Móstoles, January 1
Never mind all the stories about spirits and kindness. This year, Christmas was whispered to become a marathon orgy. It started on the 21st of December 2011 and was supposed to go on until the End of Time, scheduled in December 2012.
Unfortunately, we got there late.
It was the evening of the 24th. We were expected in the countryside in the outskirts of the outskirts of Madrid. We left everything to the last minute, and when we finally lifted our bags to go to the metro, we saw how the shutters of the station slowly closed in our face.
So there we were. All people were safe and warm at home, the shops had closed, even the Chinese. We were left with a pack of dry lentils, one egg, a bottle of cheap wine, a bottle of even cheaper sangria, and no cork screw.
“What do we do now?”
Our only luck was that the bottle of sangria had a screw tap. And because I’m a romantic soul, for me there was but one option. “Let’s go to Puerta del Sol. We’ll get drunk out on the streets and have ourselves arrested. Given the situation it’s the only decent way to celebrate Christmas Eve.”
I was a little bit disappointed when the Spirit of Christmas came to save the day. But in the end it was probably better that he did. The three of us ended up listening to hard core Christmas music and playing cards until eight in the morning.
On Boxing Day we finally managed to arrive here in Móstoles. It turned out that the rumours going around on Facebook about this being a kind of End of the World Mega Party, were slightly exaggerated. We were four people. But it was only the beginning.
This is the country garden of comrade Geraldo, at fifteen minutes walking from the closest metrostation. When his grandfather worked this piece of land, the towns of Móstoles, Alcorcón, Fuenlabrada and Getafe were still small communities over the horizon. Now they are the vanguard of Madrid. At night you can see how the lights of the metropolis are slowly advancing from all sides. It won’t be long before this piece of country side will be turned into a park surrounded by vacant appartment blocks.
During the week, from all corners of the country and the continent, the veterans of the March on Brussels arrived, one after another. We started celebrating New Year’s Eve a week early, and we just kept on going. “Do you remember?…” someone would say, and there came the stories about the march. The triumphs and the disasters. The good, the bad and the ugly.
There was the legendary ‘Chocolate man’ for example, who served us hot chocolate every morning during our last days in Euskadi and our first days in France. There was the couple from Barcelona who took heartfelt care of us on various occasions. And there was the family from Murcia who joined us for a few days just before our arrival in Paris (mom, dad, daughter of about 17 and son of about 9). It was one of the many times when our march was subject to internal struggle and chaos. Comrade Lodovico didn’t believe that a family would ever want to be associated with us lunatics, and he had a very hard time explaining them the true situation without discouraging them to participate.
They stayed, against all odds. And one way or another they pulled the group together and turned into the spirit of the march. We must have left them a good impression after all, because yesterday just before the new year, all four of them showed up.
Then there were the stories about the week we spent in Revolutionary HQ in Brussels. I haven’t even told you a fraction of what happened there. Most things I heard for the first time. Like the day a man came into the kitchen, and climbed onto one of the tables, and stripped. He spread his arms and announced that he was the incarnation of god on earth. When someone tried to cross his divine path, the scene turned into a full scale riot.
The third floor assassination attempt was another of those stories, probably drug related. Someone had apparently been bottled on the back of the head and left there to bleed. He was only found because of the trail of bloody foot steps that the perpetrator left in the corridor.
Everyone could enter Revolutionary HQ, and indeed, everyone did. Cases of plundering and robbery went on all week. On one of the last days someone really ‘wanted’ must have looked for refuge inside the building. All of a sudden police cars arrived from all directions and a helicopter came hovering over the roof. This scene I remember. They came in, they caught the man and took him away. In ten minutes everything was back to normal. If I had disposed of a camera crew, I could have made an action movie about the week in Brussels.
Aside from telling stories, we play Risk. We didn’t have the game at hand, so we made it. A stack of cards, five dices and multi-coloured poker chips is all you need to play. I drew the map on coffee table. Comrade Perro shows a photo of the game of Catan which they made in the squat in Paris.
