“This Is What Democracy Looks Like”
During this week at Revolutionary HQ I have gradually moved my sleeping space up the building. From the skybox over the aula magna, to a corner in the library, and finally, on the last night, to the ‘Comisión Me la pela / Me la suda’, home of the Meseta hard core.
The commission had recently transfered its quarters from the third floor to the fifth, because of shit invading the hallway. Comrade Brina called it a ‘problem of convivencia’, people who continue to use the toilets even when they’re out of order. They have been shoveling crap every day, but in the end they gave up and moved away from the center of gravity.
“This building is killing us. You hardly know any of the people you encounter. This is not a community, it’s bloody chaos.”
I too moved up because of the invasion. Graffiti has been appearing since a couple of days. The problem with the drain was never fixed and people finally had to use dry bathrooms in the garden, accessable through the window. In the first few days, much of the electronical equipment had been plundered and interpersonal theft became a common practice.
It’s the other side of the ‘free space’ where no one decides and where no one bears responsability.
The first rumour I heard this morning was that police were going to close the university while everyone would be in the demonstration. As a precaution, many campers picked up their bags and left.
I was a bit disappointed that nobody wanted to defend the free space. But it also meant that all of us were decided to take the streets. We can occupy another headquarters whenever we want to.
The people from the hard core don’t shed a tear for Revolutionary HQ. Faces are flourishing when we walk to Media Center to drop off our bags. We take our time to reunite, and by tradition we’re late. When we walk up to Gare du Nord it seems that no one is there. For a moment, in between the skyscrapers, it appears to me that all this revolution thing has only been a silly dream.
Then we hear the drums.
It’s going on. This is what we have come here for, marching all the way from Spain. Global Revolution Day, October 15. Today we are Brussels, we have to play our part on the world stage.
The vibe of the crowd is good. There are many people. All types, all ages, and many different languages. I see slogans in French, English, Spanish, Dutch, German. These people are citizens of Europe, demonstrating joyfully against the lack of European democracy, right here in the capital of the empire. The sun is giving us a glorious late summer salute.
We go to the Stock Exchange, our first stop. It’s an excellent photographic venue, but this particular place doesn’t count in the world of 21st century capitalism. The real power is down the road, in an anonymous skyscraper near our departure point. It is the headquarters of Euroclear, the ‘bank of the banksters’.
You probably have never heard of this enterprise. That’s because you are part of the 99%. You are not eligible to have an account there. You don’t need to know that they exist and that they shift billions of dollars per day in obscure financial transactions. We circle the skyscrapers, holding hands. One of our comrades had prepared a dossier on Euroclear, which was presented to the press, and flyers to inform the public. This anonymous institution probably knows a lot more about the causes of the crisis than we do.
The crowd moves east, towards the European Quarter. At one of the Dexia offices riot police protects the building after sporadic acts of vandalism. There’s a bit of tension, but soon the march goes peacefully and happily forth.
Police don’t let us pass by the Wetstraat, the Street of the Law, which leads straight to the European roundabout. We are led around the institutions, and at sunset we enter the Jubelpark, right under the triumphant arch of the Belgian military museum. This is public space now. Park regulations are overruled by the people. We make fire, we make music, and we camp.
“Esta noche acampamos! Esta noche acampamos!” It’s the Meseta hard core. Many of us had brought tents, and those are the first to go up. In the meantime sound and internet are being installed near the Media Center van, and food is being prepared on camp fires. We made it. It has become a success. “Abrazo colectivo! Abrazo colectivo!”
“Well over two thousand people,” a police officer reports into his walkie talkie. He and his collegue retreat to the exit. The burgomaster of Brussels had ordered a complete camping ban in the whole city. But police give in, they won’t interfere with us camping tonight.
I walk down to Media Center. The rooms over there are full of people receiving and distributing the news. This is the Brussels information hub of the movement. I see pictures from Japan this morning, from Corea, from India. I see pictures from Puerta del Sol. There are half million people occupying the center of Madrid, my revolutionary home.
I take my tent and my bagpack and I walk back, passing by the red zone for a change. To my right there is the European Council, the legislative. To my left there is the European Commission, the executive. I walk on, past barbed wire barricades, into the park. We camp here in the heart of Europe, in this theatrical scenario. We have achieved something. But only when the live connection starts, I know what it is.
Pictures from someone streaming in Berlin. A group of people is sitting down in front of the Reichstag. The police is trying to arrest them, but they are ignored. This is not television, this is us, broadcasting ourselves. I feel a shiver. History is happening everywhere, right now. We hear that 8000 demonstrators have gathered in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. People are camping.
We switch to New York. There are crowds in Wall Street, there are crowds uptown. Images of Time Square, taken over by the people. “Whose streets?! Our streets!! Whose streets?! Our streets!!”.
I join a group of comrades around a fire. It’s one of those gratifying tribal pleasures. And while we’re there, looking into the flames together we hear the rhythmic sound of the crowd in Times Square chanting, live, “This is what democracy looks like!”
I look up from the fire and I see the arches, and the moon rising. It’s an amazing feeling. We have become citizens of the world.