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#ItalianRevolution

In Italy on 21 April 2013 at 12:43
Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): "If a government doesn't do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary."

Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

April 21, 1440 hrs

Dear people,

Imagine, in the UK, 2013, John Major returning to be prime minister. It sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Especially if you hypothesise him leading a government of the Conservatives and Labour combined. But in Italy, something like this is likely to happen. After striking a deal with Berlusconi over the presidency of the republic the Italian ‘Labour’ party is about to jump in bed with the media tycoon’s private political party and nominate Giovanni Amato as prime minister. Amato has already been prime minister of Italy in the 1990s.

This is one of the reasons why many Italians are exasperated. The faces never change. In other civilized countries, politics may be just as crappy, but at least your average politician leaves the scene after five or eight years, so you always have someone new to complain about. In Italy, governments come and go, parties change their names, but the people behind them, creating the problems, are always the same people who propose themselves to clean up the mess. They are not even elected. They are nominated by the party hierarchies.

Italy has known roughly two political generations since World War 2. The first one lasted for forty years, and is linked to the name Giulio Andreotti. The second one has been going on for  about twenty years, and is linked to the name Berlusconi. It’s doubtful whether the Italians will ever get rid of them. Berlusconi’s private doctor, the ex-mayor of Catania, has publicly declared to have made Berlusconi immortal. Andreotti as well, the 94-year old senator for life, is rumoured to be immortal because he has supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

These people are running Italy as their private property, in the interest of shady individuals and unincorporated organizations. They will not gladly allow new people into the club. Politicians in their fifties are considered babies, not to be taken seriously. Everyone else has to accept a society that is based on patriarchal clientelism, in which it doesn’t matter what you are capable of, but whom you are connected to. For educated youngsters there are only two options. Either you bow your head and you adapt, or you emigrate.

The re-election of an 88-year president is symbolic for a political class that is desperate to keep clinging onto power whatever it takes. For the establishment, the Five Star Movement is an enemy that needs to be neutralised, because it’s people powered, it could lift up the rocks of Italian politics and expose all the creepy life forms going about their dirty business undisturbed.

To make change in Italy, a few things need to happen. First, all these nauseating figures who have been recycling themselves for ages need to be prohibited to run for office again. Second, an independent and apolitical commission will need to look into their conduct to ascertain criminal responsibilities. But before this, the entire Italian political and judicial system will need to be trashed.

They say Italy has about as many laws as all other countries combined. It’s a jungle, which makes it particularly easy for anyone who is able to afford a good lawyer to remain out of prison. And indeed, the only people who actually go to prison are the immigrants and the drug addicts. The fat cats never will. Let me give you a comparison. Italy is like a computer with some old proprietary operating system installed, say Windows 3.1, and thousands upon thousands of patches to make it somewhat up to date. On top of that, you have thousands more of generally useless proprietary programs whose files are dispersed over completely arbirtrary folders. It results in the computer being unbearably slow and opaque.

Many politicians have promised to solve this problem. Berlusconi has, but never did. Monti has, but never did. All they did was add some more patches and programs. Of course there is only one real solution. A complete format of the hard drive – a revolution – followed by the installation of the latest version of an open source operating system that allows everybody to creatively participate. The processor speed, the country’s creative potential, is amazing. If it weren’t for all the crap that weighs it down, it would be the best.

A quote that went viral on Twitter last night, was a message by Italy’s most beloved president, Sandro Pertini: “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, then it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

Today, the #ItalianRevolution continues. There is no other choice. The political class has to be swept away one way or another. The country’s hard drive needs to be formatted if Italy wants to live another renaissance.

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Tutti a Roma!

In Italy, Rome on 20 April 2013 at 18:25
Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

April 20, 2122 hrs

Dear people,

It’s going down, right now, in Rome.

Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.

The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening. Because they know that when it happens, they will all be swept away into the gutters of history, like had happened to the previous generation of Andreotti/Craxi over twenty years ago.

The people’s candidate, investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli, proposed by the Five Star Movement, had previously declined the honour. So the movement proposed the next on the list, professor Stefano Rodotà, by far the cleanest of all candidates, and as such, the most dangerous for the establishment.

If the left wing party had decided to vote Rodotà, it would have been a clear signal that they were willing to commit to change. But they are not. They prefer to strike deals with a criminal like Berlusconi and a banker like Mario Monti. It leaves the Italian people no option but to rise up and make revolution.