As revolutionaries, we are slipping, I have to admit it. While we are sitting here, playing Risk on the fifth day of New Year’s Eve, other comrades have arrived in Madrid and engaged in actions. “¡Hostia!” says Geraldo when the news comes in on his phone. “Police is charging at the Cabalgata indignada. There’s a photo of comrade Smiling Sparrow being clubbed in the head. ¡Es una pasada, chabales!”
We are shocked. Geraldo puts down his phone, and picks up the dice. “So, the Hulk is going to attack North Africa from Brazil…”
On the other side of the table I drew a map of ‘Risk Iberia’. But as a result of local nationalist sensitivities, it caused more conflict around the table than on it…
The last day of the year was amazing. Comrades Cristo, Getafe, Kanario, Carmencita, Sebastian, Smiling Sparrow and many others arrived, both from the Spanish and the French branch of the march. With a few exceptions we were all there, the best of the march on Brussels. When darkness fell we turned into one big tribe dancing around the fire. ‘If only for this,’ I think, ‘the march has become a success.’
By now the stories had started to focus on what happened after the march. Some people went to the protests during the G20 meeting in Nice, or helped to organise the March to Athens. Others have formed their ‘Revolutionary A-Team’, gave it the name of ‘Proyecto Nomada’, and returned to Paris to take part in Occupy La Défense. I heard about it, I’ve seen images of indignados building a cardboard camp only to have it destroyed by police over and over again. I’ve also seen images of the spectacular dome they built, but hearing the first hand accounts of what happened, standing around the fire, is definitely better than anything you can find out through the web.
On the radio the clock of Puerta del Sol starts to strike. Two thousand twelve has arrived. Soon each of us will leave in different directions. To Rome, to Barcelona, to Bayonne, to Berlin, or back to Brussels. But tonight we’re allvhere, and we celebrate. In a certain sense we are one big family. And at some point on the paths of the revolution, we will meet again.
I send you a link to a short documentary about the March on Brussels by German film maker Martin Keßler. Enjoy!
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.
Brussels, October 8
Day 75 of the March on Brussels. From Aalst, 29 km.
Dark skies hovered low over Aalst when we got ready to leave for the last leg of our trip. The great day had come. Many new faces had joined us to walk, all the way, in the rain.
Route Commission had planned three reunification stops, to make sure we would enter Brussels as a group. On all those occasions, right from the start, we were carefully observed by three police officers. The day before, comrade Canario had gone to Brussels to see how the coordination of our arrival was coming along. This morning I asked him for his evaluation.
For some reason, I’m not surprised. And as the walk starts, the Central Committee reunites to consider the various possibilities. Unfortunately, none of the indignados from Brussels accompanies us with up to date information on the situation we will encounter. A detailed map of the city only arrives at the second reunification stop. At that moment, we hear that we do not have permission to camp anywhere and that our primary camping site near the Basilique is crawling with police. Repression like we experienced in Paris is in the air. We start plotting about alternatives.
Close to Brussels the rain stops and we receive the news that the police is retreating from the park. We can go there, after all, for our grand arrival.
Thus, late in the afternoon of August 8, we enter the capital territory of Brussels. A band of indignado drummers is there to greet us, and to accompany our entrance with a beat. Hearing that sound, seeing us march by with banners saying things like ‘bonheur pour tous’, the people in the windows watch us joyfully. Some of them respond to our salute with a V-for-victory sign.
In one of the smaller parks we reunite once again with the Mediterranean. Our group is numerous as never before when we march the last few metres to the Elizabeth park near the Basilique. The press will be there at seven.
At the park, a discrete group is people is waiting for us together with the Brussels indignados. They submerge us with cheers and a heartfelt applause. It’s great. But after walking thirty kilometres in the rain, I would have preferred it if they had welcomed us with warm drinks and something to eat.
