Yesterday – remember, remember? – was the fifth of November. Guy Fawkes Day.
This year the event wasn’t limited to Britain and the Commonwealth countries. It was worldwide. In an estimated 400 cities, people participated in the #MillionMaskMarch. I doubt that the objective of 1 million people was reached, but it sure produced some interesting images on Twitter. For your enjoyment, I made a small collection, plus footage from the demo’s in London and Washington by RT and ITN.
Washington DC (RT):
Rome, November 4
The Agora 99 has finished yesterday afternoon with a General Assembly. Today it’s time for a brief analysis.
First, the name ‘Agora 99’ as a reference to the meme of ‘we are the 99%’ is ridiculous. This was an encounter of a small and often self-referent revolutionary elite which had nothing to do with the 99% of the population.
In the opening assembly on Friday there was some talk about the necessity to create a new terminology. It echoed Slavoj Žižek’s message to the occupiers in Wall Street: “What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on the enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.”
In reality, a lot of the terminology used during the workshops was either purely academic, or intentionally vague, or completely meaningless. The most popular terms of the weekend were ‘transnational’, ‘metropolitan context’, ‘technopolitics’ and ‘constituent process’.
What it all means in practice is not really clear. Many people had the sensation that we have been reinventing the same wheel we had already reinvented in Madrid last year.
Another issue was about geographic space. Officially, Agora 99 was a ‘European’ meeting about debt, rights and democracy. It caused a discussion about what ‘Europe’ exactly means and why this meeting should or shouldn’t extend its reach beyond the old continent, given the fact that ‘resistance, like capital, is global’.
One result of the Agora was an agenda for upcoming encounters online or in the square, none of them ambitious. The best that could come out of that would be some stand alone action, somewhere, on some topic. No serious efforts have been made to get the Joneses involved. On the contrary, within this so-called ‘99 percent movement’ you often sense a paradoxic adversity towards everything ‘main stream’. Yet the only way to make a real difference is to tap into the main stream on as many different levels as possible, and get people to become politically active themselves.
On the positive side, the Agora has served to consolidate and expand the existing network of international activists. Many participants already knew each other from the web, and this last weekend has been an occasion for them to meet face to face. And admittedly, it’s not fair to expect great things from an encounter like this. Nobody can foresee or plan an uprising. What you can do, however, is prepare a framework of international collaboration, to help spread an uprising whenever it occurs. That is what Agora 99 – and the continuous online activism throughout the year – is all about.
Also, the setting for the Agora was awesome. From an occupied theatre in Rome’s San Lorenzo district to an enormous occupied maintenance yard of the Italian railways. It was hard core industrial romance.
Most of the workshops were held in the large sheds of the railway depot on Saturday. They were fifteen in total, divided in three time slots on five locations. Despite many workshops being tedious, pedantic and unproductive they were usually very well attended until the end. The only people who tried a less theoretic approach were the Greeks. Their presentation about the occupied Embros theater in Athens was charged with emotion. It ended in song and dance.
Afterwards, the dancing would continue on a large scale when one of the sheds was filled with swinging 1960s surfing music. As if to illustrate a point that I have been making for a long time, and which I will continue to repeat.
“The revolution is rock ‘n’ roll.”
I received a letter from a friend in Bulgaria. She has been close to the action since the start, and did a lot to help me understand the situation when I was there. What is happening in Sofia is definitely historic. People have been protesting since mid June, every day, same time, same place.
“Here we are not giving up. It is true that September and October were quieter than the first months. The people got tired and feeling a little hopeless, because little by little it is becoming more and more clear that ALL of our politicians are simple marionettes and there are other people pulling the strings from outside (not that it wasn’t clear before that :)) and our country and all the institutions in it are like a big joke.
BUT as I said, we are not giving up – there is a new wave of protests – on a different scale and it is growing, oh yes it is! There were some big public actions a few weeks ago. For example at the qualifications for the World Cup – during a game in the National stadium on the 14th minute more than 30 000 Bulgarians were screaming “Resign” together.
The Prime minister has not used the main entrances to go in or out of a building in the past 4 months, because there is always someone to greet him with booing and inconvenient questions. He is using the back entrances where they take the trash out.
