I present you a series of pictures from the early stages of the march, between Nice and Rome. They were taken by comrade Lorenzo.
Also, a short update. Four days ago, two of our comrades were arrested while taking pictures of police officers at an anti-fascist demonstration. They were kept in custody for the full three days. Only after two days we found out that they had been arrested.
They will be judged on the twelfth. Their crime was that they carried dried herbs and empty bottles around with them. The herbs are said to be illegal, and the bottles could have theoretically been filled with an inflammable substance to create a Molotov cocktail.
One of the people who got detained is a guy from France, the other is comrade Elisa, a girl from Valencia. She carried her photo camera with her, plus her laptop and harddisk. All of this mysteriously got lost during the arrest. The data on the lost hardware contained photos and films from one year of 15M revolution.
I have encountered Elisa various times this year, in Paris, in Brussels, and here. She was with Occupy La Défense among other initiatives. The material she shot is unique.
So I wonder who should actually be judged here. If it should be our comrades for the dried grass and the empty bottles, or the Athens police for ‘losing’ valuable equipment and priceless historic footage.
Athens, May 23
There was a riot in the court today. It came to a head in the caffeteria, where fascists and antifascists were throwing plastic cups of espresso, cappuccino and frappe at each other. Two different colours of riot police had to be deployed.
The judgment of our comrades was in the room next door. After two hours of contradicting testimonies in four languages, the judge decided it wasn’t the case to continue. Everyone is free to go.
At the moment, unofficial celebrations are under way in Plaza Exarchia.
Athens, May 20
Our tribe is settling down. We are starting to adapt to the comforts and complications of sedentary life. A new cycle has begun, an old one has been concluded.
We have running water, we have electricity, we have four stories and a roof terrace in the middle of the anarchist quarter of Exarchia. We are not in a hurry to move.
Most of us are waiting for the trial of our comrades who got arrested for occupying Syntagma. After that, there are no limits, no borders.
North, East, South, West. Some of us want to go cycling to France through the Balcans, or hitch hiking through Iran to China, or sailing to Alexandria, or flying back to Spain to occupy Plaça Catalunya, or the Puerta del Sol. The sense of freedom is overwhelming.
It’s too much. I have to sit down for a moment. I want a sofa, a pile of straw, a hammock, or why not? – a real bed! Before I do anything, I need time to reflect. This is already the beginning of another story. The first year is over. We were a wave, and now we are backwash on the beach.
So I ask myself, what on earth happened this past year? The last thing I remember is that I had embarked on a quiet life as a goat shepherd in Andalusia, which I combined with a translation assignment from a Dutch editor. I was living the rhythm of the season on the land, I was learning to make cheese.
Then it started. We all called it a revolution.
When I came out of the metro station and on to the Puerta del Sol on May 21 at dawn, it was reflection day before the local elections. There were hundreds of people camping out on the public square, demanding direct democracy and a whole lot more.
This wasn’t just going on in Madrid, but all over the country. It was spreading over other nations, over other continents.
There was no central organisation, it had come as a complete surprise to everyone, and I found myself right in the middle of it. I had to stay, I had to be part of this. I felt the pulse of history.
When I sat down in the tent of the Communications commission under the backside of the equestrian statue in Puerta del Sol, I was pretty sure that it could take some time before I would go back to being a shepherd.
Now I’m here in the squat in Exarchia with my revolutionary brothers and sisters. I occupy the sofa, I’m not planning to move, and for the moment I only recall isolated images of last year.
The siege of parliament and the bowl of salad floating over the crowd. The drums of the Basque column arriving in Segovia. The advance to Paris and the surprise assembly on Place de la Bourse. The dice wars in Revolutionary Headquarters Brussels. The occupied Christmas tree on St. Peter’s square in Rome. The snow in Naples. The phantom village in the Apennine mountains. The shores of Greece. The alleys of Agrinio.
And most of all, the people.
I have started to forget their names by the dozens, but I recall the faces. Hundreds, thousands probably. All over the world we were millions. This was the year of the people. This was the year of Sol, the rising sun.