At nightfall, we camp. The tents are deployed for the eye of the cameras, and the people lay out peaces of cardboard on the wet grass ifor a popular assembly in the dark. A lady from the municipal police intervenes to congratulate us with our accomplishment as a march. She says that the police does not have any intention to cause us trouble. She hopes that we will be able to work together in a constructive way, and she comes with a proposal. In short, we will be able to use the Elizabeth park every day for assemblies, working groups and other events. In case of bad weather these activities can be hosted at the Flemish University of Brussels, located at two minutes walking. It offers all basic facilities and we will be able to sleep there the entire week. But we will not be allowed to camp in the park. If we try to do so, police will evict us.
The rest of the assembly is dedicated to deciding if we will accept the proposal, or if we will try to camp anyway. The evening turns into a farce.
Many of us are hungry and cold. They don’t care to have an assembly about anything here. But as usual, it takes hours. Most people from the marches have gone elsewhere, so we start to wonder who is actually deciding in assembly about what we are going to do.
The only rational decision to take is to accept, without even calling an assembly. Then go to the university, and have one hell of a party. But apparently there is a small group of indignados who want to camp at all cost, to claim the public space.
I sigh. Once again we are giving a dire image of our movement. At a certain point, the police lose their patience, and van after van full of officers in riot gear are unloaded. They block the assembly on three sides. They give us ten minutes to accept the offer to go to the university or be arrested.
The reaction of people was just as predictable as it was stupid. Many of them sat together, bracing arms, ready to be taken away.
It made me think of the ‘dos de mayo’, the day in 1808 when Spain rose up after Napoleon had forced the Spanish king to abdicate in favour of the emperor’s older brother. The Spanish people didn’t rebel because they were attached to their king. He was a complete idiot, and everybody knew that. But when they saw the way their monarch was treated, they rose up because Napoleon had trampled on their national pride. ‘He may be an imbecile, but he is our imbecile.’
Something similar happened yesterday. People probably knew that it was absurd to hold a lengthy assembly in the dark about whether to stay there and be evicted or not. But when the police came to pressure them they rebelled. ‘This might be idiocy, but at least respect our assembly an let us finish this idiocy in peace.’
Some people from our march joined with the hardcore protesters out of solidarity. I didn’t. I’m not against a confrontation with police, as long as we have a space of manoeuvre. But here we sat with our backs against the wall.
We will be able to organise actions all week. The public space is ours, in any case. We don’t have to camp in the mud to prove it. I respect the conviction of the people who remained, but conviction without common sense is counterproductive, and potentially very dangerous.
They were taken away, more or less peacefully. There were too many police officers around, and it was too dark to be able to film anything.
I was there with friends of mine who had come to visit from Holland. “So this is Brussels, at last,” I said when the police bus drove away. “Let’s go grab a beer.”
We left Gent this morning in group, and we were singing our usual songs in French and Spanish. “They call it a democracy, but that isn’t true / It’s a dictatorship, and you know it!”
To me, it sounded a bit strange to sing something like this in a country without a central government for one and a half years running. But we are not talking about political dictatorship. National governments don’t matter that much any more, the states have lost their sovereignty bit by bit. The economy is queen, and her high priests united in obscure institutions like the Fed, the IMF, and the ECB decide on policy for the world at large. National states only need to implement their directives.
In a nutshell, this is what we are going to denounce in Brussels. Our political system has nothing to do with democracy. The socialist government in Greece is forced to sell the people’s property to multinational vultures in exchange for loans at unpayable interest. If it weren’t for the revolution, which will take place more sooner than later, the country would be enslaved indefinitely.
In Belgium, the crisis hasn’t yet made a real impact. Some of the Belgians I spoke say that this is in part thanks to the fact that they don’t have a government. Drastic measures cannot be taken by a provisional government, so deep cuts were not made until now. Life goes on here, banks are falling, but as long as people don’t feel it in their pocket, they don’t really care. They look at our protest as something picturesque. They are sympathetic towards us, but they’re not yet worried about themselves. In the South of Europe the tempest is raging, but here only few people have noticed the clouds rumbling in the distance. The storm is heading towards them as well, and when it arrives, they will remember us.
