thanks to Occupy Wall Street, the movement has spread worldwide. Holland got contamined as well. It isn’t yet massive, but it’s rooting in various places.
Around fiteen cities and villages are said to be occupied. The most prominent acampadas are to be found in The Hague and Amsterdam.
After more than a week in which rain and the first hints of frost came peeping around the corner, both camps are still there, and growing. It was time for me to pay them a visit.
I had a kind of déja vu. More or less I recognised the stage of development of the two encampments. Things don’t seem to be totally fluid any more, they are taking form, but they can still easily be moulded.
In The Hague someone admitted that the occupiers are reinventing the wheel. They know hardly anything about what happened in Spain this spring. After Wall Street, people here just started camping for a better world. For me it makes it all the more interesting to see that, without really knowing each other, these spontaneous societies roughly organise themselves in a similar way on the basis of the same principles. Inclusiveness, non violence and direct democracy.
Apart from that, the differences and the cultural peculiarities are easy to spot.
In The Hague the camp is not on a square near parliament, but on a part of the central Malieveld meadow. From a historical point of view the karma of the place is not favourable. When the socialist leader Troelstra failed to spark a Dutch revolution in 1918, this is were the counterrevolution staged a grand patriotic hommage to the royal family.
Up until this weekend a part of the meadow was occupied by the circus. Now the encampment of around thirty tents drowns in space, with a view of central The Hague in the distance.
It’s monday morning. Occupy Den Haag looks clean and quiet. The tents are spread over differently sized lots delined by wooden sticks and ropes. This creates the paths of the village. There are toilet boxes and the camp is powered by a generator, although the first thing I hear is fervent talk about an ambitious solar energy project. On the perimeter of the camp you find a big army tent, a Communications tent, a small caravan used as Information point and a First Aid center.
The army tent is the meeting point. In the back there is a table with chairs and in the front the kitchen is installed. The penumbra, the blankets on the floor and the small plastic windows answer to the Dutch need for cozyness. When I come in, there is a meeting go on.
Half a dozen people are discussing about holding a census, about numbering the tents that were donated and indexing the people who sleep there. “We need to know who is where, and if everybody is well enough equiped against the cold. Especially when people are drinking, they risk undercooling.”
It perfectly fits the village atmosphere of people knowing and caring for each other. But it also borders closely on interference of the private space on the part of the community. Not surprisingly, the anarchists have their own autonomous tent.
I have noticed some other Dutch traits today. In The Hague the ‘polder’ model of patient and endless negotiation reigns supreme. People hold three assemblies a day. They call them ‘meetings’. Lately they were caught having a meeting to discuss whether to keep calling their meetings ‘meetings’ or not. The reason being that a meeting is usually presided over by someone. So maybe it would be more appropriate to call them ‘assemblies’.
Records are kept of each meeting, which have to be meticulously transcribed, corrected and published in time for the next meeting. So keeping up with all the red tape can take all day.
Still, there are enough people active outside meeting hours to get things moving. Several commissions have been formed, even though all issues are discussed in assembly. Next to Food, Cleanliness and First Aid there is an Art commission and the distinct commissions of Info, Pr, Media and Communications. They haven’t yet formed working groups on themes like Politics, Economy and Environment.
Like in other acampadas, there are also people with personal problems, heavy drinkers, homeless, and people who need help. Or maybe, camping out on the Malieveld together with committed citizens is just the environment they need.
I talk to one of the occupiers. He participates in the Kitchen, and in the Communications team doing livestream. He has been homeless for four years. “When you’re living on the streets you have to rely on your instinct of survival. It makes you a lot more inventive.” And he explains how you can make a saw or any tool in copper, with rubble you can find in the trash. “If this is going to be a real village”, he says, “then I want to be the blacksmith.”
Before I leave I pass by the army tent. Two elderly people are sitting in the back talking. They are content, or even relieved that they see people getting together and speaking out against the financial system.
“Finally”, one of them says, “it has begun.”
As I step out into the open, onto the meadow, I hear a voice calling after me. “When you go to Amsterdam, tell them to come over here. We still have some room left.”
It wasn’t just a joke. In Amsterdam they desperately need space. People are camping on the small square of the Stock Exchange, which is a side space of the grand Damrak avenue. The square is absolutely packed with tents. It’s a clear difference, where The Hague is a village, Amsterdam is a town.