That is what’s happening at this moment. Tens of thousands of people are converging on parliament to demand an end to twenty years of backdoor deals, corruption, impunity and a sell-out of the country to organized crime.

Beppe Grillo is descending on Rome from Friuli and inviting everyone, anywhere, to join him, in order to sweep away the dinosaurs and pave the way for a new Italy.

Of course, he is very well aware of the eery historical comparison that a ‘March on Rome’ evokes… In October  1922, in the midst of the economic and social chaos that followed World War One, Benito Mussolini led his ‘blackshirts’ to the capital, demanding to form a government. The king, afraid more of the communists than of the fascists, consented…

There are hardly any fascists now any more, only the same old class of politicians against a people that is sick and tired of business as usual. So keep an eye on Rome, and if you’re there, join it. Now is the time, finally, to dump these decrepit politicians on the junk yard of history. It’s where they belong.

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The Next Level

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 17 April 2013 at 11:19

LogoMareaCiudadana

Dear people,

Though I am lost in the backwaters of Europe, I keep following the events in Spain wherever I can. There is no way I can report on all things happening, because it’s simply too much. Sufficeth to say that evictions are being prevented every day, and demonstrations are being held at least every week. Recently there was a big demo in Madrid against the scandal-ridden monarchy, in favour of a third republic.

I hope to return to Spain soon, but before I do, I will inform you about how the movement is attempting to take the struggle to the next level.

Out of the primordial indignant chaos of the 15-M, various issue-centered waves have evolved, each adopting its own colour. The most prominent are the Green Wave (public education), the White Wave (public health care) and the Blue Wave (public water). There are many more waves concentrating on minor issues, and then there is the PAH, Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca, which coordinates the struggle against foreclosures and has a very strong presence all over Spain. Finally, there are the hundreds of popular assemblies in cities, villages and neighbourhoods that were born out of the occupations in 2011.

These local and thematic groups have united into a movement called Marea Ciudadana, or “Citizens’ Wave”. They have been pressurizing government with frequent marches on parliament, but since a couple of months they have also adopted a more confrontational tactic called ‘escrache’. Escraches, instead of targeting faceless institutions, are actions that target specific people (or parties) directly and personally.

You are a politician who has been taking bribes? Right, we won’t lament ourselves outside parliament, but we’ll come to your house. We’ll make noise under your windows, we will let all your neighbours know that you are scum. It’s a tactic that was first used in Argentina in the early 2000s to denounce politicians that had been responsible for atrocities committed by the military regime. It has been used in Uruguay, Peru and other Latin American countries, and since this spring it has been adopted by the PAH to denounce those politicians who represent the interests of the banks rather than those of the citizens.

In a certain sense, escrache is the enactment of a famous meme that was adopted by the movement in the early days of the revolution: ‘If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.’

The great leap forward of the movement is supposed to happen this spring. From June 23 to June 30 the “United Citizens’ Waves” intend to exercise popular sovereignty through plebiscite. The premise is the following. According to the Spanish Constitution “National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate” (Article 1), and “Citizens have the right to participate in public affairs directly or through representatives freely elected in periodic elections by universal suffrage.” (Article 23).

Over the last 35 years people have tried to participate through representatives, but in the end it didn’t work out to their advantage. So now has come the time for citizens to participate in public affairs directly. They will drum up enough support to block privatizations, to end foreclosures by law, to reform the banking sector and to bring corrupt politicians to justice.

How this will work out in practice remains to be seen. But it’s going to be damn interesting to observe.

Of course, the skeptics will say that it can never work, direct democracy on this kind of scale. But you cannot know that until you try. And Spain is not the only place where direct democracy is being experimented. Another example is Italy.

Over the last few weeks, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been under heavy attack from the establishment and the press for his failure to cooperate with the gerontocracy that has been ruling Italy – in various disguises – since the age of dinosaurs. They want him to support a government of the so-called Democratic Party, but since he continues to refuse, they blame him for the current political stalemate.

On top of all this, a new president of the republic has to be elected by parliament. Usually this doesn’t happen in parliament, but in the corridors. The major parties try to find a compromise on some colourless ex-politician that will not cause them trouble in the seven years to come.

The Five Star Movement refuses to take part in these shady practices. They think the citizens ought to have a say in the election of their head of state and so they organized primaries online, open to all the members of the movement. They could propose any Italian citizen of more than fifty years of age (as the constitution requires). The winner, elected over two rounds, will be the official candidate that M5S members will propose and vote. Yesterday, the results came in. No politician, no Nobel prize winner, but an investigative journalist will be the people’s candidate for the presidency: Milena Gabanelli.