The main building of Sofia University was taken over by some students, who have locked it up and there are no classes for 10 days already, no one can enter and exit freely and it will stay like that until the government resigns. In the past four days the other universities have started joining in to this action, not only in Sofia but in the whole country. There are also a lot of people on the streets again and more and more are joining in with different ‘attacks’ against the government and the whole oligarchic machine! So the people’s will is growing stronger and bigger, the voice of the simple Bulgarian is getting louder.
Some journalists have lost their jobs, for asking the ‘wrong’ questions, but now more and more journalists, artists and intellectuals are personally and publicly joining the protests. And the people still want to keep it peaceful 🙂 there are other ways to put pressure..
And as I’ve told you earlier in our conversations – something very significant is happening – one nation is waking up after a very long time of sleep and obedience – this process takes time, but it has already started 🙂 It feels so good! I just hope that the people will not get tired, hopeless and ‘fall asleep’ again… We will see…”
Rome, November 2
Whenever I am in The Hague I take a stroll past our parliament to look at the ‘State of the Constitution’. In the little square next to the entrance, the first article is sculpted in stone on the basis of a long bench. It has been there for twenty years, it was meant to remain for the ages, but every time I pass by, I notice that the text is fading. Already, the word ‘Constitution’ is illegible.
It leaves me concerned and wondering. Am I the only one who notices this? Can the people still see what remains of the text? Don’t they get the irony? Don’t they remember old Thorbecke’s prophecy?
They probably don’t. It’s an old story, like the famous myth of the crows and the Tower of London. Whenever the crows leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. Likewise, our great liberal statesman Thorbecke, father of Holland’s modern democracy, reportedly foretold on his deathbed that the constitution would one day be captured in stone. And that if ever the text would fade, Holland would descend into chaos and ultimately be swept away by the sea.
Now the text is fading. It says: “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”
While I was determining our Constitution’s irreversible decay, white people painted black were demonstrating on the Malieveld in defence of Black Pete, Santa’s Little Helper. It was an embarrassing spectacle and fortunately only few people were there. On the whole, it was an even bigger flop than Troelstra’s mythical attempt at socialist revolution in 1918.
A week later. This time I’m in Rome, fully backpacked. When I approach parliament, I notice riot police in full gear blocking the street, and I immediately feel at home. What happened? It was a ‘Siege on Parliament’ by the movement for affordable homes. The parliament square was packed, and notably there was a large participation by blacks and latinos. I start to check what happened, and this is the story.
Around one o’ clock, police vans blocked a demo heading towards parliament. A warning was issued to vacate the area. When it went unanswered, pepperspray was employed and a charge ensued. Now, the curious thing is that the warning, the charge, and the pepperspray didn’t come from police. They came from the protesters. People with clubs wearing Guy Fawkes masks climbed on the police vehicles to smash them up while covering the cops with pepperspray. It was an epic moment. Pepperspray is an excellent offensive measure. It hurts like hell for hours.
Police responded with tear gas and a counter charge. Nine people were arrested. For the rest of the day, people blocked parliament and created traffic chaos all around until those who had been detained were released.
It was fun, but it’s not why I’m here. I’m in Rome for the Agora 99, international meeting on debt, rights and democracy. It’s the second edition after last year’s meeting in Madrid. Yesterday was the official opening. The people from the Roman social centres did an great job organising working spaces, accommodation and food. The workshops are held by participants themselves.
Aside from the locals, there are over a hundred people here from all over Europe, in particular Spain, Britain, Germany and Greece. Some of them I remember from the previous edition and other occasions. And I must say I have the same feeling that I had last year. The energy is right. This meeting is another excellent occasion for the exchange of experiences and the preparation of future actions. The Agora is already a success. The workshops are of secondary importance.
As you might know, I don’t have the patience to sit through workshops and assemblies, simply because I can’t stand bullshit. This is not to say they aren’t interesting. It’s just that it’s very hard to engage listeners with the spoken word, and only very few people are capable of doing so. Most others suffer from ‘verbal obesity’. Some of them try to show off with a grand academic analysis of Occupy and related movements by stacking one complicated concept onto another. It takes about five minutes for the audience to get restless. Some people start to leave. some people fall asleep, most people put on a serious face out of politeness, and only a small minority actually listens.
In my personal opinion, attempts at profound analysis are best left for print. If you want people to listen, don’t speak to the mind. Speak to the soul.
Today is the big day featuring most of the workshops. Tomorrow there will be a General Assembly in conclusion of the Agora. In the meantime, I move through the corridors, which is always where the most interesting and productive encounters take place.