It’s a lively place, too. A crossroads for tourists and outlandish locals, for businessmen and petty crooks. The square might be small, but it makes for a great scenery. Crammed in between the landmark Beurs van Berlage and the luxury department store of Byenkorf, the town is directly facing the entrance of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
This is where the modern stock exchange first came into being, this was the financial capital of the early modern world in Holland’s golden age. The city has a bond with the former Dutch colony which was named after her and which is known today as New York. It makes it all the more symbolic that they are camping right on the steps of the Beurs.
Last week the occupiers rolled out the red carpet for the brokers and staged a sale of shares in love, peace and happiness. It was ludicrous enough to make the news. The movement has gained a lot of sympathy, both in the press and from the locals. The shopkeepers are happy with them and many of them support the initiative with donations of food, even the big chains. The city council leaves the occupiers alone as long as they keep the place clean and safe, and the police collaborates. Some will disagree, but the presence of a vital and colourful protest camp in the heart of the city is a blessing for the image of Amsterdam.
The occupation has been going on since the 13th, and it has been booming. A couple of days ago a grand urbanistic make-over was done to host all the tents in a more organised way.
The current layout of the camp is simple. There is one major artery that crosses the square. It’s the broad way. On either side of it there are so many tents that there is no room for little neighbourhood squares, and no room even to pass.
On all sides of the rectangle there are the community structures. The Information tent with public gathering space are on the side of the Beurs van Berlage. Along the stock exchange there are toilets, a generator, the Infrastructure commission and the Library. On the Byenkorf side there is the kitchen and the mysterious Media bunker, completely sealed off.
I was happy to meet various comrades from the marches to Brussels. Bobby and Maggie, my anarchist friends from San Francisco, tell me about one of the major problems of the camp. The lack of safety. At night, sinister types are roaming around the place looking for things to steal, and heavy drinking is being practised in the camp itself.
Lack of sense of safety leads to fear and suspicion. We have noticed that. A security force has been instituted, called the ‘peacekeepers’. They walk around with walkie talkies, and it seems some of them take their position very seriously. They might think it gives them some kind of authority over others. Various kinds of peacekeeping methods are being employed. From trying to convince trouble makers to be calm, to calling the police and have them be taken away.
Another of the problems Bobby spoke about was the apparent inaccessability for non Dutch speakers. They perceive the camp as being monopolised by the small core who took the initiative, described as being mainly white, dutch, male.
Typically, Dutch culture has never been dominated by strong monarchs, but by a class of wealthy merchants backed up by rigid calvinist morals. These are the ‘regents’, the people who you will find nameless on the obscure portraits of the Dutch masters. It almost sounds to me as if the culture of the regents has also perpetuated itself in Occupy Amsterdam.
Some of the Dutch occupiers deny this. In working group meetings, when non Dutch speakers are present, the language is English, and the General Assemblies are simultaneously translated in small groups. The people who seem to have divided the various nerve centers of the organisation among each other are same ones who have kept this thing going, day and night, for over a week. Still, there has been a lot of criticism from the inside about the lack of openness, especially of the Media center.
In any case, it wasn’t easy for Bobby and me to get access to the place. Bobby had never been inside since he got here. We had to become members of the Communication commission, we had to wade through procedures, we should have been required to call telephone numbers and even have a kind of job interview. Finally, by simply insisting, we entered. It wasn’t worth the effort. There was little there, most of the communications team had already been transferred off ground.
At dusk the General Assembly is celebrated in a corner of the square. Earlier on, a Basque comrade of mine, from the marches, had said we should try to explain these people how to hold an assembly. “They don’t take acts, they don take speaking turns. It’s crazy!”
I preferred to look on. First thing I notice, the assembly is not held in a circle. It’s a hemicircle facing the group of moderators, like parliament and government. The crazy thing, which I had never experienced before was that they use ‘the human microphone’. This means that people speak in short sentences, which are repeated by the entire assembly. To prepare people for this, someone shouts “Mike check!” for as long as it isn’t repeated loudly enough by the group.
It’s very awkward to hear people repeating every single thing a speaker or a moderator says, be it nonsense or not. But it has a clear advantage, which might just as well be a disadvantage in certain cases. Whenever a speaker starts to be annoying, or people don’t agree, the microphone simply fails, and the word goes to someone else.
