[Spanish translation here]
June 19 Istanbul, 1248 hrs
The manhunt continues. Yesterday somewhere between 90 and 400 people were arrested. As a result and as a precaution we abandoned our cove near Taksim Square and we are now in hiding.
The government obviously has no idea how to handle the uprising. They tried brutal repression. They brought out the National Guard, they are making massive arrests, they menace to bring in the army and declare martial law. All to no avail. The resistance is spreading like wildfire. After the eviction of Gezi Park, popular assemblies are popping up everywhere and multiplying by the day.
Yesterday, the Beşiktaş Assembly in Abbasaga park tripled its amount of participants. In total there were ten popular assemblies going on in Istanbul alone. There was at least one in Izmir that we know of. Most if not all of them are adopting the same hand signals as the Spanish Assemblies.
These meetings have nothing to do with Taksim Solidarity any more. They are spontaneous initiatives by local people who are fed up with Erdogan’s disregard for the Turkish citizens, their rights and freedoms, their history, beliefs and traditions.
As GlobalRevolution team we covered the assembly in Kadıköy on the Asian side. Two years ago, in Puerta del Sol, we were the International Brigade. Here we are known as the Spanish Brigade, even though there is only one Spanish person among us. And he went to cover the meeting in Beşiktaş. On the way down to the assembly, in Üsküdar district, people are doing their daily pot and pan bashing at dusk, like the one I witnessed in Mecidiyeköy the other day. Bear in mind that Üsküdar is a predominantly muslem district of the city.
We arrive in Kadıköy, and truly, I couldn’t believe this was happening. Well over two thousand people were gathered on the green, to express their anger with the government’s eviction of Gezi, and to share their hope for a better Turkey. Like anywhere else, it was a cross section of the population, which included all races and creeds.
“Once these assemblies get started, you can’t stop them,” Jack says. “This is going to be checkmate.”
There is a sense of euphoria in the air, the happiness people experience when the artificial walls of society are being torn down. We are all one. And it’s true what they say. After Gezi, nothing will ever be the same.
The assembly abruptly ends when the sprinklers go on. People run for cover, they giggle and reunite in small groups to discuss their organization, their coverage, their goals and demands.
We head home. At the bull statue in central Kadıköy we experience another of those beautiful emotional moments that characterise revolutionary times. A dozen people are standing silently in protest, some holding Turkish flags, some holding images of Atatürk, some simply reading a book. People from the neighbourhood bring them supplies. Someone lifts a bottle of water to their lips. Passers by are applauding, cars are honking. This is happening all through the country. At the moment, hundreds of people are standing in Taksim.
To quell all this, the ruling party is trying to adopt the Deviated Secret Services Act (DSSA). This law would allow Turkish intelligence to detain or eliminate people inside and outside the country without any control from legal authorities, in case of an ‘internal threat’. Even if they misuse their power they can only be judged by special tribunals under special laws, and only with the consent of the prime minister. The Intelligence Agency responds directly to Erdogan.
We are considering to get the hell out of this country at this point. But then again, it’s just about to get interesting. There will be at least 17 assemblies in Istanbul tonight. Who knows how many there will be in the rest of the country.
And even if we get out, it will be the same. Gezi Park is everywhere. By now, we are Brazil, we are Bulgaria, we are Bosnia. Soon we will be Egypt, Indonesia, Argentina, the United States of America.
The authorities still don’t understand what’s happening. They look for leaders, people to corrupt or to eliminate. But there are none. We are not an organisation, we are a world wide web. We are the people on the threshold of changing times.
Madrid. November 5, 2012.
Over twenty years ago, CNN brought us live war in the living room. And not just war, they brought every kind of live news, from all corners of the globe. Television had turned into a real time ‘window on the world’.
Back then, it was amazing. But to make it possible, CNN had to maintain an army of reporters, cameramen, editors and additional crew, working on different news desks in different countries. It was still Internet prehistory, and to lighten up the window with news was a very costly operation.