I have followed the events daily from as close by as I possibly could without losing focus. I rode the wave of this movement from the magic start in Puerta del Sol, all through Europe on foot to Brussels and Athens. And I’m happy that I did. The amount of things I witnessed and experienced was more than enough to fill a lifetime.
I leave this account. It’s jotted down the way it came. It wasn’t written from the perspective of a journalist or a historian. I didn’t try to be objective, I couldn’t. I’m a revolutionary, and I’m a narrator. I wrote this story to capture the spirit of the moment, day after day. And it turned out to be more than just one kind of story.
It’s the chronicle of a utopian village in the center of Madrid. It’s a revolutionary manifesto. It’s an adventure tale, complete with sequel. It’s a sociological study into human interaction and self organisation. It’s an anthropological study into the functioning of an urban nomadic tribe. It’s a practical guide to assemblary politics and manipulation. It’s a travel account through time and space. Occasionally, it carries hints of mystery and fairytale.
We sit on the sofa in Exarchia. It’s over. But we can just keep on going if we want to. No destination on earth is too far to get there on foot.
We could also go home, back to reality.
“Yes, as in working fixed hours to pay for a rent or a mortgage.”
“Do you want to go back to that after all that has happened?”
It’s the big question that has been bothering every one of us. And most of us know that it’s impossible. We cannot go back to reality. Not until we give shape to reality ourselves.
This ends my account of the march and the first year of revolution. I hope to put it up soon in a chronological and more accessible format. In the meantime I will take a break to rest and reflect. I will keep reporting on the movement, and on my adventures for as far as they are of public or revolutionary interest. Thank you all for reading. It has been a pleasure to write.
March to Athens
Day 180-CVI, from Περιστέρι to Αθήνα, 6 km.
Athens, May 5
The tents are packed, the shopping carts are loaded, the sun is high. We have no more time, we have to decide where to go.
The answer was obvious all along. There was only one place where the March to Athens could end. At Syntagma square.
The only real issue was the road that would take us there. We narrowed the options down to two. Either we’d pass by the tourist area of Thisio near the ancient Agora, or by the anarchist quarter of Exarchia.
People’s preferences were clear on this. We would pass by Exarchia. And comrade Mami would take us there. She is in charge of the map.
After Madrid, Paris, Brussels and Rome, the march has reached the outskirts of the European Union. This is Athens.
In all the other capitals the march had entered with defying confidence, but this time we are really far from home, in one of the black holes of the crisis. We heard a lot stories about this city, maybe too many, and you can sense that people are a bit nervous.
We paint our faces, like custom. We prepare to make noise with pots and pans and flutes and drums. And when the time has come, we march for the last time, all together.
Along the way we are escorted by one police car. Before we left, they warned us. “Tonight no free camping.”
We walk and we try to combine our shopping cart parade through the city with a jam session.
In Exarchia we find a burned out Mini and we turn it into a drum and base. It’s like rocking in an urban jungle.
The wildlife of the zone opens windows and eyes to see who has come to disturb its habitat.
It’s the March to Athens. “Hipipipeeeooo!”
On the little square we halt. People are surprised and dressed up in various shades of black. We mix with them and we drink beer. There’s sudden tension because of the tv-camera that came to follow us. The camera soon disappears, and it only returns when we exit the quarter half an hour later.
It’s the last metres to the square, along the artery where the big demonstrations pass. Mami is ahead with the map. She has been very diplomatic in the preparation of our arrival. To avoid troubles with comrade Mimo she wanted the members of the junta to be the first to enter the square.
At the last turn we are welcomed by the heavy cavalry. A batallion of Greek indignados on motorbikes. Their honking and the humming of their motors is the soundtrack of our entry in Syntagma.
Here we are. We drop bags, we park prolleys and we abandon ourselves to collective and individual embraces. This is the final square.
Music, immediately. The beat is good. The square is ours and it feels like home. All ages and styles come by, and many of them keep hanging around. The comrades who organised the agora had put up a little exhibition with fotos from the march, and the locals brought food and drink.
Police didn’t interfere in any way. They simply warned us that we can’t put up our tents.
