In March on Brussels on 17 September 2011 at 23:59
Day 54 of the March on Brussels. From Bagneux, 7 km.
The evening before we marched into Paris was like a high school reunion party. Under a dome of blue lights our camp was invaded by familiar faces. Almost all of them were people who participated in the earlier stages of the march, but who couldn’t come along because of personal or professional obligations. “We’ll meet you in Paris”, they said. And here they are. Our march is complete.
At breakfast one of our comrades went around painting red hearts on people’s hands, to be waved at bystanders and police. Immediately, a counter alternative was born. The skulls. To differentiate themselves from the love-peace-and-harmony faction, other people started painting skulls and bones on the palms of their hands. There was also an ‘Italian’ with us, who carried both symbols, just to be sure. All the adherences have been diligently noted by the Intelligence commission.
It’s obvious, playfullness has returned to our group. We were longing to have fun with each other after long days and weeks of problems and conflict. We take the streets with flags and banners. This is the great day. We walk down boulevards until we encounter a sign that says ‘Paris’. Photo opportunity.
Just outside the Cité Universitaire we join up with the Mediterranean March and we hold an enormous collective embrace in the middle of the street. Next thing we have to do is organise today’s demonstration. It’s amazing. In the days and weeks before, it had been impossible to coordinate anything, but now that we’re together under direct pressure of time, everything works out. In a quick internal assembly the ideas are collected. Working groups are created immediately. A list of necessities is drawn up, and all things appear out of nowhere. While some comrades are preparing lunch, the others are at work making masks, signs, banners, flags. The scene is invaded by armies of photographers and cameramen.
According to schedule we should have been under way at three to be at the Bastille at six. But we’re Spanish, we take our time. We depart at four and in the end we arrive at the Bastille at nine.
All in all the demonstration was a good one. It wasn’t oceanic, but we were neither just a handful of people. We make a lot of noise. We wave our banners, and every once in a while, small units of four or five indignados detach themselves from the parade to perform the actions we planned. Tapping bank windows and cash dispensers with duck tape, changing the names of the streets with cardboard signs and covering walls and streets with slogans in chalk.
The police is nervous. They make the big mistake of trying to protect some of the banks. Immediately the indignados are all over them. It makes for a great photo opportunity. When the police officers start running towards the next bank, a group of indignados runs along, shouting and screaming like indian warriors, overtaking them, and lining up to protect to next bank from police.
So yes, playfulness has returned, also in the parade. We have reached Paris, and the route is marked by names that resonate centuries of history. Le ‘Luxembourg’, the monumental seat of the French Directory after the revolution of 1789, the Sorbonne and the Quartier Latin, which have been barricaded many times, most recently in May 1968. Now, just like the rest of the center of Paris, the neighbourhood has become horribly bourgeois. We cross the Seine, we sit in front of the Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité. On the other side of the river we arrive at the Hôtel de Ville. Once it was the seat of the Paris Commune, now the square has been prostituted to host a commercial event promoting the NBA.
While we’re advancing towards the Bank of France, voices reach the head of the march. “They have arrested someone! Come one!” Everybody turns around. The whole march gathers in front of the police vans. People sit down and start to shout. “Let our comrade go! Let our comrade go!” Five minutes, and he’s free. Everyone cheers. The march can go on.
We arrive at the Bank of France. “Coupables! Coupables!” we are shouting while signs are being attached to the walls and the name of the road is changed into ‘Avenue de la Democratie’.
It’s getting dark. We are already hours late. “To the Bastille! To the Bastille!” people say. It sounds like a battle cry. And so off we go, singing. “Paris, rise up! Paris, rise up!” I’m happy to witness this, I would never have thought. But then, it starts to rain.
When we arrive at the Bastille, it’s dark and the rain is pouring down. The police presence is massive. Once we have all arrived on the square the cordon slowly starts to straighten like a belt. In the end we are surrounded, a reduced group of soaked indignados on the pavement of the Bastille. When we try to sit down, the police charge immediately, they start to tear us away.
Welcome to Paris. Chaos is complete. People are wet, tired and hungry. After various hours of apathy, some food supplies are allowed to enter the square. The rain has stopped. But the organisation of a place to camp or to sleep is zero. The Paris indignados have let us down. They knew that police would be implacable. And they haven’t prepared any plan B, C or D. They left us catch a cold on the pavement until someone turned up with the possibility to sleep in a sports hall in the suburbs.
Shivering we march off in tactical retreat. We invade the metro and take the last train to Champigny. But that isn’t the end of it. At the village square we are once again surrounded by thirty police officers, many of them in hooligan outfit. They won’t let us go anywhere until someone from the mayor’s office confirms them that we have authorisation to sleep in the sports center.
Finally, in the early hours, authorisation arrives, and we can officially go to sleep. We learned that Paris is different from the rest of France, and we learned it the hard way. Don’t think that you can occupy a public space as a citizen. You have to be a registered trademark to do that, and you have to pay. If you do so, you can even put up your tents in front of city hall.