In March to Athens on 6 March 2012 at 19:18
Day 120-XLVI, from Irsina to Gravina in Puglia, 20 km.
Gravina in Puglia, March 6
It was good to be out in the countryside for a day, with no noise around us, just goats and wide open space.
Yesterday we marched on Irsina. It’s a peculiar place, a dying village with two very distinct faces. When you arrive on top of the hill you have the old centre to your right. You will hardly encounter a living soul there. On your left there’s the new centre, where you will find what’s left of village life.
It starts to rain when we’re about to take the square, but local sympathisers help us find shelter in the form of the local sports centre. Later on they come by and bring us wine. One of them is a former councillor for the communist party. He is young, not older than me, but he recalls with the typical nostalgia of a communist that Irsina used to be the red beating heart of Basilicata.
Those times are fading. The proletariate of Irsina was mainly made up of farmers. But with the industrialisation of agriculture, they left. The town used to have more than ten thousand citizens. Now there are little over three thousand, mainly old folks.
The others have emigrated, almost all of them to Sassuolo near Modena. There are now more people from Irsina living in Sassuolo than in Irsina itself. This is typical for many villages. Once a small nucleus has settled in the north, the rest follows.
Our sympathiser went up to live in Sassuolo as well. As a former councillor he gives us a little insight in Italian politics.
In general there are no real divisions. Almost everyone has surrendered to neoliberalism. Left and right have no problem to sell out public utilities to private enterprises. But when it comes to the past, people are ready to take to the barricades. In Sassuolo for example, a street had to be named after an obscure preacher, or a partisan, or an otherwise controversial figure. It led to heavy discussions, accusations and open warfare in townhall.
Today we descend further. We arrive in the green foothills, harbinger of the fertile plains of Apulia. The town is called Gravina, and you immediately feel that things are starting to change. We are emerging from the wilderness. We are once again on the treshold of civilization.
In the square we have an encounter with police. They are very polite, but they make the mistake of asking for ID. We refuse as usual. And when they say that we need a permit to camp, some of us start to laugh. The authorities try to convince us for a while, but when the entire group has arrived they give up. What amazes me most is the complete lack of communication between the police forces of the towns and villages in the region. Here in Gravina, they had no idea who we were, what we’re doing, where we’re from etc. You would think that someone would inform the next village about us, but no. The authorities might present themselves as a monolith, but behind the façade, their organisation is worse than our own.
The outside pressure starts to become pretty annoying. Some of the people who want us to be in Athens on April 28 have marched with us. They know how people reason here. If you are not walking, and you want to impose a date of arrival on those who are, then you will have but one response. The middle finger.
Our people in Athens wanted a date. Now they have one. I’m really sorry that they didn’t accept it, or showed a bit more of tact in negotiating an alternative.
As for me personally, I have my hopes set on the great demonstration of May 12, and not so much on Agora Athens. I’ve seen Agora Brussels and Agora Rome, and it wasn’t like people from other countries came to participate in large numbers, or that we produced something memorable. We were a couple of dozen, we all knew each other, and we organised our assemblies mainly for ourselves.
In my view, the march is much more important than the agora. The march reaches many people every day, in places that wouldn’t normally be touched by revolutionary fever. The view of us, pushing our shopping carts through the streets and camping on the squares in the cold is much more eloquent than all the words you can dedicate to a better world in a thematical assembly.