A welcoming assembly is celebrated. We exchange courtesies and emotions in Greek and English. It’s a satisfying scene on an impressive stage, and it goes on and on. Darkness falls and then comrade Mimo decides that the time is right. He reclaims his position of supreme commander, he puts up his tent and he takes the square.
The generals of the junta gather around him, they toast to victory. Among other marchers, tensions go up. Fear for police is high. If we have to believe what we have heard, they are worse than animals, they are monsters.
Three officers have taken note of the tent. Soon, from the southwest corner, a dozen police start to move up to block the stairs on the side.
Syntagma is like a giant pool. From the upper side it’s easy to control. Even though they are only few, the presence of the officers causes a shock. For many of us, but not for the natives. The Greeks in the square don’t even notice the police. Young boys keep whizzing past the officers on their skateboards with complete disregard.
Mimo lifts his tent. An emergency assembly is called for to decide if we stay, if we move or if we camp.
Many people don’t bother to participate in the assembly. They have scattered in small groups on the various lawns to enjoy the evening. They don’t see what all the trouble is about. After the tent was lifted, the officers had taken off their helmets and stepped back.
The assembly tries to find a difficult consensus between resisting here, heroically, or going elsewhere to try and get rest. Most of the Greeks gave us the advice of going. They wouldn’t stay here with us, but in other places there would be many people to support us.
Field marshall Mimo was soon fed up with it, and he planted his tent, again. This time he wouldn’t lift it. He was going to sleep in his headquarters on Syntagma.
The second time it wasn’t even necessary for the cops to arrive in order to create tension. Nothing was moving, but the cry of “they’re coming” had immediate effect. After that, it was Mami herself, together with the other members of the junta, who forced Mimo out of his tent, and folded it up.
The supreme commander cried treason and hurled threats around, but Mami set him straight with one of her devastating explosions of fury. She is the smallest of us all, but she’s dangerous.
So the field marshall was betrayed by his own generals. Deeply embittered, he picked up his tent, he put me in charge of the square, and he left for the squat in Exarchia.
I walk around. I check the angles of Syntagma. Everything is okay. Little groups of people are smoking weed on the green. Others are passing by. A never-ending assembly is going on. I take a piece of cardboard, I put it next to the fountain in the center of the square, and I sleep. Like the first days in Puerta del Sol.
When I wake up, people are already preparing to retreat. Thirty odd police officers in riot gear entered the square from the side. With or without tents, they want us out.
It would be too much effort to arrest us all, so they just say we have to take our trolleys and they force us down, out of Syntagma.
We put up some lamentful vocal resistance, and we let ourselves be guided down to Monasteraki where there’s the saturday night crowd drinking in the square.
Visually, it’s quite a scene. The cops leave us in an urban desert of graffiti and bankrupcy, where people try to be hip in the bars that remain hip, even if decadence is fashion. The illuminated Acropolis is hovering over it, and we are in the middle, passing through traffic with our trolleys at half past one in the morning.
We move down to Thisio. In the park next to the ancient agora we put up our tents. The march is over, and it has already transformed into something else. But for now we are too tired to realise it.
March to Athens
Day 179-CV, from Δάφνι to Περιστέρι, 6 km.
Peristeri, May 4
In Dafni field marshall Mimo had subtracted a pipe from one of the newcomers, and he used it as the symbol of his position as supreme commander. From early on in the morning he walked around with the pipe and with a mug of whisky, making sure that everything was under control, inciting his generals to do a good job on the route.
The members of the junta elaborated various proposals for our entry into the city. As the day advanced, the supreme commander accepted every one of them as the best option and kept requesting more routes and more whisky.
Within the group, people shrugged their shoulders. But finally Mami decided that she had enough of it, and she seized the map. Initially the field marshall nominated Mami as one of his generals and ordered her to advice him on a new route, but she wouldn’t have anything of it.
“Hijos de puta! We have our entry into Athens to prepare, damned! Time to play is over!”
So the junta came to fall, and it was mamicracia again.
Mami verbally maltreats anyone for any reason all day long. But if you know how to close your ears, you will have no problems with her. She usually goes ahead to prepare the square, and once we arrive she supervises the food collection and distribution. She is a driving force of the group, and she always complains that people don’t appreciate her.