Gent is the most northern point of our expedition, from here we turn straight East, towards the rising sun. Like yesterday, the city never ends. These are still the suburbs of Waregem. The national roads are a very interesting urbanistic shadow zone. It seems like things are permitted here that you will not see in the cities themselves. There is no real need to keep up a façade, because apart from us, no-one walks by. Between the houses, the villas and the shopping hangars, you find lots of erotic night clubs and brothels, where people from the city can enjoy themselves anonymously, far away from peeking eyes, and far away from the lord our god. You will find all kind of buildings on the way, but you won’t find a single church.
Along the road a police van stops to ask us where were going. We are going to Aalst, our last stop before Brussels. It’s four thirty in the afternoon when we arrive, but it seems like it’s three a.m. on a saturday night. High school students are clustering around the bars in the center, drinking beer. Disco beats are blasting out onto the streets on every corner.
On the central square the mayor is there to welcome us. She offers us a camping space near the swimming pool at the edge of town. We respond that we prefer to camp in the center, and we create a ‘Square Commission’ ad hoc, to look at the different possibilities. The central square is out of the question, because there will be market tomorrow. We choose a square with access to water. A bit reluctantly, but with a smile, the mayor accepts our decision. I doubt they have sufficient police force at their disposal to evict us.
Instead of an assembly, cancelled because of the rain, we take the square and we play a game of ‘stoelendans’. The revolution is fun. It can only be fun, or else it won’t be worth the effort.
Tomorrow Brussels. It’s going to be a different story than what we’ve encountered in the Belgian towns. In a world without national states, the metropoles form a Champion’s League apart. The capital of Flanders, Belgium and the European Union has more in common with cities like Barcelona, Paris, Milan and Tokyo than with a small town like Aalst.
Yesterday evening we lost a lot of time in an internal assembly, trying to decide if we will accept the invitation of a Scandinavian left wing party to enter the European parliament. We could have made much better use of that time, to work on the preparation of debates and actions. To me it seems that many people consider all the talking to be an activity already. Once they finally decide on something, they don’t see the necessity – or they are too exhausted – to put it into practice.
The result is that we don’t really know what is going to happen in Brussels. Things have been prepared, but it’s not really clear by whom and how it will turn out. It might become a very constructive week of exchange. But it might also turn into complete chaos, which is more likely.
Still, as the great Dutch philosopher (and former football player) Johan Cruyff says: “Every disadvantage has its own advantage.” And the advantage of chaos is that everything becomes possible.
This morning the lowlands were covered by a sky in all the different shades of grey. A strong wind was blowing, and while we were having breakfast, the rain started.
It felt good. The rain and the wind are as a much a part of this country as the canals and the dikes. It fits. And besides, we have been too lucky already with the weather. A bit of rain is always good for the epical aspect of our expedition.
It didn’t last long. While we walk over the bicycle lane of the national road to Gent, the wet weather ceases. From then on the walk is easy.
Belgium has lots of peculiarities. One of these is the urbanisation of the roads. When we arrive in Gent it seems like we never left Waregem. We didn’t really cross the countryside. All along the way there were houses, villages or shopping centers.
Through the years Belgians have kept up the tradition of building their own house. And up until not so long ago they could legally do so wherever they bought a piece of land. And because most people for convenience’s sake want to be close to a road, this resulted in an endless variety of houses lining the national roads, from one village or town to another. It might seem that most of Belgium is one big city, but that’s an illusion. The country side starts in people’s back yards.
Along the way I talk a bit with comrade Rino, from Italy, who has been with us before on various occasions. After Paris he has joined the Mediterranean for a while, and I was happy to hear positive news about them for the first time.
They called themselves ‘Ecomarche’ when they left Paris, because they wanted to give an example of an expedition without a carbon footprint. They went without support vehicle and carried their bags on their shoulders. That was the beginning, later on they were joined by a support vehicle all the same, so to uphold their ecological image they started gathering the trash they found along the road. Some of the many, many bags they filled were piled up on the squares of the villages and towns where they arrived, to confront people with everything they just throw out of the window.