I had to admit that the Assembly was very dynamic. It didn’t lose much time in details or conflict and it didn’t last too long. It was also carefully orchestrated. As I look at the two moderators, I have the odd feeling that I’m watching a cinematographic re-enactment of the very same thing I am watching. They seem to be actors. And this is full 3D with surround sound provided by the public.
The theme of the assembly is alcohol abuse and how to deal with this. I hear various propositions for rules, toleration time-slots and the like. The final decision that was pre-prepared by the moderation team, was that drinking should be limited to inside the tents.
It’s accepted unanimously, even before it is fully translated to some of the non Dutch speakers. One of them is just in time to object. He is visibly worried for interference in the sphere of personal freedom. He proposes that the peacekeepers do not get the right to enforce the decision.
It is accepted. People themselves will be responsable for not drinking out in the open.
It’s naive to say the least. The potential drinkers are probably absent in this assembly, like most people. And even if they weren’t, everybody knows that this rule will not be respected. I wouldn’t respect it myself. If I want to drink a beer on the steps of the Beurs van Berlage, I will do so.
It will create the familiar situation in which rules and practice do not comply. It will lead to something not exclusively Dutch called ‘tolerance’. And this is not a good thing, not at all. Tolerance implies arbitrary authority. It simply means to say this: ‘Your behaviour goes against the rules. And if you are allowed to continue to behave like this, it’s only because of my benevolence. So go on, but remember that I reserve the right to enforce the rules whenever I please.’
In Puerta del Sol, also, we had to cope with the problem of drinking. People made it very clear, from the very first moment that the ‘revolution is not raising a bottle’. And also there, it was collective responsability to contain the problem and convince trouble makers to take it easy. But without written rules. When people act collectively responsable on the subject, then the rules are superfluous.
In a society that feels threatened, the contrast between enforcement and control versus inclusion and collaboration becomes more acute. I have a feeling this same conflict is very present in the Amsterdam camp.
In conclusion, the important thing is that the presence on the Beursplein is strong and dynamic. In this respect, I was enchanted to know that they have a commission called Vision. And, just like in The Hague, the general feeling is that people are here to stay. They want to challenge the arrival of winter.
Authorities are tolerant of the situation because they are probably convinced it will not last. The cold, the rain and the frost will take care of it.
If the occupiers manage to keep camping in whatever condition, ‘at least until christmas’, they will have made a statement of force and perseverance. And if in the meantime they will be able to deal with their social problems and practical challenges, they will have fully merited respect.
For the moment, it’s growing, and spreading over other cities. In Amsterdam, you can hear people whispering that the occupiers might open a franchise on the majestic field of the Museumplein.
Yesterday’s demonstration concludes a chapter of the revolution, or maybe just the prologue. On the day after, many of us say goodbye. People go their own way. Some are returning to Spain, some are hanging around. I go up to Holland.
It has been an honour to march with these people, or most of them at least. It will be a pleasure to see them again, wherever, whenever. We are dedicated to the revolution, we are the first wave, we have a bond.
Almost five months ago I arrived in Sol, and I camped. “If this is going to be the defining moment of my generation, then I want to be there”.
Since then I have had the pleasure to witness and to document the acampada, the summer of the popular marches and the big demonstrations, the destruction of Sol. Finally the March on Brussels, the occupation of the university and World Revolution Day.
It has been an extraordinary experience. And now it’s time for me, and for many of us, to take a rest.
The first winter of the movement is at hand. Revolutionary HQ has been cleared and sealed by the police. The experiment of the free space has been too short to properly evaluate. In this week we were severely handicapped due to sanitary problems and lack of internet. The society might have seemed to be on the edge of collapse, but it could just as easily have selfregulated itself. I’m actually pretty optimistic about that. I’m convinced that we can fruitfully occupy covered spaces as a movement.
I also think these actions should have a clear goal, as opposed to the wild occupation of Revolutionary HQ. Spaces for living. Spaces for meeting. Spaces for study. Spaces for art. There are spaces enough. And together we can make them useful. All it takes is a little fantasy.
People are occupying squares in all the world. Also in Holland occupations are going on, in front of the Stock Exchange in Amsterdam and on the Malieveld in The Hague. We really did come a long way in the last five months. Even my brother, a notorious capitalist, wasn’t ashamed to walk along with the demonstration in Brussels. He doesn’t believe that something like a revolution is really possible. But he believes in evolution, in change for the better.