This time she moderated the assembly, something which she hadn’t done before as far as I can remember. She showed a lot of patience. It surprised me, because I didn’t know she had any. But nevertheless it was obvious that the assembly wasn’t going anywhere.
We are one day away from our arrival in Athens and we don’t know yet where we will camp, how we will enter the city, if we pass by Syntagma, etc. After hours of discussion the only thing we tried to decide on was if we should decide right away, or the day after.
Both options were blocked. There is going to be no decision. We are on a ship and we pretend to decide together where we’ll go, but in practice it’s the current that guides us.
Today we march into the city. More people have joined us, from France, from Spain, from Canada. And from Athens, the comrades that took their distance from the attack on José Miguel. Still we aren’t many, just over thirty, but we keep growing.
It takes less than two hours, we walk through the suburb of Chaidari to the central square of Peristeri, guided by one of the locals. Police escort us with one vehicle. When we arrive, they let us take the square without problems.
The square was abbandoned to the hot sun. Only in the early evening it starts to fill with people old and young, and with the participants in the popular assembly of Peristeri. They gave us a warm welcome and they brought us a wide variety of delicious home made food. We improvised a little assembly with them and they shared their knowledge about Athens city center and their advice on where to camp.
It didn’t help us reach a decision however. Until late at night we held an assembly of the march to decide on our primary destination. Syntagma, Exarchia, or Thisio, the site of the ancient agora.
Once again all three options were blocked. Tomorrow we march for the last time, we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know how to get there. But I’m not worried. This is our way of doing things. And besides, Jesus Christ has joined us for the last leg. Now we only need to have faith, and everything is going to be alright.
March to Athens
Day 177-CIII, from Ελευσίνα to Δάφνι, 14 km.
Day 178-CIV, Δαφνί.
Monastery of Dafni, May 3
In Eleusis three of our French comrades took control of the Route commission. I ceded them the maps, I gave them all requested clarifications, and I was actually relieved that it was out of my hands.
We had crossed the hills in two legs to be at Eleusis on the 30th, hoping that our comrades from Athens would be there, so that we could decide on our entry in assembly all together. They didn’t show up, and what’s more, some of them insulted one of our comrades.
‘If you touch one of us, you touch us all,’ is what we sing to police. And the same goes for anyone who betrays us. It left a scar on the march.
In this situation, with no first hand information to go on, one route or another doesn’t matter. It was going to be a surprise for everyone.
There were two important reasons for the junta to stage a coup. One was the desire to take a day off in nature before entering. We didn’t do so in the mountains, so this would be the last opportunity. The other reason was to counter certain ‘manipulations’ of the march by people who had accepted an invitation of the assembly of Peristeri to go there as our last stop, without discussing it in assembly.
The junta consists of comrades Nicolas, Mimo and Ollie, of which Ollie is one of the two persons who did the entire march from Nice. As far as I know they never made the route before.
Yesterday they would have guided us to a lake, or to a place on the coast where we could take a holiday. Nicolas and Mary departed as vanguard in the morning to localise the place. In the afternoon, the group would follow.
It became an infernal day. We marched along the highway under the hot sun to a rendez-vous spot without any shadow. All along the way we had to bear the stench of the refineries. No place here to camp in the green.
Comrade Max, one of the supposed ‘manipulators’, was enraged with the Route commission for not doing a good job, but it would have been hard anyway. They took control of the route at the most difficult moment. I wouldn’t have done a better job myself.
In the end, after frying for hours on the contaminated coast we decided to move inland to the Byzantine monastery of Dafni. We found a park, hills and fresh water. The place is in a gorge along the main artery leading into Athens, and it’s located exactly at the entrance of the metropolis. On the one side, there is nature, on the other side the first houses.
We put up camp, we start cooking and exploring the surroundings. It’s already dark when four jackals on motorbikes arrive. Police. They ask what we’re doing here. We’re camping, we come walking from France and we go to Athens.
They go, and fifteen minutes later they return with reinforcements. Four bikes, eight officers this time. They say it’s illegal to camp, we have to show id, and we have to go immediately.
