Day 18 of the March on Brussels. From Leintz Gatzaga, 24 km.
Last night, behind the massive wooden doors of the only tavern in Leintz, we miraculously found a shred of internet, so our Communication team immediately occupied the long tables and filled them with cups of coffee and laptops.
Sporadic information is beginning to arrive, saying we are not alone. There are marches to Brussels under way from various places. Last monday a dozen people left Barcelona. There is said to be a march under way from Valencia as well. They call it ‘the Mediterranean Column’, for it will follow the coast up to Marseilles before turning inland to take the route Napoléon going north. There are also rumours about marches from England and from Italy. Even in Germany they say a march is being planned. I imagine the French High Command is already in a state of alert.
The news from Barcelona is not encouraging. Their march doesn’t have support vehicles, and that makes the walk, the camping, and the food preparation a lot harder. One of our comrades has a car, and together with a veteran from the Northern Column, he doesn’t hesitate. While most people are preparing to go to sleep, they say a quick goodbye, and they are off into the night. To the Barcelona column. “Over there we’re needed more than here.”
The march today was protected by the clouds. We continue our walk down from the highlands, passing in between the hills of Euskadi along a river valley. It’s the natural transit route to the coast, so this is where the roads pass. Along them, all types of industry have sprouted. From mining to manufacturing to transportation. It’s not an enchanting sight, but later I hear there’s an interesting story behind all this industrial activity.
The center of gravity of this zone is the town of Arrasate/Mondragón. It’s the home of the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. All the factories and all other means of production we’ve encountered here are in the hands of the workers. The Mondragón Corporation is active in retail, banking and industrial production of everything from car parts to bikes, to office furniture and elevators. It even has its own university. All decisions regarding the fate of the corporation and the remuneration of its members are taken democratically. Each of the workers/owners has one vote, be it the manager, or the blue collar at the assembly line.
The Mondragón Corporation is highly competitive internationally. They do business all over the globe and they make a steady profit, maybe because money is treated as a means and not as an end. It goes to show that we could maintain all the consumerist culture we want, and still be a society based on human values.
Marching separately, today we’re almost ninety people including the support crew. There’s a middle aged woman from Peru walking the march with her Spanish husband. She fills me in on another interesting side of Basque and Spanish history.
After the discovery of America, Seville replaced Bilbao as Spain’s most important harbour. Many of the Conquistadores were Basques. They exchanged the hills of Euskadi for the mountains of the Andes, where they played their part in violently subdueing the native civilizations. Ironically, they behaved exactly like the Castillian warlords did when they conquered the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. Many Basques went on to form the white upper class of Chile and Peru. They founded immense estates and they exploited local farmers for the greater glory of god and the king of Spain, but mostly for themselves.
We arrive in Oñati. This is the very heart of the Basque country. Here the signs and texts, which used to be bilingual, are almost exclusively in Basque, even on the ambulances and fire trucks. A recurring symbol, exposed from many balconies – and from town halls – is a banner with a map of Euskadi, and the demand for the ETA prisoners to sit out their sentence in their native land.
The 15M movement has not rooted in these villages. People see it as something that comes from Spain, so they distrust it. What we do is we enter the towns singing slogans in Basque. Also the announcements of our evening assembly are presented in the local language. We invite people to speak Euskara and have it translated in our meetings, but we try to explain that the 15M is not about nationalism of any kind. It’s about the citizens, about normal people getting together to talk about their local problems in order to find a solution that suits them all.