Now that it has started I plan to keep coveering it, but I do not know yet where and when. In the next few weeks I want to try to put my experiences, and the current expansion of the movement into perspective. Then I’ll see.
It concludes my chronicles of the march and the initial months of the 15M movement. I thank you, first of all my revolutionary brothers and sisters with whom I have had the pleasure to share this. And of course I thank you, my beloved readers. If it weren’t for all the heartwarming and inspiring comments I received I might never have been able to keep it up until the end. I thank you too for the sporadic negative reactions, because I’m convinced that if something doesn’t meet with opposition it can have little meaning. It’s the same reason why I don’t support the consensus model. If an idea is shared by absolutely everyone, it can hardly be a good idea.
I leave you with the image of our outsourced Media Center. People behind computers twenty-four hours a day. Empty bags of crisps on the table. A comrade of mine who wants to remain Anonymous, tells me how it all starts. The march, the occupations, the acampadas, the demonstrations, the whole damn thing. It starts right here.
“You know that the idea for a March on Brussels, has been circulating since February. We did that. We simply started bombing the social networks with messages about a march on Brussels. After that, people began to talk about it, it went around on Facebook, and in the end, a group of people started walking. I was overjoyed the day that the Mediterranean came by right beneath my window.”
I imagine things like Occupy Wall Street being organised in the same way. A couple of nerds behind a computerscreen on a sunday morning, eating donuts. “What shall we do today?”
“Heck, why not? #globalrevolution it is.”
During this week at Revolutionary HQ I have gradually moved my sleeping space up the building. From the skybox over the aula magna, to a corner in the library, and finally, on the last night, to the ‘Comisión Me la pela / Me la suda’, home of the Meseta hard core.
The commission had recently transfered its quarters from the third floor to the fifth, because of shit invading the hallway. Comrade Brina called it a ‘problem of convivencia’, people who continue to use the toilets even when they’re out of order. They have been shoveling crap every day, but in the end they gave up and moved away from the center of gravity.
“This building is killing us. You hardly know any of the people you encounter. This is not a community, it’s bloody chaos.”
I too moved up because of the invasion. Graffiti has been appearing since a couple of days. The problem with the drain was never fixed and people finally had to use dry bathrooms in the garden, accessable through the window. In the first few days, much of the electronical equipment had been plundered and interpersonal theft became a common practice.
It’s the other side of the ‘free space’ where no one decides and where no one bears responsability.
The first rumour I heard this morning was that police were going to close the university while everyone would be in the demonstration. As a precaution, many campers picked up their bags and left.
I was a bit disappointed that nobody wanted to defend the free space. But it also meant that all of us were decided to take the streets. We can occupy another headquarters whenever we want to.
The people from the hard core don’t shed a tear for Revolutionary HQ. Faces are flourishing when we walk to Media Center to drop off our bags. We take our time to reunite, and by tradition we’re late. When we walk up to Gare du Nord it seems that no one is there. For a moment, in between the skyscrapers, it appears to me that all this revolution thing has only been a silly dream.
Then we hear the drums.
It’s going on. This is what we have come here for, marching all the way from Spain. Global Revolution Day, October 15. Today we are Brussels, we have to play our part on the world stage.
The vibe of the crowd is good. There are many people. All types, all ages, and many different languages. I see slogans in French, English, Spanish, Dutch, German. These people are citizens of Europe, demonstrating joyfully against the lack of European democracy, right here in the capital of the empire. The sun is giving us a glorious late summer salute.
We go to the Stock Exchange, our first stop. It’s an excellent photographic venue, but this particular place doesn’t count in the world of 21st century capitalism. The real power is down the road, in an anonymous skyscraper near our departure point. It is the headquarters of Euroclear, the ‘bank of the banksters’.
You probably have never heard of this enterprise. That’s because you are part of the 99%. You are not eligible to have an account there. You don’t need to know that they exist and that they shift billions of dollars per day in obscure financial transactions. We circle the skyscrapers, holding hands. One of our comrades had prepared a dossier on Euroclear, which was presented to the press, and flyers to inform the public. This anonymous institution probably knows a lot more about the causes of the crisis than we do.