We explain who we are, and that we have been camping all over Greece.
“This isn’t Greece. This is Athens. Things are different here. You must go, now.”
So we put up our little piece of theater. We call an assembly, and we start with lengthy translations into four different languages to speak about what to do and put their patience to the test. All the while some of us keep calmly discussing with the officers. Police make phone calls to head quarters, and they go.
The tension remained. They could have come back to arrest all of us, and here we don’t have the advantage of the square. No-one will see us. We have to know how to act.
I stand in the middle of camp with comrade Mimo.
Mimo has emerged as the strong man of the junta. He has his history of carjacking, violence and schizophrenic tendencies, but he has joined the revolution with all his inphantile enthusiasm and he was miraculously cured at Easter in the church of Eratini. At this crucial moment, to protect our principles of horizontality, Mimo has adopted the title of ‘supreme commander’ and the rank of field marshall.
Among all the other things, he has also done the military.
As we are waiting for the cops to return, he explains the situation to me.
“We have to retreat to the edge of the forest. We form a first line of strong people. With four or five of them we immobilise one of the flicks and we take his gun. Then we fire a shot in the air. The other cops will be running like rabbits to get reinforcements. At that point we take the hills. We will dominate the battlefield from above, and we will start a guerilla.”
“With one gun?”
“Gun? What gun? No, no, no. We are non violent. Taking the hills would be a strategic error. Look, there are two paths that connect the monastery to the road. When police arrive, we have to secure at least one of them. We would take the highway and block the entrance of all traffic into the city.”
Field Marshall Mimo is in charge of all the maps. To avoid any further manipulations, they are only accessible to the members of the junta. And even though I knew about these ‘manipulations’, Mimo has appointed me his ‘first councillor’ with the rank of general. My task is to advice him on our advance to the center of the city.
It’s going to be fun. But contrary to what I said before, we will not be alone. We don’t need the support of our former vanguard, we have the support of all the Greeks we met along the way. From Preveza, from Agrinio, from Misolonghi, from Patras, from Itea, from Thebes, from Kriekouki. They made us feel at home when we arrived, and after we left they have come to visit us when morale was low, they brought us gas when we couldn’t cook, they brought us food, drink and joy. I’m sure that many of them will come to meet us in Athens.
They are more than comrades, they are friends.
March to Athens
Day 176-CII, Ελευσίνα.
Eleusis, May 1
The day started off great. With a small group we went to see the ancient town of Eleusis. The site was closed for May day, but one of the locals knew how to get in and gave us a clandestine tour.
The site is on a hill in the center of town. It’s an oasis of tranquility. There are bushes, trees, ancient rocks and buzzing insects. We sit down in the shadow, looking out to fair Salamis while our guide tells us about the Mysteries of Eleusis.
This place was probably the most important center of ancient Greek religion. From all over Greece, and from all over the Mediterranean, the faithful came here to be introduced into the secrets of life and resurrection.
Participation in the Mysteries was open to all people, to kings and slaves. But no-one was allowed to reveal anything of the rites, under penalty of death.
It’s a testimony to the force of the Mysteries that they lasted throughout antiquity, and that during all that time nobody ever said a word. Mysteries they were and Mysteries they will remain.
All we know is that they were based on the story of Demeter and Persephone, and infernal Hades.
Demeter was the godess of the grain. She sowed the land and brought abbundance to man kind all year long. Her daughter Persephone was a happy girl who used to trot around in the meadows picking flowers. While doing so, one day she was abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld.
Her mother looked all over for her daughter, she was so sad that she forgot to sow the land, and so great famine was the result.
She finally found her daughter in the abysses of hell, and pretended to take her back up to the light. But Persephone had eaten the fruits of the Underworld, which meant she forever had to stay with Hades.
The case was brought before the Council of the Gods. To satisfy all it was decided that Persephone would spend half the time of the year in the Underworld, and the rest of the year on earth.
During the time she is down with Hades, Demeter weaps her daughter’s absence, and to express her grief, the land doesn’t bear fruit. Then when Persephone returns to the light, her mother’s joy brings spring, and the circle of life starts again.