Now, November 2012, anyone, anywhere, can create CNN on his or her laptop. All you need is a decent Internet connection. The content won’t be provided by professional reporters or cameramen, but by the people themselves.
In occasion of Agora 99 we are launching ‘Occupy the Comms’, the ultimate toolkit for popular news reporting.
Occupy the Comms has been developed over the past five months by a dozen people in New York, California, Brussels, France, Madrid and elsewhere. The beta version has been online for a few weeks.
So what is Occupy the Comms?
In the first place, it’s a statement. The commons belong to everybody. You cannot occupy them. The only thing you can do is make them available, to all, as a means to cover the news and to spread it.
For the last decade and a half, step by step, Internet has offered people all the necessary tools to report on the news themselves. First came weblogs, then came photo and video sharing, then social networking greatly enhanced the quick exchange of information. The latest development has been live stream, the opportunity to broadcast video directly from your mobile phone.
Occupy the Comms is the next step in this evolution. It brings everything together. It allows everyone to participate in a horizontal way. And there’s no catch. Money is not an issue.
In short OtC works on three different levels. The first level is real time news, the second is editing, the third is all-round broadcasting.
The site is structured around groups. You create a group for a certain event. Automated bots can scan the Internet for all content related to that event, like live streams. The users watching those streams can collaborate by creating a pad that indexes what happens at what time and what additional information like photos, tweets and blog posts is available.
On the second level, contributors from around the world can use the primary information to create videos or articles that capture the event from any perspective in word and image. The site features a chat which enables online editors to work together on a project, to divide the tasks, and to minimise the time necessary to finish it.
On the third level, streams and edited content can be broadcast and mixed on specific channels like GlobalRevolution.TV, or any other channel you want to create yourself. Aside from those, they can be distributed through regular outlets like YouTube and Vimeo.
These are the basics. There are even more interesting features which make OtC a formidable weapon of 21st century news reporting.
For one, participation is completely anonymous, if desired. You don’t need a valid email to sign up. A fake one will do. You will not be asked to confirm. All communication is encrypted and will be automatically deleted after an hour. For two, a special application has been developed which anonymises the streamer. He or she will be known only by username. This will ensure the safety of people who are reporting from particularly repressive societies, where news casting is a dangerous activity. For three, the application features direct anonymous group chat from mobile phones. This will allow people not only to coordinate their coverage, but also to prepare and execute specific actions.
In many countries, journalists get threatened, molested or even killed every day, because their reports embarrass the powers that be. Through Occupy the Comms it’s no longer necessary for people to risk their lives to expose the truth.
The most powerful tool of contemporary media is live streaming. It’s still a very recent technology, we have only just started to understand the way it works and the limitless possibilities it creates. Technologically we are already able to live stream HD quality video, capable of matching professional broadcasting. The next step is to package it in a way that can rival any existing television station, and that can break the stranglehold of authorities and corporations on the dissemination of news.
Occupy the Comms creates the potential for popular media to compete with corporate media, and eventually to obliterate them. Corporate media can be made irrelevant by a joint popular effort in the same way that Wikipedia has made the Encyclopaedia Britannica and every other authority-based knowledge repository practically obsolete.
The reasons why this is possible are few and simple. First, we are omnipresent. At the moment there are almost a thousand streamers covering worldwide resistance. This number will keep growing fast. Streamers will invariably get to the scene before their professional colleagues will. Second, and most important, we have an immeasurable economic advantage. Because we don’t need to pay an army of journalists, we are completely cost effective. And third, we will be able to bring the news much quicker than any traditional news outlet. Streams will be live, and collaboratively edited videos or articles can be up in a matter of hours, sometimes even minutes. Once they go viral, we will reach millions of people, and we will ‘define the story’. No corporate medium will be able to manipulate the truth without being exposed almost instantaneously.
The Internet is reaching maturity. We are becoming aware of the full impact this will have, not just on the way we communicate, but also on the very structure of our society.