The crowd moves east, towards the European Quarter. At one of the Dexia offices riot police protects the building after sporadic acts of vandalism. There’s a bit of tension, but soon the march goes peacefully and happily forth.
Police don’t let us pass by the Wetstraat, the Street of the Law, which leads straight to the European roundabout. We are led around the institutions, and at sunset we enter the Jubelpark, right under the triumphant arch of the Belgian military museum. This is public space now. Park regulations are overruled by the people. We make fire, we make music, and we camp.
“Esta noche acampamos! Esta noche acampamos!” It’s the Meseta hard core. Many of us had brought tents, and those are the first to go up. In the meantime sound and internet are being installed near the Media Center van, and food is being prepared on camp fires. We made it. It has become a success. “Abrazo colectivo! Abrazo colectivo!”
“Well over two thousand people,” a police officer reports into his walkie talkie. He and his collegue retreat to the exit. The burgomaster of Brussels had ordered a complete camping ban in the whole city. But police give in, they won’t interfere with us camping tonight.
I walk down to Media Center. The rooms over there are full of people receiving and distributing the news. This is the Brussels information hub of the movement. I see pictures from Japan this morning, from Corea, from India. I see pictures from Puerta del Sol. There are half million people occupying the center of Madrid, my revolutionary home.
I take my tent and my bagpack and I walk back, passing by the red zone for a change. To my right there is the European Council, the legislative. To my left there is the European Commission, the executive. I walk on, past barbed wire barricades, into the park. We camp here in the heart of Europe, in this theatrical scenario. We have achieved something. But only when the live connection starts, I know what it is.
Pictures from someone streaming in Berlin. A group of people is sitting down in front of the Reichstag. The police is trying to arrest them, but they are ignored. This is not television, this is us, broadcasting ourselves. I feel a shiver. History is happening everywhere, right now. We hear that 8000 demonstrators have gathered in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. People are camping.
We switch to New York. There are crowds in Wall Street, there are crowds uptown. Images of Time Square, taken over by the people. “Whose streets?! Our streets!! Whose streets?! Our streets!!”.
I join a group of comrades around a fire. It’s one of those gratifying tribal pleasures. And while we’re there, looking into the flames together we hear the rhythmic sound of the crowd in Times Square chanting, live, “This is what democracy looks like!”
I look up from the fire and I see the arches, and the moon rising. It’s an amazing feeling. We have become citizens of the world.
When you roam through Revolutionary HQ at night you will find everybody doing his or her thing. Down in the cafetaria, once the assembly is finished there is food and spontaneous jamsessions in a thick cloud of smoke.
On the first floor, in the library, you might be caught in a crossfire of fluffy dice as people are battling one and other from behind the bookcases. Often this type of guerilla spreads through the entire building late at night.
In the entrance hall you might stumble on an assembly of the Game commission, in the act of inventing new ways of having fun.
In the garden you will find a tipi put up by the hippies, and maybe even an army of clowns exercising silly performances.
This is our free space. People entering here can liberate themselves from the straight jacket of society, and be who they want to be.
Yesterday the German march arrived, and today the bikers from Holland came peddling in. They were received with a joyful happening animated by the clowns. Nothing political, just a human embrace.
The Germans only did a week of marching, and still I heard one of them complaining that his feet hurt. ‘Woosy’, I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘we, the Spanish indignados, we do a week of marching before breakfast!’
The Dutch were not that many, and most of them weren’t even Dutch. But the important thing is that they are here. They bring encouraging news about many people assembling in Amsterdam for tomorrow’s demonstration.
The good news today was that the officer who ruthlessly kicked Marianne in the face, twice, and banged her head against the floor when she was handcuffed, has been arrested thanks to our people filming the aggression. We are urban guerillas. And our camera’s are our weapons.
In the afternoon a pleasant autumn sun came out and I went to see a piece of theatrical action. It was about the ‘one percent’ being put on trial, and the common people being called to the witness stand. It was performed next to the palace of justice, with a panoramic view over Brussels. We enjoyed it, as did our public, which consisted mainly of two police officers who were visibly amused.
When the actors went into town to repeat their performance, I took a walk through the European Quarter of Brussels. I had never been there before, and it was time I got to explore the terrain. This is where tomorrow’s march will end, this is the place where the big wigs decide on continental policy.