You have to know that journalism in Italy is of an embarrasingly low standard. I was reminded by that lately, when I returned to read Italian newspapers. Generally, Italian journalists seem to think that news reporting consists of quoting politicians. For example, something is going on, say a demonstration, then your average journalist won’t give you an account of what happened and why, but he or she will stuff the microphone in the face of some second-rate politicians from the left to the right and publish their sound bites. The facts don’t matter. All you get is talking heads, always the same, ad nauseam. If not, you have your intellectualoid balloons, who preach about the dire state of the nation in such hollow terms that they cannot possibly be accused of having a real opinion on the matter. In any case, a true journalist is very hard to find in Italy.

Milena Gabanelli is an exception. For fifteen years she has been digging deeply into all the dirt related to corruption, speculation, squander, inefficiency, bribery and all-out organized crime. Now, the usual tactic of the establishment to silence journalists who actually do their job in Italy, is to denounce them for diffamation. They hardly ever win, but it serves to scare the great majority into becoming faithful mercenaries of the system. Not so Milena Gabanelli. She is a courageous woman, with a profound knowledge of all of Italy’s problems. For this, justly, the members of the Five Star Movement have nominated her to become the country’s head of state.

We are entering an age in which direct participation of all the people in public affairs is becoming possible. We don’t need representatives any more. Let the skeptics say that it can’t be done, that’s it’s going to be a mess. We will try anyway. The mess can hardly be worse than the one that our so-called representatives have caused.

Review of a Revolutionary Week

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy, Portugal on 5 March 2013 at 12:42
Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Demonstration against austerity in Portugal. Photo via @OCongres

Dear people,

It has been quite a week. As the revolution goes, three things in particular were worthy of note.

First, the death of Stéphane Hessel.

Hessel was a former diplomat, member of the resistance in France during WW2 and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1948.

Two years ago, at 93 years of age, Hessel became an idol with the youth when he wrote a pamphlet called Indignez-Vous!, translated into English as ‘Time for Outrage!’

The pamphlet sold over two million copies in France alone. The Spanish translation was a major inspiration for the movement of the indignados.

As a member of the National Resistance Council, Hessel recalls the ideals that the Council adopted on 15 March 1944, and on which it wanted post-war society to be founded. These included “a comprehensive plan for Social Security, to ensure livelihoods for all citizens”, “a pension that allows old workers to finish their life in dignity”, “the return to the nation of the major means of production, common sources of energy, wealth of the subsoil, insurance companies and large banks”, “the establishment of genuine economic and social democracy which evicts large feudal economic and financial interests from the direction of our economy.” And, not in the least, a society where the press is free from corporate or foreign influences.

Over sixty years later, Hessel concludes that our society is not the one that was envisioned by the members of the National Resistance Council. Despite decades of booming economic growth, ours has turned into a society of suspicions against immigrants and expulsions, one that challenges pensions and social security, and where the media are in the hands of a few powerful people. Ours, in short, is not a society of which we, as human beings, can be proud.

Hessel denounced indifference as the worst of all attitudes, and he called for “a true and peaceful insurrection against the media that only offer our youth a horizon of mass consumption, of disdain for the weakest, of generalised amnesia, and of all-out competition of everyone against everyone else.”

He made an appeal to all youngsters. “To the men and women who will make the 21st century, we say, with affection: to create is to resist, to resist is to create.”

In 2011, his call to rise up took the world by storm. The spirit of resistance lives on.

Thank you, Stéphane Hessel. May you rest in peace.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Number two, last Saturday March 2 was another day of massive protests in Portugal. In thirty cities there were demonstrations against austerity. Over a million people took the streets, which is more than ten percent of the population. Imagine thirty million people demanding the resignation of President Obama on the same day. That’s about the scale of the protest.

The demos come a week after equally massive demonstrations of the ‘Citizen’s Tide’ in Spain. It looks like it’s going to be a hot spring on the peninsula.

Third, and most entertaining, is the elections in Italy. Without kidding, I’ve been rolling over the floor laughing. It’s a farce, but it’s all dead serious.

Immortal Berlusconi made yet another come-back. He had been declared politically dead by many commentators who don’t understand a thing about Italy. He might not have won parliament, but he did win the senate, which could give him enough political leverage to keep his ass out of prison.