Rino denied that Lady Blue is a dictator and that the marchers wouldn’t reach Brussels without her. She’s with the vanguard, she prepares the arrival and coordinates the diffusion in the towns. The others contribute to the march in their own way and sharpen their objectives with the feedback of the assemblies they hold in the towns. If it’s all true I would have to admit, shamefully, that their march is working out better than our own at the moment.
We enter the lively town of Gent and we occupy the impressive square of Saint Peter. All day long we have been followed by a Flemish television crew. They have the occasion to film our first trilingual assembly. Dutch, French and Spanish. The indignados from Gent have been very active in preparing it, they have been waiting for us and they received us with cakes and sweets and lots of food. Some of them were already present at the border and at Kortrijk. It was a great occasion, but before too long it was sabotaged by a band of anarchist squatters. They came with drums and a whistle. A brilliant move.
As the samba rhythm echoes over the square, our bagpipe player joins in and people start to dance and jump around. Finally, after all the endless assemblies in Spain and France we had to come here to the cold and windy lowlands to find the one fundamental and indispensable ingredient of the revolution.
Waregem, October 5
Day 72 of the March on Brussels. From Kortrijk, 17 km.
When we showed up on the central square of Kortrijk yesterday, the authorities were completely taken by surprise. After a while a police car came up, a big friendly looking officer stepped out, he walked up to us and started to ask, in his best French, who we were, where we came from, what we were doing here etc. He was visibly relieved when I responded to him in Dutch.
For lack of a good equivalent word I told him we are “les indignés”.
“How do you spell that?”
I spelled it out, without forgetting the accent. He had never even heard of us. So I gave him a very short history of the movement and I told him we planned to camp and to speak to people about local problems and the problems of society. “Tomorrow we leave. We will go to Brussels.”
He scratched himself under his cap and said: “Sure, I can appreciate that, but all the same it’s not possible to camp here. I will have to contact the municipality to find a solution for you.”
“Very well, but I can’t guarantee that we will accept it. We are a horizontal movement, and we will decide in assembly what to do.”
Minutes later the mayor showed up in person. When he heard our discourse about participative democracy he went into ‘campaigning mode’, and he affirmed that his administration was very active in inviting people from the neighbourhoods to participate in politics. I don’t think he really understood that our concept of participation is slightly different from his own.
Still, in no time we were offered a space, with showers and coverage in case of rain, outside of the center. Camping on the square remained strictly forbidden. We would risk jail time.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for the assembly to reach a decision. People didn’t want to risk. They accepted. So off we went. Our first night in Belgium. We didn’t even hold a Popular Assembly, also because at night fall the streets were deserted.
This morning, many people stayed around to work or to do some propaganda in the square. This is a very rich part of Belgium, but as I heard, people seemed to be interested and open minded. Unfortunately, we hadn’t prepared any flyers in Dutch. This is my fault, I admit it. We only had flyers in French. When they were handed out, people lost interest on the spot. Welcome to Flanders.
Unlike many others I walked early, together with comrade Infiltrado. He is not really an informant, but he got the fame to be one, and it stuck. The walk was short, only a couple of hours under the wide grey skies of the North, partly along a river. I’ve never been here before, but it feels like I lived here all my life.
In the small town of Waregem the news about the arrival of our march had already reached the authorities. I must say I was flabbergasted, almost embarassed. In general the people of the hot southern and eastern countries have the reputation of being very hospitable to strangers, as opposed to the countries of the North. This doesn’t go for Waregem. The town council offered us a space in the center, next to the football stadium, with all possible facilities, they invited us to hold an assembly or a concert or whatever in any square of our choice. They sent the police to our camp, not in riot gear, not to threaten us or to evict us or to gas us, no, they sent them to bring us food. A present from the town of Waregem.
It didn’t really matter at that point that our assembly in the empty central square was visited by very few locals. One, to be exact. But it was typical that that one person, an ex-construction worker who was rebuilding a former conference room, offered anybody who suffers the cold to camp indoor. “I have enough space for the entire group. All of you are invited.”