Lille, October 3
Day 70 of the March on Brussels. From Carvin, 20 km.
Our last stop in France, and finally we had an assembly like I remembered them in Spain. Lots of interested people, lots of signs and banners on the square, many appassionate interventions. Lille and the local indignados have prepared us the warm welcome we have been waiting for for a long time, in a fabulous panorama.
Entering the city we passed by a trailer camp inhabited by people from Montenegro. They have been living in France for many years, they have children born here, but they are not allowed to participate in society. The reason being that they don’t possess certain documents.
Lille is a charming city. Like many others, the center has been recently facelifted for the shopping pleasure of the middle class citizen. Now, the authorities want to clean up the outskirts as well. These people will have to go, their presence is anti esthetic. It brings down the real estate prices of the zone.
Tomorrow we enter Belgium. In the Route commission yesterday we decided to go through Flanders instead of Wallonia. The Mediterranean will already go by Mons, so there is no reason for us to go there as well. We will make a visit to the Popular Assembly in Gent. Still, some of the French were doubtful about Flanders. Worse, they were prejudiced. “Lots of fascists there.”
“Watch it”, I said, “I’m Flemish as well.”
It was a bit of an exageration, but the fact of the matter is that I can’t stand this kind of talk. The same thing happened that very morning when people were spreading fear for right wing radicals in Carvin. More than a dozen people went straight to Lille to avoid the friendly little town.
For the Intelligence Commission it was an occasion to gather valuable information about people’s rational and irrational fears, about the contagiousness of fear and its possible uses as a weapon. But most of all, it showed us whom we can count on in a case of emergency.
Another reason for us to opt for Flanders was the distance. It can be covered in four days. Or at least, that resulted from a route proposal that was send to us by ‘Brussels’. This way we would have one day off in Gent for preparations.
The proposal turned out to be flawed. The distance Lille-Waregem was presented as being 28 km. By simply looking at the map, you will notice that it’s much more than that. It’s 42 km.
The Route commission decided yesterday to stick with the long leg to Waregem, to save our day off. We have done these distances before, day after day. It was decided upon by six persons. Today a French communications comrade came to me to verify the route for publication in internet. I confirmed: Lille-Waregem-Gent-Gent-Aalst-Brussel. First leg 42 km.
The news went around quickly, and many of the people who had come directly to Lille by train were scared of this distance. They hadn’t been walking for two days and sure they wouldn’t walk tomorrow. A counterproposal was formulated. Divide the leg in two, and cut the full day in Gent. Comrade Canario vetoed it on the spot. “Out of the question. This is decided upon. Don’t be woosies.”
Tonight a campaign against the marathon distance was started. Up to forty people attended an improvised Route assembly to change it. They are still discussing at the moment of writing, but they will probably succeed.
The reason why I speak at length about something so futile as this, is because it presents a very interesting precedent from a legal point of view. It undermines our system based on consensus. If people can come together to invade a commission and overturn a veto, then our decisional structure is open to be changed.
It probably should. Consensus leads to paralysis. In the General Assembly of Sol they know what that means. The other day comrade Alexis told me about an assembly in Sol where someone bluntly said that the consensus system itself was never decided upon by the assembly in Sol. It’s used out of custom and inertia. And there’s no reason why any one single person should be able to block the will of everyone else to change it.
It’s late at night. The new route is official. Tomorrow we don’t go to Waregem. We go to Kortrijk.
I arrived in Arras yesterday together with comrade Alexis. He remained with the march, so far, and he tries to avoid Cowboy and most others where he can.
Alexis is not a vicious person or a slacker. He just makes himself impossible for most. Since he lost his faith in the march, a couple of weeks ago, he has become a bit more sympathetic. Now, instead of getting angry, he ridiculises things. Many people can’t appreciate that, but I can.
In Paris he has spent a couple of days with the Pretorians. To him, they must have seemed a gang of small time crooks from a Woody Allen movie. They were battering the cities and the towns, asking for money in name of the movement, but their booty didn’t ammount to much. In Paris they wanted to make their big move. They tried to open a bank account, where acampada’s could make deposits for the march.
It didn’t work. The word got out. But I would have loved to see it. The Cuban as the godfather, Felix as his little helper, and Legionario as the brainless muscleman. None of them speaking a word of French, in Paris, trying to set up a hoax.
This morning Alexis left with other two people who are fed up with the march, to take another route. We go on, but not after some people have been sowing fear in the group this morning.
Terrorism, far from being a threat to our contemporary way of life, is one of its most important pillars. It means control through fear. The average citizen is controlled and influenced through fear all day long. Fear for himself, fear for the safety of his children. Fear of his boss, fear of losing his job. Fear for his health, fear of losing his looks. Fear about his home, his property, his pension, his future. Terrorism is everywhere, and we call it advertising. It strengthens power and it sells products.
Terrorism has entered our march, not as a tool, but as a result of genuine fear. Today we go to Carvin, and when some people heard that name this morning, they began a rumour campaign. Carvin is supposedly controlled by the extreme right. People made it seem like the place was a nazi stronghold where gangs of skinheads roamed the streets and snipers fired at anyone who didn’t correspond to the description of blond hair and blue eyes.
The people who sowed fear were the same ones who were drinking and dancing the night before when comrade Abel repeatedly announced a meeting of the Route commission.
“You should have been there to talk about this. Now the route is made up, we are going to Carvin.”
Some people will go directly to Lille, and the rest made the summertime walk through Picardy.