But the real winner of the election is comedian Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, a party-political version of the indignados.

In the foreign press, Grillo has been called a populist and has been compared to any other populist in Europe. This is not just bad journalism, it is intentionally misleading.

Beppe Grillo and the movement he inspires is one of a kind, at least for the moment. I remember the very beginnings of his political campaigning. It started in theaters, it went online through his daily blog, then he came to the squares to decry political corruption, in favour of participatory democracy. Grillo exposed politicians of all parties in a way that nobody ever dared to do from a pulpit. He had been banned from television, he had been ignored by the press, but thanks to the Internet his movement reached millions of Italians who are fed up with business as usual.

In 2009 he supported civil lists in local elections. His party won the mayorship of Parma and other towns. In 2012 he made a breakthrough in the Sicilian local election. Now, in the run-up to the general elections, he drew a hundred thousand people to his show in Milan, eight hundred thousand in Rome. He inspired people like only a black preacher with a gospel choir can do. The man is a phenomenon. Last week, his movement became the single biggest party in Italy.

It’s hilarious. A few years ago, when I left the Beautiful Country, Grillo was a troublemaker that politicians loved to ignore. Now they are begging him to support the formation of a government.

With enormous satisfaction, Grillo told them to fuck off. All his opponents have been in politics since the age of the dinosaurs, they have to go, and before they do, they have to account for all the income they received over the years. They created this mess, the citizens themselves will have to clean up. Grillo’s party will only support bills that reflect the movement’s principles. They will not support any government. The representatives of the M5S have been chosen through preliminary elections on the movement’s website. They are tied to a code of behaviour which obliges them to respect the electoral program they were voted to enact. They have renounced to more than half of their income, and they will refuse to use or accept the customary title of ‘honorable’. Instead, echoing the French Revolution, they will address all representatives as ‘citizen’.

On the day the M5S entered in the Italian parliament, they opened the doors to the public, saying ‘this is your house’.

The first demands of the movement have to do with the clean-up of Italian politics. Two mandates should be the maximum, parties should not receive public subsidies, and no condemned criminal should have the right to be elected.

The left wing party, if it is to form a government, will have to be supported either by Berlusconi or by Grillo. They know that Berlusconi will eat them alive, so they grudgingly prefer the other clown.

It’s going to be very risky for the new M5S representatives. The Italian parliament is the most dangerous place in the country. The crime rate at Montecitorio is much higher than the crime rate in the most lurid outskirts of Naples. The new parliamentarians and senators will be thrown into a pit full of snakes. These creepy lifeforms have been lurching in the shadows of power for ages, they know exactly how much one is worth, they know who is selling, and they know who is buying. Ethics are not an issue in Italian politics, and the worst thing that can happen is that the M5S movement is torn apart by the existing parties and massacred by the press.

With Beppe Grillo and his movement gaining notoriety, some commentators have tried to understand what is going on, some others are dismissing this movement all together. They say that Grillo is dangerous. They accuse his internet strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio of having a secret agenda. The writers collective Wu Ming published a shameless declaration in which they accuse Grillo of being ‘one of them’ politicians as usual, without presenting any credible basis at all for their accusations.

Instead of giving in to this crazy need to always have an opinion, on whatever subject, I urge people to shut up, and watch. Beppe Grillo’s movement is a first attempt to bring direct e-democracy to a real parliament. His newly elected representatives are in a position to make or break a government. Let’s enjoy this, let’s see what’s going to happen, and learn from it.

Grillo riding the wave.

Grillo riding the wave.

Crickets

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 12 July 2012 at 12:25

Dordrecht, July 12

Dear people,

From Florence I kept traveling northward by local train. Every time it’s harder to find them. Local trains are growing scarce.

Because of European legislation, the Italian state railways have been dismembered in various layers of subsidiary companies, all of which are still controlled by the state. There is one for the management of the tracks, one for the operation of the trains, one for the exploitation of the big stations, one for the mediums stations, and various for maintenance, security etc.

Private capital has taken over forty percent of the companies running the stations. In the last few decades a lot of money has been invested to give all the major railway terminals a complete overhaul, so as to turn them into shopping malls.

All the Italian stations used to have drinking fountains. What the overhaul practically came down to is that they closed the water as an incentive for you to buy it in a plastic bottle from one of the vendor machines. It makes me incredibly sad.