The nature of Internet calls for a society based on unity, equality and collaboration. It has already cancelled out borders, it has opened the doors to universal knowledge, and it is exposing corruption, manipulation, and oppression. In every sense it is causing a revolution.
Many of the features of OtC have been available for some time, thanks to websites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Flickr etc. But all of these platforms have a fundamental flaw. They are hierarchical corporate entities. They will sell out data for profit. They will forcefully or voluntarily collaborate with authorities. They will extradite their users to any malevolent government in order to protect themselves, their shareholders, their revenues.
Occupy the Comms is not an organisation, it doesn’t have a board, it doesn’t serve any shareholders. It doesn’t respond to any authority. It’s a toolbox for people, and nothing else.
Obviously this is an enormous potential danger for anyone interested in maintaining the status quo. Powerful people may seek to destroy it. For this reason, most of the effort in developing OtC was spent on security.
The physical machine itself is invisible. It doesn’t have an IP address. It serves to run various virtual machines which host the content and the communications. There is a backup server in a safe country. Neither of the physical machines are located in the United States.
Instant torrents will be created for all the important content which is uploaded. In case of cyberattack, it can easily be mirrored on dozens of other sites. OtC is like a mythological creature. You can cut off its head, but then ten new heads will sprout up on the spot.
The communications part is not yet completely secure. Last month, Anonymous was asked to scan it for holes, and they found more than one. These issues are being addressed. They will be solved. Once they are, it will be extremely hard for even the most advanced intelligence agency to lay their hands on the communications. They would have to freeze the memory of the physical machine. And even if they did, they would have nothing more than a heap of encrypted data, which in general will not be linked to any personal identity, and which will only be related to the last hour of activity.
During the past few weeks I have had the privilege to witness the development of this ground breaking tool. The backbone of the project was created by comrade ‘Jack’, the man who started the Audiovisual commissions of Acampada Sol and Occupy Wall Street, and who continues to play a vital role in training people in the art of tactical media. He is a Russian-born mathematician who used to work as a Wall Street banker. In the 1990s he was among those who created the infamous collateralised debt obligations. “Dude, I was one of the people who built the bomb that blew up the economy.”
With Occupy the Comms, he has created a device that is potentially even more devastating.
OtC was built specifically for tactical media purposes, but its uses go far beyond the coverage of news. Collaborative art, science and entertainment projects are next. With all visual content generated around the world, and the evolving communications possibilities, you will soon be able to make feature length movies and documentaries on practically everything, at home, at zero cost.
Still, Occupy the Comms is very primitive. For the moment it even lacks an accessible, intuitive interface. But appearance is beside the point. Contrary to any institution, OtC doesn’t aim to last. People will create better technology to take its place in the years to come. What counts is that collaborative efforts can cover reality in all its dimensions. They can change our views, and in doing so they can change the world.
The tools to make it happen are already available. The revolution is already here. All you need to do, is plug in, and play the game.
Check out the OtC Manual
There are two kinds of citizens in Europe. Human beings, and ‘PIGS’. The human beings are hard working people who pay their dues, and who in turn are entitled to human rights. The pigs on the other hand can have their wages and pensions cut by half and have their education, health and future auctioned off to the lowest bidder. Not only, as far as the European Commission is concerned, they don’t even have a basic right to drinking water any more.
I had to look really hard to find information on this, because apparently none of the major papers thought it was news. Despite the European Commission’s official neutral stance on the subject, the troika is pushing for privatisation of drinking water as a condition for countries to be bailed out. The North Central Pennsylvania Gazette reported on it, aside from consumer protection groups like Food and Water Watch and the Corporate Europe Observatory.
Corporate lobbies have been campaigning for decades to privatise everything privatisable, including water. Their justification has always been that privatisation would lead to better quality services at lower prices. In case of natural monopolies, the practice has always turned out to be the complete opposite. So now they are targeting public utilities in bankrupt countries, arguing that privatisation (at ridiculously low prices) is necessary, because otherwise the government won’t have any money for salaries and pensions.