When we descend back into the modern town of Eleusis, we see that our comrades who went to Athens yesterday night have returned. The expression on their faces spell tempest. Especially José Miguel.
It’s a long story. I can only tell it from the perspective of the march, and it goes something like this.
In Delphi two of our liaison comrades came to say that we shouldn’t expect anything from Athens.
That was fair enough. I’m sure it’s difficult to get something off the ground in Athens, so I didn’t blame them.
But even with no agora at all I was convinced that they would give us all possible support for our entry in Athens. It turned out that I was wrong.
We would have expected them to be at Eleusis yesterday and today, to share with us all useful information on the entry into the metropolis and the space where to camp. We shouldn’t even have to ask for that. But we did. I sent a message, strongly urging them to be here with details on various specific matters, especially the existence of a plan B in case our entry turns into a full scale catastrophe.
The answer came soon. It said more or less to fuck off. There is no plan B, there is no plan A. There is no nothing.
They have given up. It seems the only person who keeps on trying to make something out of this damned Agora, with unabiding revolutionary spirit, is comrade Marianne.
So while people are dropping in one by one from all over Europe and Greece to join us, the only ones we’re missing are the people of our own vanguard in Athens, a 30 minute bus ride away.
I was deeply disappointed. But the worst was still to come. This afternoon, José Miguel, Chino, Mami and others who were there told me what happened in Athens yesterday evening.
Maybe it’s the oppressing atmosphere of the big city, maybe it’s the continuous and intimidating police presence, maybe it’s simply contagious paranoia, but as I understand it, our comrades in Athens have gone out of their mind.
A small scale event was organised in the anarchist quarter of Exarchia to support the agora. Upon arrival comrade Chino was welcomed by someone from Spain he didn’t even know. “You have a problem. Because your friend is with the police.” He indicated José Miguel.
The guy was lucky that Chino didn’t chop him up. But they were serious. They asked José Miguel for his identification. I repeat: they asked José Miguel for his identification.
Usually only police themselves ask for ID.
That was the end of it. We are alone. With this gesture, our former vanguard in Athens hasn’t only insulted José Miguel, but also Max, Nicholas, myself, and pretty much the entire march.
On the other hand, maybe they are right. Maybe police did come to José Miguel to say to him: “Listen, why don’t you go walking along with these hippies and try to speak to people about self determination and revolution, try to organise popular assemblies, try to raise moral when people are down, and for heaven’s sake make sure you always leave a clean square and a good image. If you do so, you be will doing us, the police, a great favour.”
Maybe this is the truth, but I have a very hard time to believe it.
Not only José Miguel was suspected of infiltration and manipulation. The names of comrade Leonidas and myself were mentioned as well.
During the march, Leonidas has been our liaison comrade with popular movements of the lands we crossed, most notably the No-Tav rebels in Italy. He speaks good Greek, and he did his best to make use of it by trying to establish a connection with the locals.
As for me, of course I’m an infiltrado. It’s as obvious as can be. I’m spewing information almost every day. All the shit is out in the open. If police want to know anything at all about our march, they read my blog.
There are many more things I didn’t talk about. Maybe I can sell all that info to the Mossad, or the CIA, or MI5, and finally make a profit out of all this marching and writing. But the sad fact of the matter is that no-one would buy…
If we are really convinced that police would infiltrate a band of hippie gipsies or a bunch of frustrated foreigners in a squat in Athens, then we are thinking much too highly of ourselves and our revolutionary importance. And if we let this conviction influence our behaviour, then we are just plain paranoid.
So that’s the welcome we got from our own comrades after six months of marching. A stab in the back.
I sit under a tree on the hilltop of old Eleusis, and I think back to the early days of the revolution in Puerta del Sol. It was all a big cloud of love. Nobody did anything for him- or herself, we all worked together for the common good, and it made everyone incredibly happy. Those first few weeks were spent in a state of collective revolutionary drunkenness.
It was magic, and I went along with it completely. Only in a few rare occasions I had a moment of clarity, and I thought: ‘This can’t last. Every revolution has its life cycle. I wonder when this one will begin to degenerate by itself.’
In our case, I fear it has begun.