Poitiers, September 4
Day 41 of the March on Brussels. From La Ferrière-Airoux, 34 km.
There is no feasible alternative over the small roads this time, we march straight to Poitiers. I walk along with comrade Abdullah, the old man with the grooved face and the long white hair. He has nominated himself the ‘Analysis commission’.
“We are going to take Poitiers”, he says, “and this time we’re not going to turn back.”
I look at him from the side, and I begin to suspect that he is lying about his age.
The mayor's house of Smarves
At Poitiers, in the eigth century, the muslim advance was brought to a halt by a christian army under Charles, ‘the Hammer’. Abdullah sighs. “The Arab intellectuals were very disappointed that civilization hadn’t advanced any further.”
He speaks out of experience, I know it. So I ask, “civilization?”
He starts to speak about Moses as if they had been brothers in arms. “Moses, for the jews, signified freedom. Jesus brought the message of brotherly love, and Mohammed gave people a social structure. Take away the religion, and that is what is left, the social structure.”
Catholic priests preached the future kingdom of heaven, and that way they more or less justified the misery on earth. European society at the time was based on the exploitation of the farmers by noble warlords.
The muslim society was based on families and clans, Abdullah explains. Money was a means and not an end. Demanding interest on a loan was forbidden and the price of bread was fixed. It was a sacred obligation for every muslim to open his door and to feed people who were in need. Rich people were not only celebrated for their succes, but also judged on their gifts in charity. If they didn’t they were considered social outcasts, however rich they were.
The land was divided among big estates and small farms. A landless farmer could offer his work to a landowner and take care of a cow or a goat. The milk and the offspring would be shared equally. After years a farm boy could have his private herd and settle on a piece of land of his own.
Most notably, while Europe was in the darkest of the dark ages, the muslim society stimulated research and speculation. They read Aristoteles while the European nobles boasted about their ignorance as if it were a virtue.
A French village
Just outside of Poitiers we are welcomed by groups of local indignados. They point us the road through the forest which will lead us to the old city along the river.
I like the city from the start. It’s like a big big village. The houses have an air of real old, not just renovated old. The medieval streets invite you to lose yourself deep in the entrails of the city.
When we come out into the open we stand next to the Notre Dame du Marché, our Lady of the Market. There are small groups of locals observing our travelling tribe and waiting for the assembly. They are most hospitable. They come to offer shopping bags full of food and coffee to the kitchen.
Our Lady of the Market
As I prepare to look for internet to send my daily communication, comrade Roberto comes by to speak to me in a conspiratory tone. “Have you heard the story of the showers?”
No, I didn’t, so he explains. Everything was already settled. On a secret mission, comrade Roberto had gone ahead to Poitiers the other day, he had pretended to be a pilgrim and got access to the local monastery. Today, he has been shipping people there back and forth in groups of five, to take a shower. “It’s a risk,” he says. “Just be quiet, and follow me.”
So there we go, off to take the monastery of Poitiers under the cover of darkness…
Scenes from an assembly in Poitiers
Colour projection on the church
“We are all Individuals!” In March on Brussels on 5 September 2011 at 22:13
Naintré, September 5
Day 42 of the March on Brussels. From Poitiers, 26 km.
View from my tent this morning
Autumn is approaching, and for us, people marching North, it’s approaching twice as fast. We start to notice it, the nights are becoming colder and our daily rhythm is changing.
It’s no longer reasonable for us to aim at getting up at six. People are usually on their feet around seven thirty, and we start to march between eight thirty and nine. Also, we have to schedule our assemblies earlier than we used to, in order for them to finish before nightfall.
In the meantime, we can do little else but march.
Minaret of the mosque in Poitiers
'Behind the wall'
Today, again, I rebelled against the official route. The road was too big on the map, and there was a small parallel route which followed the river. This time, not surprisingly, a group of about ten people followed me, blindly trusting my navigational skills. They were very happy with my guide through the small villages along the water. Only during the last ten kilometres or so, people became grumpy with me, because the road was too long.
“It’s because I don’t have the faintest idea where we are or where we’re going.” With a straight face. But they didn’t believe me.
Castle near Poitiers
Our expedition is just over half way, and I start to notice signs of exhaustion. I also have the idea that the social structure of our tribe is taking a more static form by the day. People know each other more or less and they have developed certain sympathies or antipathies. On the base of that, little groups have formed. And because the internal assembly is neither held regularly, nor very effective even if things are decided, the organisation comes down to the interaction of all different persons or groups, or the lack of it.
This is not necessarily negative. We are all individuals. And that’s how it should be. But with a heavy daily routine, recurring frictions and still a long way to go, people can get irritable. This can lead to a kind of laissez-fare where we confide in things to go ahead, without us as individuals being prepared to take an extra step for the benefit of the group.
On the top of that the white van has broken down. “It’s a complete disaster”, says comrade Alexis. I have my doubts, because we’re still here, and we will reach Brussels on foot, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the common goal that unites us. But the coming days are going to be critical for the logistical support team, to see if we can keep on going as before, or if we have load the kitchen and the bags on our shoulders.
Statue in Naintré
Monsieur le maire in popular assembly
While on the one hand we are faced with all our daily social and practical problems, the popular interest and support for our march keeps growing. In the small town where we arrived, a lot of mainly middle aged locals took part in our assembly. For the first time the mayor of a village sat down in our circle, beneath the banner which incites the peoples of Europe to rise up. It’s not completely illogical, because it’s mainly these villages in decline which have a lot to gain from a citizens’ revolution.
But also in the assembly political differences within our group keep surfacing. You have the partisans of horizontal assemblyism. They stress the fact that the 15M movement is open to private citizens and not linked to political parties, workers’ unions or associations of any kind. There are comrades who look for cooperation on the base of common objectives, and there are others who mainly speak about the love-peace-and-harmony side of the movement.
The great challenge of anarchism is to make sure that every single member of society can do his or her own thing, and to make it work out for all. We can do that, because we are good people, and we are conscient of the fact that as humans we have many things, the most important things, in common.