In March of this year a case study on austerity and privatisation in Europe was published. It was entitled ‘Our Right to Water’, and it was commissioned by Canadian based movement ‘Blue Planet Project’. Not surprisingly, the rapport is far from objective. But it makes for interesting reading, that is, if you like horror stories.
It focuses on the result of (partial) water privatisation in Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain and Bulgaria. It’s the same story over and over again. I’ll give you some highlights.
When the communist regime in Bulgaria fell, the public water system was losing roughly twenty percent of all water in the pipes. At the end of the roaring nineties, through lack of maintenance, this had gone up to about 60%. To get rid of the problem and to make some money on the side, the government sold the Sofia Water Company (Sofijska Voda) in 2000 to ‘United Utilities’, one of the obscure English corporations that popped up after Thatcher’s privatisation orgy of the 1980s.
The price of water in Sofia has more than tripled in a decade, contrary to the promises of the company. Another promise that wasn’t kept was the proposed reduction of water loses from 60 to 25%. As of 2011, the losses in the pipes were still as high as ever. Only in cases of emergency does the company actually invest in maintenance.
Lack of financial transparency, corruption, fraud, and excessive remuneration of the management have been typical of Sofijska Voda in the 2000s. The company’s CEO received a wage of over 400.000 euro annually. Managers would normally make 25.000 euros a month, against average wages in Sofia being around 500 euros.
At the same time the company sued five thousand Bulgarian families, because they were unable to pay their water bill. In early 2012, 370 families were evicted from their homes.
By that time, United Utilities had sold its share in Sofijska Voda to another water vulture, Veolia.
Revenues of United Utilities in 2012 were over 1.5 billion pounds.
In Greece, water has been partially privatised in Thessaloniki and Athens. French multinational Suez took a share in the Thessaloniki aquaduct. Prices have since went up 300%, while the water quality has deteriorated to such a degree that it became a health risk and many people had to resort to bottled water for drinking purposes.
Initially there was a lot resistance against the privatisation among the employees, but when the company announced that they were doubling workers’ salaries, they were happy to drop all their objections. After that, the work force was phased out and reduced, and the bill for the raise in wages was more than paid for by the consumers.
Privatisations of other aquaducts in Greece are under way under pressure from the troika.
In Portugal, authorities have started to concentrate the municipal water companies into large scale national enterprises since the 1990s. It makes it easier for them to be privatised, step by step, starting with concessions for the exploitation of hydrographical basins, river beds, infrastructure etc. At the same time, public drinking fountains have been closed. This villainous practice is common all over southern Europe. During the scorching summers, you will be lucky if you can still find a public fountain that hasn’t run dry.
In Italy, during the 1990s all municipal water suppliers were forced to reorganise as SpA’s (joint stock companies), some of whom would be completely private, others would continue to be publicly owned. In both cases, there was a change in view from water as a public utility and human right, to water as profit. The numbers tell the story. From 1997 to 2006, water prices increased 60 percent, while investments in the aquaducts fell with a whopping 70 percent.
Spain boasts one of the best functioning public water systems of Europe, the Canal Isabel II which supplies Madrid. Destroying something so beautiful is a temptation that no water privateer can resist. And the same goes for all the people in politics who are set to make a good buck out of it. Like they are doing with health care, the government has started to privatise the aquaduct one step at a time, in complete opacity. No-one knows exactly to whom it’s being sold out to, but you can rest assured that the benefits will stay ‘in the family’.
This is the bad news, a very small part of it. But there is also some good news. A year and a half ago, in a referendum that was completely ignored by the media, the Italians voted 96% against privatisation of water (with 57% of the electorate showing up). In 2006, a country with a very particular relationship to water – Holland – has banned privatisation of water by law. Similar legislation was passed in Uruguay. And back in 2000, the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, successfully rose up when the government tried to sell off their water to American multinational Bechtel.