In recent years the railroads have started to cut local trains to ‘convince’ people to travel by freccia – ‘arrow’- the high speed trains that connect all of Italy from Milan to Naples. It’s three times as fast and more than three times as expensive. There are high speed trains departing from all the big cities all day long, but just two local trains connecting Rome to Florence.

Many of the high speed trains only carry a few dozen passengers. The remaining local trains are generally cramped.

I was lucky this time. It was the hour of siesta and not many people were traveling on board the regional train to Milan. I was snoozing a bit after a short night on the docks in Venice, content to have caught the slow train. I’m not in a hurry. Then from Lake Garda onward the carnival started. In six, seven, eight, they invaded the coach and planted themselves all around me. Political activists. Loud political activists.

I pretended to sleep. “How can you sleep with all this noise? Har! Har! Har!”

“I can’t. I’m pretending.” I opened an eye to spy around for clues about their political colour.

They couldn’t have been members of the Lega Nord, the xenofobe regionalists, because their supporters have been forced to lower their voices lately. For twenty years the Lega has accused the government of being a big bloodsucking thief, and now it has turned out that the governing Lega has been as corrupt as any other political party before them.

The loud people on the train don’t look like old fashioned lefties either. They lack seriousness. They are having fun, making jokes. A button worn by one of them betrays them. They are grillini, members of the Five Star Movement.

We had already encountered them on the march, in Terracina. They are friends. I ask where they are going.

To Milan. There is a protest against the ‘satrap’ of Lombardy, who has been running the region for twenty years. A few years ago he changed the law so that he could stay in office, and every year the Five Star Movement stages a protest to say that he should pack his bags and leave.

During the march I described the grillini as a type of ‘proto-indignados’. They had started to reclaim their democracy over a year before the Arab spring began, inspired through the web by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Grillo is something like a guru who acts like a clown. He doesn’t enter in discussion with politicians. He makes fun of them. He exposes them for what they are. Petty little crooks, in most cases.

His idea is that we don’t need politicians at all. We don’t need a caste of incompetent parasites. We can do politics ourselves, starting at home, in our neighbourhood, our towns, all united into a movement through the internet.

The homebase of the movement is Grillo’s daily weblog. They say it’s 6th most visited blog in the world, with about 2,5 million hits daily. That would be about as much as all the copies of Italy’s three largest newspapers put together.

Grillo’s virtual pulpit and his daily comic sermons are a point of reference, but the movement itself is built up of locally organised branches. When the train stops at the next station, the comrades from Brescia are welcomed into the family with laughs and embraces.

What the local branches have in common are the five stars (public water, connectivity, development, transport and environment), plus certain rules on political representation, like ‘No convicted fellon should run for office’ and ‘No-one should be allowed to stay in office for more than two terms.’

This means that Grillo himself cannot run for office. He has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter after causing a traffic accident years ago.

In recent local elections the movement keeps growing fast. Apart from supplying numerous city councilor’s all over the country, they have also conquered one of the big cities, Parma.

The policy of each branch of the movement is decided by the members. Any elected councilor or mayor is tied to this policy. He cannot take decisions on his own. Elected members only accept a reasonable retribution, which amounts to a fraction of the salaries that Italian politicians normally grant themselves. All the rest goes into community development.

“So, you are trying to change things the institutional way?” I ask.

“We don’t know yet. Our movement is only two and a half years old. We still have to learn how we can change society. We will see.”

According to many activists, the core of the problem is not politics, it’s the economy. In many places in Italy the people of the Five Star Movement are thinking about an alternative economy based on local products and barter. Some people even want to facilitate this local economy by introducing their own currency, free of interest. Now that sounds pretty revolutionary to me.

“It doesn’t really matter how we make a change, as long as we do, and as long we do it peacefully.”

The train arrives in Milan. The grillini move to the city center. What I noticed is that they have copied Beppe Grillo’s satiric way of talking about politicians. They don’t take them seriously any more. They don’t want anything from them, except that they go home. Politicians are dinosaurs, remnants of an old style of politics. The members of the Five Star Movement have already evolved to another level. With childlike enthusiasm they have started to shape a new way of politics together.

Independence

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 4 July 2012 at 10:14

Tuscany, July 4

Dear people,

So I did make it out of Athens in the end. In choosing between the four cardinal directions, I opted for West. Back to Italy. Because great is the pleasure to discover new lands, but equally great is the pleasure to return to certain places and visit people you have known, for Auld Lang Syne.