They don’t represent us. People know that, but only when the crisis of the system will start to affect them personally will they start to care. We are the vanguard of change. Tomorrow will not just be a day of protest in Brussels. It will be all over the planet. There are hundreds of occupations going on at this moment, and thousands more are being planned. The revolution has begun, people. Come join it, you will have the time of your life.
I like to see things in a broad perspective. I like to play with history. Today’s action, in that respect, was very symbolic. It has been prepared in detail by comrade Roberto, and executed, once again, by the hard core of the Meseta march. I wrote the ‘screenplay’.
The idea was born when we walked out of Paris and into the woods. I was thinking about a concise manifest that we could launch in Brussels, something monumental.
The fact that we were marching to the center of Europe, and that we would be joined by people from other countries to give shape to a truly European movement, a European revolution, reminded me of the American Continental Congress.
We are going to Brussels, because we don’t feel represented by a political class that only defends economic interests. In the 1770s, people from all thirteen British colonies in North America gathered in Philadelphia, because they didn’t feel represented by a parliament that could tax them without their consent.
On July 4 1776 the Continental Congress adopted the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It was and still is an inspiring and revolutionary document, because it denied the king’s right to rule, as he pleases, by the grace of god. Instead it stated that government derives its authority not from royal heritage, but from the consent of the people, and that it has the obligation to defend the ‘unalienable’ rights of every citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It added that the people have the right to rebel whenever government would become destructive of these ends.
This idea wasn’t new. Some people argue that Thomas Jefferson, the founding father who wrote the document, was inspired by the Dutch ‘Akte van Verlaetinghe’ which was adopted by the United Provinces in The Hague, July 26 1581. The Dutch text claimed that ‘A prince has to govern for the benefit of his subjects, (…) And [that] whenever he fails to do so, he can no longer be considered a prince (…) [in which case] his subjects have all the right and reason to destitute him.’
I imagined the coming together of indignados from all over Europe as a Continental Assembly, and in the weeks that followed I styled a ‘Declaration of Popular Sovereignty’.
My intention was to make a statement, and above all, to try to capture the spirit of our movement.
The idea has been circulating in spiral, from the Intelligence Commission to the Central Committee to the hard core of the Meseta march, picking up enthusiastic reactions on the way. It was never put up for consensus in an assembly. Today’s action was an initiative of part of the Meseta march only.
At around two thirty this afternoon, October 13, the text was first proclaimed in French translation by comrade Sebastian through the Free Speech Megaphone at Rosa Luxemburg Avenue near the South Station of Brussels. It was followed by translations in Spanish and English. The action was filmed and repeated, first at the steps of the Stock Exchange, and later under the Liberty Tree at Agora Square.
English text to follow.
Declaration of Popular Sovereignty
We, people of the World, gathered in Continental Assembly in Brussels, declare the following.
Many times throughout the course of history human society has been faced with the need for change, but never before was change so impellent as it is now.
Our global society is unsustainable. The voracious exploitation of natural resources and of human beings themselves has created profound differences in wealth, freedom and opportunity over the planet. It has fomented conflict and condemned the majority of humanity to poverty or even hunger. It has lead to the pollution of our rivers, our soil, our seas, our air, even space, and it is leading to a dangerous change in our climate. All of this, for the comfort of some and for the benefit of the very few.
We accuse the culture of greed.
We accuse the economics of waste.
We accuse the existence of borders.
We accuse the global financial system, and all the enterprises and institutions that facilitate and uphold it, of being responsible for the declining state of our planet and the majority of species by which it is inhabited. We accuse it of laying an unjust mortgage on the lives of our offspring. We accuse it of endagering the very survival of man kind.
We demand a sustainable world, and we have faith in the human capacity to bring it about. We demand to live in peace. We demand a world in which people govern themselves in a spirit of cooperation and brotherhood. We demand a world in which individuals and communities can be self sufficient in their basic needs of water, food and energy. We demand that every person can have the opportunity to make full use of his or her talents for personal benefit and in the interest of society.
We believe in human genius. We believe in technology for peaceful means and the common good. We believe in the free exchange of information. We believe in free access to the human cultural heritage. We believe that human values can not be expressed in economic terms.
We, the people, claim our right to life.
We, the people, claim our right to liberty.