The sad fact is that human rights and freedoms are not forever. They can be sold out. Everything can be sold out, but only if we allow it to happen, only if we don’t fight back. If you allow corporations to treat certain human beings like pigs, then one day soon, you will be treated like a pig as well.
Check out more:
I prefer the barricades. But when all is more or less quiet here in Madrid, then surely something is happening elsewhere.
It’s not easy to get your hands on all the info, not even when you are in the centre of the Global Revolution network like I am. A lot of news doesn’t get out, neither through the conventional channels, nor through our own channels. Take Greece for example. The other day, a hundred odd dockworkers who hadn’t been paid for six months occupied the ministry of defense. They were all arrested. After that, a furious crowd surrounded the headquarters of police. The only written accounts we could found about all this were in Greek.
In the meantime, the Portuguese government has announced new austerity measures and tax increases. Last time they tried to do so, a million people took the streets and made the government swallow the measures.
This time, one of the Portuguese trade unions has called for a general strike on November 14. At the moment, 9pm CET, hundreds of people are gathering at parliament in Lisbon to protest.
In Spain the word ‘decadence’ in relation to the political class has been trending all day long. The Popular Party spokesman accused the judge who acquitted the #25S detainees of being a ‘posh anarchist’. He said he would hold the judge accountable for any aggression that members of the political class might suffer from here on.
That’s it for this brief update. We are having a worldwide conference about October 13, Global Noise, right now. It’s amazing. We have people from France, Spain, Scotland, Netherlands, London, New York. The neurons of the movement are coming together in the virtual space. I hope to see them back on the streets very soon.
At sea, January 8
I left Madrid late at night, I spent two days in Barcelona, and now here I am, at sea. On the starboard side you can see the hazy outlines of Corsica, on the port side you can barely distinguish the coastal range of the Ligurian riviera.
The reason I left is because the revolution in Spain is hibernating. It will flourish again, but I’m not going to wait for it. I want to be where things are happening. And the next stop will be Rome. Yesterday evening the March to Athens arrived there, and on the 15th of January a demonstration is called for. It’s going to be a ‘Carnival of the System’. People are not only going to protest, they intend to show that the emperor wears no clothes.
Two days in Barcelona was just enough to enjoy some of the city’s strokes of beauty. It must be a fabulous place to live, and indeed, the place is inhabitated by people from all over the world. As for the state of the 15M movement, I haven’t noticed anything personally. All I know is what I heard from people I met before.
Catalonia is probably the most advanced region of Spain. It enjoys far reaching autonomy over internal matters. Last June the Catalan parliament was besieged by protesters when heavy austerity measures were voted. Health care spending was hit hardest of all.
As a result of this, numerous community health centres are being closed. According to the newspapers at least two people have died who couldn’t be assisted in time because of the cuts. The first victims of the crisis. It’s outrageous. With all the billions of dollars being used to save banks, there are people left to die for lack of medical personel. And we’re not talking about the third world here, we’re talking about one of the richest regions in Western Europe.
The actions of the 15M in Catalonia focussed a lot on the cutbacks in health care, and have being going on at local level for months. I haven’t got any details. The organisational structure of the movement is based on the neighbourhood assemblies. As I heard, there doesn’t exist a General Assembly in Plaça Catalunya any more.
Now the lights of Barcelona have faded away in the distance for some time already, a bright winter sun has risen over the sea. I love it. The ferryboat is definitely my favourite way of travelling. Nothing compares to these glorious floating hotels.
I sit on the deck and I wonder. About Aeneas and Dido, about Odysseus and Circe. Far far away I see the foggy silhouet of the shore. If I had gone east a month ago, which I was seriously planning to do, I would have gone over land. Nothing wrong with that. Everything has a fourth dimension, and I would have told you about Hannibal’s army marching along the shore from Cartagena and crossing the Alps into Italy with 20.000 soldiers and 39 elephants. Or I would have told you about Napoleon’s legendary first Italian campaign in 1796-97, when the 27 year old general took control of the delapidated Armata d’Italia on the Côte d’Azur, and went on to set the stage for his grand Homeric adventure.
