Paris, September 19
Day 56 of the March on Brussels. Taking the streets.
After a weekend of general apathy, today we finally acted, and it was awesome.
In the morning we managed to unite all three the marches in assembly at Bercy to decide on what to do. It would take all day, I knew that, but something was bound to happen for sure.
Lifting the bike over the metro gates
'Normal people' and indignados at Gare de Lyon
Police have been monitoring us from very close by. They don’t feel at ease as long as we are here. There were seven police vans and about fifty to eighty officers on stand-by in one of the streets near the assembly. There were three more ‘undercover’ cops who listened in on what was discussed, communicating with headquarters through their ear phones. They quickly found out that our assemblies are lengthy and boring. One of them winks the other two. “Coffee?” “Coffee!” And they all walk off into a bar.
Arriving at Bercy
In the afternoon things start to get interesting. We finally decide we’re going to try to camp, all together, somewhere in Paris. Two reconnaissance groups are created under the name ‘Tourist commission’, one for each bank of the Seine. Actually, it’s the Intelligence commission, and we’re going to check out possible places to put up our camp.
Tourism Commission in the newly baptised People's Square
I’m with the Northern Group, exploring the right bank of the river. We only have a couple of hours to play tourists. We send out a small detachment to check the possibilities at the Sacre Coeur, and the rest of us stay close to the Seine. In the end the most panoramic venues are Hôtel de Ville, or straight in front of the Louvre. But for practical reasons we decide on Centre Pompidou. The square is surrounded by tourist bars, there is water and toilets close by and it’s not easy for police vans to arrive on the spot.
At six we’re back. The indignados have their faces painted in warrior colours, and they’re ready to go. The Tourist Commission adopts Pompidou as our primary target. But moments before we march off, comrade Geraldo comes in and changes everything. “We are too many in this group. The news will come out. We have a secret destination ready. Let’s go.”
Hours, days and weeks of planning and assemblying are cancelled as we get moving joyfully and excitedly. Geraldo and me are the only ones who know the destination. I take the map and I plan the route ad hoc. There’s a stir among the police officers, they quickly get on board of the vans to follow us. We have to make sure they won’t guess our objective, so I start planning one diversion after another. It’s a thrilling experience, playing the game in the great city of Paris.
Marching off to the secret camping venue
We cross the Seine, and at the next bridge we cross back again. We walk in the direction of the Bastille and at the first opportunity we turn around, the police vans are lost in traffic as our march returns to the river side. I have it all figured out. We take the bridge to the Île St. Louis, we walk through the streets, cheering. “Nous sommes indignés, indignés, indignés!!”
I have difficulty to realise that this is all true. A happy crowd of indignados is shouting “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!” as I guide them to the square of Notre Dame. Another diversion, the astonished tourists switch the focus of their camera’s from the church to oud parada.
Taking possession of Notre Dame square
We cross the square and turn back to the right. My idea is to head for City Hall, invade the metro and go to Concorde, in order to lose the police vans. At Concorde, instead of getting off and invading the square we would switch metro and burst out in the open again at the École militaire. From there, we would march to the Champ de Mars and camp in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I’m walking ahead with my tourist map, and it all works out well until a police van blocks the bridge and pushes us back. Immediately the festive mood changes. From my experience as a goat sheperd I know that whenever a thunderbolt strikes, the herd turns around and starts to run. People are very similar. Only a couple of dozen indignados keep cool and manage to bring the group together. We walk on. The next bridge is bound to be blocked as well. All plans go out the window, we head to the left bank of the river. From here on, we improvise.
We can go along the Seine, or we can walk on. I study the possibilities and decide on another diversion. We head towards the park of the ‘Luxembourg’. At the first opportunity we turn right onto the Boulevard St. Germain, to the great surprise of the people sitting outside the luxury bars. From here, we go straight ahead. I want to see the Dome des Invalides. I want to salute Napoleon.
We never get there. At the church of St. Germain des Prés a small police force blocks the road. They don’t have backup for the moment. We advance on them, they retreat. To stop us they employ tear gas. And yet again, when people start shouting “Gas! Gas!”, a part of the group turns around and runs.
“Be calm! Regroupez!” But it’s too late. The police quickly divide us, some people get away and the rest of our march is blocked. We sit down as the police vans arrive with reinforcements. and a big bus to round us all up and take us away. We have to gain time. Milk cartons are handed around against the effects of the tear gas. One of us is heavily affected by it, she loses consciousness. While she is treated by our medical comrades, the police officers look on without knowing what to do. In the meantime, the word goes out on the social networks. We have people filming, and some of it goes straight onto the web. A comrade takes the megaphone. “Citizen police officers. Smile, you are live on internet!” Local people are gathering around us, they start shouting in solidarity. The police force has to be divided to keep them at a distance.
Today will be a victory for the movement, we know it. And while we prepare to be taken away, our musical comrades put up one of their fabulous barricade performances.
The commanding officer gives us the possibility to come peacefully. We don’t need a lengthy assembly to decide that we will resist. And so the ‘desalojo’ begins. The soundtrack is great. We have enough people recording the scene. And police allow us to. I can shoot footage from over the shoulders of the officers as they have a tough time dragging people away.
I decide to take out the memory card of my camera, and then it’s my turn. I have the card in my folded hand as they search me. They don’t really care about the material. They just want us out of there and off to the police station as quickly as possible.
The final balance is three wounded and five arrests. But police were relatively polite. When the bus is full, we bang on the small windows, crying ‘Liberté! Liberté!’. Outside a crowd is saluting us with V for victory. Some people try to block the road to prevent the bus from driving off.
At this point, the initial tension is down. It’s like we’re on a school camping trip. “Hail to the busdriver, busdriver man!” We are cheerful when we pass the Bastille and when we hear that in Madrid people are gathering outside of the French embassy.
Group photo in prison
In total about eighty people were arrested. We are too many for one single police station, they divide us between the XI and the XIX arrondisements, up to eight people per cell, for hours and hours while they check our identities one by one. At midnight we’re free.
The rendez-vous point we established was the Bastille. In the early hours small groups of ex-detenidos arrive. It’s an emotional encounter, topped off by heartfelt embraces. Only three police officers look on from a distance. We did a great action today.
We wait and we wait. Only very slowly possibilities are created for people to sleep. I’m amazed that it is so hard to find housing for a group of less than a hundred indignados here in Paris. The organisation of the Paris indignés might not be great, but the ones who are present try to help us as best they can. The hot meal they bring us is exceptional.
Finally, we march off to different places in small units. I end up in the Communications squat. It’s five in the morning, and all of the people who had been filming are wide awake uploading images onto the net. I’m happy to see that the revolution never sleeps.
Late night rendez-vous in Bastille