The connections in Greece are not optimal, and deteriorating fast. To get from Athens to the country’s third largest city Patras I had to take two trains and one bus. But still, it took less time than walking.

As we drove along the Gulf of Corinth I recognised the shores on the other side. The Gulf of Itea, Eratini, Marathias, Nafpaktos… Two weeks of marching in a couple of hours. I could have taken an aeroplane and be in Holland by now. But I had discarded that possibility from the start. After having spent months to cross the continent it seemed ridiculous to return almost instantaneously.

In Patras I met up with two friends who had received us when we entered the town nearly three months ago. It was only now that I realised the impact we have made. All along the way, people have opened their hearts. And they haven’t forgotten us. Some of us, and many locals, will argue that our march didn’t make any sense. But it did. It has been more than worth it, because it has given us the opportunity to meet these extraordinary persons. If there is still hope for Greece, it’s thanks to them.

At sunset I sailed. And yet again, I recognised every single hill, every single cape on the other side. Antirio, Ano Vassiliki, the lagoon of Mesolonghi. Then darkness.

In Bari, one of the first things I thought, was: ‘Wow, Italy isn’t doing so bad.’ Bars were full, and hardly any of the shops had gone bankrupt. No visual signs of crisis at all.

Sure, the crisis exists. I had a long chat with a lady from Salerno, belonging to the ‘upper middle class’. Her family possesses various houses and pieces of land, but as a result of recent austerity measures by the Monti government they are being choked by the taxes. ‘The middle class is disappearing’, she said. ‘Everything we have built up over the years, to leave to our children, is at risk.’

During the march I realised that you don’t need much to thrive and survive. All the rest is luxury. For now, the crisis is cutting into those luxuries. The basic necessities of existence are not at risk yet, not in Italy. Maybe in Greece.

By now I have reached Tuscany, one of those places that I have good reason to consider ‘home’. I’m here to visit friends, ‘anarchist’ friends. After one and a half months in Exarchia, it was about time that I met some real anarchists.

In Exarchia people live in the same appartment blocks as elsewhere, they use the same currency, they drink the same instant coffee in plastic cups as the rest of Greeks. And as far as I have been able to ascertain, only one of the bars serves fair-trade coffee from Chapas. All the rest goes to enrich the multinationals.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” is what Forrest Gump’s mamma always says. And you can apply that to almost anything. “Anarchist is as anarchist does,” I would say. And change surely won’t come from Exarchia. To some of the people there the only solution is to ‘bomb Greece back to the stone age’.

One of my friends here in Tuscany has retreated from modern society over twenty-five years ago. When the Berlin Wall came down, he didn’t even notice. He was much too busy working the land, raising a family and creating an almost completely self-sufficient farm in a distant river valley. He has worked every day of the week, every week of the year, ever since. And he was happy to do so. Only recently, now that his children have grown up, he has granted himself the luxury of a holiday. Two months, on foot, to Sicily and back.

But even without such radical measures, it’s possible to start a change. And you don’t need bombs to succeed. Another friend of mine is slowly evolving away from society. He used to work for General Electric. When he got to know the company and realised that he was actively upholding a system which he despised, he changed life and opened a biological restaurant. When it turned out that he didn’t have any time for himself anymore he sold the restaurant and changed life again. Now he lives in the country side and works as a gardener.

In practice, all of Tuscany is one big garden, so there is no lack of work. He grows his own vegetables. He makes his own furniture. He doesn’t need much, and most of what he does need is available through a short supply chain of local organic products. In this, Tuscany is at the cutting edge of change.

My anarchist friends here are not the only ones. It’s starting to become fashionable, not only among rich Germans, Dutch and English to go live in the beautiful countryside, but also among Italians. They want to have their own vegetable garden, they want to have silence around. They have had it with city life.

Within the movement there has been a discussion from the start about whether we want a ‘revolution’, or an ‘evolution’. As for me, it sounds a lot cooler to call myself a ‘revolutionary’ than an ‘evolutionary’. People might think the discussion is about darwinism. But then again, “stupid is as stupid does”…

The Story of Santa Claus

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy, March to Athens on 14 March 2012 at 13:42
March to Athens

Day 128-LIV, Bari.

St. Nicholas of Bari

Bari, March 14

Dear people,

The old town of Bari protrudes like a horn into the sea. It’s a place of mystery, a tale of 1001 Nights. The small white alleys wind around and lead you astray in unexpected directions. There are no straight intersecting roads like you find them in the cities of the West, built by either the Romans or the Greeks or the Americans. This old city belongs to the East. Wherever you find yourself within its ancient walls you can never see where you are going.