But here on the boat, there’s another story that comes to mind. It started in Genoa, years ago. I was there for a few days and I teamed up with an American student from Yale, to discover the traces of flemish master Peter-Paul Rubens. For me it was just fun, but for my companion it was a very serious task. He got to travel all over the Mediterranean to write a paper about a famous American journalist. It’s one of the advantages of an Ivy League education.
“Who was this journalist?” I asked.
“Mark Twain. Do you know him?”
I did, actually. But I didn’t know anything about his memorable trip to Europe.
From the top of my head it must have been the late 1850s, just before the American Civil War, and in the first stages of the final conquest of the West. A newspaper from New York had organised a voyage by steamer to the Holy Land, calling at all of the major ports of the European shore of the Mediterranean. The American jetset of the day would all be there. They were modern pilgrims searching for their roots, and the young Mark Twain was sent along to document the trip.
His account was published under the title The Innocents Abroad. I laid my hands on a copy, and I was glad that I did. Not only is it one of the most enjoyable travel stories I have ever read, it’s also a priceless description of the time.
Just one example. In Venice, during most of the Venetian Republic, the jews were not allowed to live outside of their ghetto. For everyone to fit in the few guarded blocks of the Canaregio islands, the buildings of the jewish quarter were relatively high, reaching up to seven or eight floors. When Twain passes through the ghetto, he is impressed. Nowhere in America had he ever witnessed such ‘skyscrapers’.
Twain paints his fellow travellers with irony, and makes them look more like modern barbarians than pilgrims. They are so used to look towards the open space and the future that they have difficulty to comprehend and appreciate the past. In a certain sense they are the archetype of the contemporary American tourists who come to do ‘Europe in a week’.
As the pilgrim voyagers peal through history from the Rennaisance and the Middle Ages through Roman and Greek Antiquity, down to the Holy Land, the account of Twain tells you as much about the new world as it does about the old.
We have past Corsica. On the port side you can see the lights of Elba. There is a great story here to be told, but not today. In a few hours I will arrive at Civitavecchia near Rome. From there on, I might go looking for revolution further East.
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.
Madrid, December 23
“Wake up! We’re late! We have to hurry!”
“Huh? What’s going on?”
“Why, it’s Christmas!”
“Relax, Oscar. It’s only the 23rd. Christmas Eve isn’t until tomorrow.”
“That’s what you say. What you obviously don’t know is that good old Santa isn’t always on time.” I’m sitting on the edge of the bed with my shirt inside out, putting on my shoes. “It doesn’t happen very often, I admit it, but some years, Santa comes early. Sometimes he’s already here on the 23rd, or even on the 22nd. He takes care of Christmas in a hurrry and on the evening of the 24th, before people know what’s going on, he’s already back on the North Pole!”
“You’re talking bullshit, Oscar. Like always.”
I’m putting on my coat, my hat. “Oh no. It’s true,” I say. “Santa likes to play with people. Once upon a time he even came to town in the midst of summer. You should have seen him, on the beach in his red coat shouting: ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s Christmas everybody! Right here, right now!’”
“You better believe it. And there’s worse: when Santa gets angry, really angry, there won’t be Christmas at all!” I open the door. “Last time that happened was in 1824, if I remember well,” I stop to think, I look up at the ceiling, “or was it 1828? I don’t know, I should look it up in Wikipedia. Anyway – my voice gets really serious at this point – a year without Christmas! You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
“I thought so!”
I slam the door and I’m on my way.
Once I get to the centre of town I have to wade my way through thousands and thousands of desperate last minute Christmas shoppers. I look at their worried faces. Poor devils, they still have to buy presents for kids, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. And then there’s Christmas dinner. What are they going to make? What about the sauce? I feel sorry for them. But fortunately, there’s hope. In a couple of days it’ll all be over.