In Arras the familiar signs of flemishness got stronger, in the architecture, in the beer and the fries, in the names of the streets and the faces of the people. Walking further North, we enter the miners’ district. A big agglomeration which goes far into Belgium, centered around Lille. You see impressive artificial hills in the land, to indicate the mines, you pass by village after village made of bricks.
Carvin has suffered much from having to adapt its economy from soil exploitation to debt slavery. There is a lot of unemployment, which might explain the surge of the far right of which people are so fearfully rumouring. But we don’t meet gangs, nor snipers. Only hospitable citizens and a man on the parking lot who lost his house after he divorced from his wife. He still has his job, but he has to sleep in his car. He is as indignado as the rest of us, and more.
With Christ in the morning I reviewed the state of the march. The positive news is that we will make it to Brussels. As for the negative news, there’s a wide choice. The ‘Logroño case’ is exemplary for certain human weaknesses in our group.
Lately, the Acampada Logroño has donated a couple of hundred euro’s to the march. They said they would like it to benefit the group, but they left the decision about the money to the three people from Logroño among us. These three didn’t hesitate to divide the sum among themselves.
As for two of them, I’m not surprised. The third person was our oldest comrade, Abdullah. He sold the respect and the moral authority he enjoyed for a fistful of euros to buy tobacco.
On the positive side, I can reveal that the grave things that had happened in Paris are resolved. We feared that in Paris we lost the so called ‘Book of the People’. It’s the notebook in which we have written down the problems of the villages and the propositions of the people which we want to bring to Brussels. It would have been scandalous if it had come out. What on earth are we doing this march for if we can’t even safeguard all the things we want to bring to Brussels? We were already planning a dissimulation, trying to gather whatever information we could get from the acts and from memory.
But yesterday, fortunately, Christ asked for a piece of scrap paper to one of our comrades.
“Here”, was the answer as our comrade ripped a piece of paper out of a notebook.
“Hey! That’s the Book of the People!”
“It is! Give it to me! I’m the official librarian of the march.”
Arras, October 1
Day 68 of the March on Brussels. From Acheux, 31 km.
Every march has its own spirit. It’s there in the beginning, with the people who start the march, and even though the participants might change, the spirit usually remains.
If the march is chaos in the first few days, it will probably stay that way. You can talk and talk, you can draw up perfect organisational schemes every now and then, but in practice they won’t work.
Our march is far from perfect. We are strong, we have lots of people walking, but we didn’t really try to integrate the people who joined us in Paris, just like we never really appreciated the experiences of the people from the Toulouse march. We are operating the same way we did when we entered France.
By now, it’s too late to try and change things. In a week we will already be in Brussels. Nevertheless we held an internal assembly yesterday, which was centered around the issue of convivencia.
Our march has known all the problems of society. Theft, violence, polarisation, conflict, free riding, anti-social behaviour, lying, threats, etc. The way to deal with this has been mostly to look the other way, and to talk about it behind people’s backs.
Yesterday, all these problems were to be discussed in public. At the beginning of the assembly, people who felt like they had something to confess where asked to speak up.
Complete silence. A bunch of angels. All of us. Except for one, our Greek comrade Marianne. She has been part of various commissions and working groups, most notably Communication. She admitted that she could have done more than she did. She’s so sweet.
After Marianne, all the others didn’t talk to confess something, but to self glorify themselves and accuse the others of lack of dedication. They didn’t dare to use names. After all we are decent and understanding, we only accuse in general, everyone knows whom people are talking about.
It was disgusting. For a moment I considered to propose that we declare our march a failure and that we all go home. Goodbye Brussels.
I didn’t do it of course. I went to my tent, and I heard the rest from there.
In yesterday’s assembly, our (ex-)comrade Felix was present. He had come to salute us, and he had come alone. People must have been very relieved, because instead of talking about ourselves and our sins, we could turn on him.
His drinking vices, the money, the story about the secession, it all came out again. The discussion about our internal social problems turned into a revolutionary tribunal, a show trial. A hand full of people led the attack, and the others followed. Many of those people had never even seen or heard about Felix and the Pretorians before, but now they were yelling at the top of their voices for him to be expelled and crucified. It was the beast that hides in every mass of people. It was the spectre of the forks and the torches.
Felix didn’t enjoy any of the guarantees that a fair justice system should offer. Presumption of innocence, the right to defense, etc. We definitely need to work on this before we change the world.
As a movement we are open and inclusive. We have never expelled anyone before, even though we should have. This time the wolves were crying blood, so once the accusation had stated its case and silenced the defendant, the moderator proposed the verdict.
Propositions in our movement are always formulated in a negative sense. Not ‘Who is in favour of…?’, but ‘Is anyone radically against…?’
Felix was saved, because two persons blocked the verdict. They argued indeed that as a movement we shouldn’t expel people but always try to resolve our problems internally. The funny thing is that the ones who blocked were not even a part of our march. They were bikers from the Mediterranean, and this morning they went away again.
Their intervention could have had grave consequences. Because when Felix was allowed to stay, comrade Charlie decided to leave, together with his van. It would have meant we had to carry our stuff, and the kitchen, on our shoulders.
There was a cheer when he reappeared this morning. It turned out that yesterday’s trial had been completely superfluous. Felix never intended to stay in the first place. He was already gone when people woke up. So we had our breakfast, we left our bags next to the van and started walking as if nothing had happened.
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.