Suddenly a space opens up in front of you, a holy space adorned by an immaculate basilica. Here, people from all over the known world flog together in pilgrimage.

Bari is indeed a most venerable city, no less than Rome, or Jerusalem, or Mecca. For Bari is the posthumous home of Santa Claus.

It might seem a bit strange to associate Santa Claus with a sunny Mediterranean city like Bari, but they say it’s true, the man who is at the root of the legend, is buried right here in this basilica.

To the faithful, he is known as Saint Nicholas. He is venerated in the East and the West, by catholics and protestants, by believers and atheists. And they say he performed some mighty miraculous deeds during his lifetime.

Now, the facts don’t matter. The truth doesn’t matter. The only thing that really matters is the story.

Saint Nicholas lived in the Greco-Roman province of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, during the twilight years of the empire. He was bishop of Myra. His deeds are remembered with spectacular celebrations, twice a year, on the day of his death, the 6th of December, and on the day his remains arrived in Bari, the 9th of May.

On one of my previous travels I was fortunate enough to be in Bari to see the procession which narrated his miraculous acts.

In those closing years of antiquity, during a horrible famine, a ferocious butcher had slaughtered three children and turned them into ham. Saint Nicholas was invited to taste, but he knew. He revealed himself, he punished the butcher and he brought the children back to life.

The Saint was also famous for saving the honour of three adolescent sisters. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford a dowry, and without a husband they would probably have been forced to live their lives as prostitutes. But Saint Nicholas wouldn’t let it happen. At night, he filled the young girls’ stockings with riches, enough to guarantee them a happy marriage.

When famine struck again on another occasion, the Saint showed his mercy to a crew of sailors by multiplying their cargo of wheat, over and over again. It was enough to make bread and sweet spiced biscuits for many starving cities all over the East.

After Saint Nicholas passed away he was buried in his home ground where he was revered for many centuries by the faithful. But at a certain point, the faithful were conquered by an alien religion.

With the advance of Islam in the middle ages, many of the old centres of orthodox Christianity entered the vast domains of the caliphs and the sultans of the East.

At that time, the West was profoundly christian. The various cities competed with each other in piousness and status by collecting every type of holy memorabilia. Splinters of the cross, thorns of the crown, robes, bones, teeth and skulls. As a city you didn’t count if you didn’t own at least a piece of saint.

The most glorious cities of the age wouldn’t limit themselves to mere fingertips or toe nails. They wanted the entire skeletons. The sailors of Venice subtracted the remains of the evangelist St. Mark from the muslims in Egypt. And with another memorable secret operation, the sailors from Bari raided the muslim city of Myra, dug up Saint Nicholas, carried him off to the harbour, and took him home.

Thus, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of Bari.

In the centuries that followed Bari would become part of the kingdom of Naples, and as such it came to be dominated by Spain.

This might explain why people in another pious seafaring nation – Holland – thought that Saint Nicholas came from the Iberian peninsula. In another version, the ‘Spanish connection’ comes from the oranges. These usually arrived in Holland from Spain during the beginning of December, when the Saint came to the Low Lands to give sweets to the children who had been good, and whip lashes to those who had been bad.

Holland is especially devoted to Saint Nicholas. Up to today, the Saint is celebrated every year on the evening of December 5 with songs, surprises and sweets. The people call him Sinterklaas.

When the Dutch founded the city of New Amsterdam in 1625, they brought their Sinterklaas tradition to America. Together with other Dutch characteristics and morals, it remained a part of the American culture also after the city was taken over by the English and renamed New York in 1664.

During colonial times, the figure of Saint Nicholas merged with the British character of Father Christmas, and his feast was integrated with Christmas celebrations. The Americans called him Santa Claus. His place on the calendar was taken over by the local holiday of Thanksgiving

However many times the veneration for the original Byzantine saint had changed, he had always been regarded as a moral figure. A judge of good and evil. A benevolent father who rewards his faithful, but who isn’t afraid to punish them in case they deserve it.

The last and most radical change of image, both in style and content, would come in the 20th century, when Santa Claus was adopted by the Coca-Cola Company.