When I get to Puerta del Sol, the madness is complete. There’s no way of crossing the square. It’s a sea of lost souls. And in between, there are dozens and dozens of animated characters trying to entertain the crowd. I see Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Christmas outfit, I see the Pink Panther, Super Mario, various captain Jack Sparrows and Spungebobs Squarepants. I see aliens, cowboys and numerous cartoon characters that I don’t even know. ‘Is this Puerta del Sol?’ I ask myself. ‘Whatever happened to the acampada? Whatever happened to the 15M?’
It’s already dark when I finally manage to get to the other side of the square. The 15M has gathered on the Plaza del Carmen. This is where the Christmas Working Group is in assembly. It turns out they have been here for over seven hours to discuss what to do about Christmas.
I spot Santa Claus on the edge of the square. I knew it! He is already here. I walk up to him. “Hey Santa, how’s it going?”
He sighs. “It’s chaos, Oscar,” he says, “I’ve asked a speaking turn this morning, and they still haven’t reached a decision about whether I should be allowed to speak in assembly. Most people are convinced that I’m an infiltrator. That I work for the banks and the state and the financial institutions. They think that Christmas is the quintessential counterrevolutionary holiday, that it’s all about consumerism, and celebrating the status-quo.”
I ask for a speaking turn myself. It’s a miracle. Before the stroke of midnight I convince people that Santa deserves to speak, not as Santa Claus, but as a private citizen.
So when the chimes have sounded twelve times, silence descends upon the square, and Santa Claus steps forward to speak.
“Comrades feminine, and comrades masculine! Please use an inclusive way of speach, mister Claus!” someone yells.
“Ssst!” answers the moderator, “let him speak!”
“Very well,” Santa says, “comrades of all genders, good evening.” He takes a deep breath. “Many of you think that Christmas is all about consumerism. About buying presents. About stuffing yourself all day long without thinking that there are people in need, people who are hungry, not just in far away places you only see on the news, but also right here, in Spain.” Santa pauses, he has got people’s attention. “It’s all true. This is what Christmas has become. A celebration of exuberance. A time for the lonely to feel more lonely than ever, a time for the needy to feel excluded of all the wealth that we as humans have been able to create.
“But there is something more,” he says, “something timeless.” At this point he takes off his beard and his red hat. “Look at me. I’m not Santa Claus. I’m one of you. I work for three euros an hour at the Corte Inglés department store, entertaining shoppers in this silly costume.”
A wave of awe rises up from the crowd. Santa isn’t real after all! Two girls faint on the spot.
“So there’s something more,” Santa says. “You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but if you’re lucky, you can feel it. It’s called the Spirit of Christmas…
“The Spirit of Christmas isn’t about presents and food and loneliness. It’s about being kind, it’s about listening to each other, like you are doing right now. It took you some time, but finally you did decide to let me speak, and that makes me feel happy. I can feel that the spirit is upon us.
“Mind you that this is something extraordinary. The spirit isn’t always here. As a matter of fact, most of the time it’s absent. And although we call it the Spirit of Christmas, it isn’t confined to this particular time of year…
“Knowingly or not, you have carried the Spirit of Christmas with you for a long time. And this year, finally, you have all decided to share it with one and other.” Santa raises his arm. “The spirit was here on the fifteenth of May, when you decided to camp in Puerta del Sol. And ever since, each time you have provided a meal for the hungry, each time you have prevented a family from being evicted, each time you have occupied a home for those who were, each time you gave people a voice in your assemblies and lent your ear to listen to them, the Spirit of Christmas was upon you.
“Now the jolly season has arrived. You haven’t yet changed the world, but you have made a start. Carry on, comrades. Don’t be impatient, and don’t despair. As long as you carry the Spirit of Christmas along with you, and share it with others, you will succeed.”