We, the people, claim our right to the pursuit of happiness.
Government has become destructive of these ends, and therefore it is our right, our duty, to alter or abolish it.
We, the people, claim and declare our popular sovereignty.
We call on every person all over the world,
to resist peacefully through civil disobedience,
to occupy public spaces,
to gather in assembly,
to participate in government,
to liberate the creativity of the individual for the benefit of all, and to use our collective intelligence to lay the foundations of the world that we want for ourselves, and for our offspring.
We are the people.
We have the power to achieve.
Agora Brussels Day 4
On the official program exposed in the hall it reads that October 12 is declared to be the global day against capitalism. For this reason, lots of workshops and debates and forums were organised. All of them had an indication of an aula next to them and a time, as I could read on the day’s program in the cafetaria. Not a single demonstration was planned, or any other type of action.
When I looked through Belgian newspapers lately to see what they said about the indignados I first had to wade through five pages speaking about Dexia bank being in trouble and in need to be saved with public money. So yesterday a plan was born. And this morning in the Cafetaria it got rolling. The troops from the march were anxious to do something. Our new headquarters has a claustrofobic effect on them.
After breakfast the Intelligence commission calls a reunion in the offices of Direct Action. We are about ten people, all Spanish guerilleros. I know everyone, and I confide in it that none of them are infiltradors. I tell them our objective. Dexia headquarters. And I tell them why, when, and what we need.
We divide the work to be done. Mobilise the Art commission to make banners and slogans, contact the Legal commission for back up, contact Communications. Everybody is to meet back here at three thirty, details are not to be disclosed. I myself go in town to do reconnaisance.
Dexia headquarters is one of the tallest skyscrapers of Brussels. Rrom Revolutionary HQ it is located all the way down the Leopold II avenue at Rogierplein. If we march straight down there it is likely that we will be intercepted by police before we arrive.
We can walk an alternative route through a popular quarter around the Gentse Steenweg, but in any case we will be under direct surveillance.
Between three thirty and four everybody is back in Direct Action, the group has swollen to a couple of dozen people. I explain the various possibilities. The metro is probably the best option. It’s only three stops down the line, and the exit at Rogierplein is directly facing the entrance of the skyscraper. What’s more, there is no police visible on the square, and there doesn’t seem to be tight security at the gate.
We lose precious time talking about the details and the possible legal consequences. When I cut short, the metro is the only option, because if not we risk to arrive there when it is already closed.
We go, we take the metro, and everything works out as planned. After the actions in Paris, the people who were there have faith in my planning, in my capacity to guide them directly into the bank’s headquarters. Once we’re there we declare the building to be property of the people.
The walls of the lower level are complete made of glass. For this reason we brought a pack of printing paper, felt pens and tape. When two security guards timidly remind us that we can’t do this, we are already tapping the glass with slogans towards the outside. Passers by and employees descending into the hall look at us surprisedly before they return to their personal worries.
In minutes the first police cars arrive. When the officers are inside, they start to force us towards the exit, together with the goons of security. Some of us are treated in most unfriendly manner, and when they verbally protest they are thrown to the ground and handcuffed. One of them, comrade Marianne, receives a deliberate kick in the face. We will denounce this. We are peaceful, and any unprovoked agression against us will not be tolerated. In the end, six people remain inside on the floor while all the others from the outside are shouting. “Liberez nos camerads! Liberez nos camerads!”
We have at least three camera’s filming between the curious who have gathered. The pavement is covered with slogans in chalk, the windows are covered with papers facing inside this time.
A small police van arrives to take our comrades away. We vigil the exits. It takes time. It seems the police is not convinced to arrest them. They start to negotiate. One of them comes up to us, outside the bank.
“I know that none of you is responsable. But I have an offer. Can I discuss it with you people?” There are five of us around him. The offer is that they let our comrades go if we promise to leave, quietly, to the university.
This time, common sense has triumphed. The group gathers. We accept. Our comrades are liberated, we embrace, and off we go.
We didn’t keep our end of the deal, it’s true. Automatically we walked off in the opposite direction, along the boulevard. On the other side of the road there was another Dexia building, and it was funny to see that police vans immediately drove up there to block their entrance. We cheered and we waved to them. “La police avec nous!”. We had our action, and now we decide to go into town.
When we cross the street, a sympathetic looking police officer in civilian outfit asks us where we want to go. Comrade Roberto responds. “We are going to Agora Square in center, to hold a Popular Assembly like we did yesterday.”
“Very well. But you cannot pass here. This roads leads to a no go area.”
I look at the map, and I know why. It passes by the royal palace. The police officer indicates us the next street to the left. “It goes directly to Agora Square. I will take you there.”
In Brussels they always send Flemish speaking police officers to speak to us. They know that many of us are French or know that language, but through their headphones they speak in Flemish. For this reason I like to eavesdrop on them.
“They know perfectly well that I’m from the police”, our guide says, talking to central command, “but they haven’t shown any sign of aggression. They want to go to Agora square, and they accept it that I take them there. Over.”
He leads us past the Belgian National Bank. I pass the word to the group. He turns to me, in French, “This institution doesn’t signify anything anymore. It’s only a symbol. The real power is with the ECB in Frankfurt now.”
I respond in French, there’s no need to reveal that I can understand him in his professional communications. “If the central bank is useless, we could occupy this building and do something interesting with it.”
He chuckles. “I don’t think they would let you.”
We arrive at Agora square and we gather under the Tree of Liberty. The action went well, we are content. It has been very good for our morale. We are only a little bit disappointed that the desktop revolutionaries we had been trying to contact didn’t get off their ass to join us.
As for the police, they are clearly much more diplomatic here in Brussels. They leave us space to play our game. They don’t want trouble, and it’s better that way. If not, it might seem that we are just looking for confrontations with them. But that’s not the issue. The police are part of the ninety-nine percent. Our goal is to denounce the use of public money to save the banks that caused the crisis.
On the way home, we are already planning a comunicado. A very simple one. We call on all indignados, everywhere, to occupy banks that were saved with public funds. They are property of the people.
Agora Brussels Day 3
It’s natural for the people of the Meseta March, the hard core, to stick together. But it’s a bit strange to see us like this, occupying a disembowled classroom, sitting on a carpet under neon lights on the third floor of a monstrous building.
We used to camp every night. We used to eat and cook out in the open. We were used to the cold and the wind. Now what has become of us? some are wondering. We aren’t even holding assemblies, or partecipating in them any more. “When the assemblies will be assemblies again I will go.”
For the moment, they are not even a vague shadow. Apart from the fact that they are not effective, and that hence participation has gone down about 75 percent, it is the very structure of the aula magna that impedes us to hold an assembly as it should be.
We are watching each other’s shoulders, not each other’s faces. We are looking down at people, the moderators, which are on a podium, divided from the rest of us. We are communicating with them, and not among ourselves. A true assembly based on horizontality can only be held if we all sit in a circle.
We realise that. We try to hold the assemblies outside whenever we can, and if not the assembly will move to the cafeteria, where we can arrange our space in such a way that we can see each other’s faces.
Many new people are arriving, and I have a positive feeling about it. I hear a lot of music. The marches have given the initial impulse, and now the project is gaining critical mass. It will go by itself from here on.
I don’t really know what is being organised as far as the debates on very important subjects go. And I’ve heard of only a few people who do. The official program is not the main issue any more. It’s the creation of a free space.
The hard core marchers of the Meseta, myself included, we look on, a bit distrustingly. We see people that are happy to sit down on a chair in front of a table. We see them very much occupied with themselves, and not with the world around us. We consider them desktop revolutionaries, as opposed to ourselves of course.
Today a group of marchers decided to go to the center of Brussels to put up our info point. We wanted to go to Grand Place. They didn’t let us. By order of the burgomaster of Brussels, the police sealed of Grand Place with the order to prevent indignant citizens to enter.
As a result we put up our info point on the Agora Square next to the Grand Place, right under the trees. We were not many, we were mainly marchers, but we felt happy to be on the square. Police didn’t interfere with us. We were able to hold our first assembly in the center of Brussels in peace.
Most numerous assemblies start out impressive, but lose people along the way. Yesterday’s assembly wasn’t spectacular, but it was one of those exceptions were the attendance picks up for a while before it starts to decline. It was okay. At the end I walk back to the university through the streets and over the boulevards of Brussels. I like this city. We have more breathing space here. Belgium might not be in the front line of the revolution yet, but it’s the center of Europe, and that makes a good place to organise a continental movement.