Under the influence of the beverage brewer, Santa changed his bishop’s robe for a bright red polar outfit. He became a jolly old man, with a smile for all. He wouldn’t judge you. He would reward you not on the base of your conduct, but on the base of you purchasing power. He would deliver all the presents you could afford on Christmas eve, on board his flying raindeer sleigh.

Old Saint Nick means different things to different people all over the world. For some he is the original Byzantine saint, for others he is the jolly old man with a sexy bottle in his hand, and for others yet he is everything in between.

One way or another, Santa means something to all of us. Also to the March to Athens.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Bari, he is the patron saint of sailors, he is the patron saint of all Greece. And as it turns out, ‘Nikolaus’ means ‘victory of the people’.

Santa is the 99%. He is our man.

Food Sovereignty

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy, March to Athens on 13 March 2012 at 19:29
March to Athens
Day 127-LIII, Bari.

Popular Assembly in Bari

Bari, March 13

Dear people,

One of the greatest Dutch narrators of the 20th century is Marten Toonder. His life work, the Oliver B. Bumble epic, is a monument of Dutch literature in text and drawing, a brilliant and sometimes prophetic mirror of contemporary society. Just to give an example, the ‘Big Brother’ reality show is one of Holland’s most succesful export products. But it wasn’t invented by Endemol Corporation. The idea comes from a 1960s Oliver B. Bumble story.

In another episode from those years, Toonder explains his readers the basis of economics so that everyone can understand.

“If you have little, you will lose it to someone who has a lot. If you have a lot, you will only gain more.”

On top of the pyramid there are the Bovenbazen or ‘Upper Bosses’, the ten tycoons that own Everything.

The upper bosses live together in the Golden Mountains, and they lead a sad and boring life. They don’t do anything else but exchange their possessions between themselves every day of the year.

When the hero of the story accidently becomes part of this most exclusive club, his colleagues explain him some of the basic rules of business.

“Remember. Nature is our most important enemy. Because nature reproduces itself. I hope you understand what I mean…”

Yesterday evening’s popular assembly was about food sovereignty. It was organised together with various small scale farmers from the zone. And what I heard made me think of this basic rule of business.

Today’s agricultural business has taken the shape of a global Leviathan. The seed multinationals control the greater part of the crop market and impose their seeds on local farmers. They only sell the most productive types, to the detriment of biodiversity. Often these seeds are patented and genetically modified in such a way that they become steril.

Big business has succeeded in impeding nature to reproduce. The farmers are forced to buy new seeds every year.

But the seeds are only a part of the story. In industrial agriculture the soil erodes and because of monoculture the crops are very susceptible to diseases. You won’t be able to grow them without making use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are supplied by the same seed company.

Things get even worse. In France there is said to be a law that forbids farmers to replant the seeds of their crops…

Very silently big business is destroying ten thousand years of human agricultural heritage, for profit. In the face of this, seed banks are being set up by governments and farmers to preserve or control the original seeds, uncontaminated by cross breeding with genetically modified ones.

The subject of food sovereignty is one of many fronts in the battle against the impending control society. Many people in organical farms are already active in this battle, trying to save local crops, trying to encourage diversity and the consumption of sustainably grown products.

The upper bosses are in control the financial markets, the production and distribution system, the pharmaceutical industry, the national banks and governments, shielding themselves with patents on all sides. They are about to control the building blocks of life, and they are taking away control over our drinking water and our food supply.

The revolution is not just a romantic’s dream. It’s a bloody necessity.

With a Little Help from the Dogs

In Italy, March to Athens on 13 March 2012 at 13:03

March to Athens

Day 126-LII, Bari

Day 127-LIII, Bari

Bari, March 13

Dear people,

We have reached the sea, but we still haven’t decided which Greek port we want to sail to. It was the first point on yesterday’s internal assembly. Patras or Igoumenitsa.

One thing that we did decide upon was that we don’t want to split up the march. After that we took a vote to get a general idea of people’s preferences.

It was deadlocked ten to ten. And the interesting thing was that our group was rigourously divided along national lines. All the French but one voted for Igoumenitsa. And except for three abstentions, all the Spanish but one voted for Patras. The Italians were divided, and one of them honoured local custom by switching sides.

As you all know, I myself am very much in favour of Igoumenitsa.

Here in Bari we have also been joined by an American blogger from Occupy San Diego. He abstained, but in the end he made a very simple observation.

“I think the solution is already in the name. March to Athens. If there weren’t a sea to cross, we would have kept on marching. The boat trip should serve to cross the sea, not to shortcut the march.”

To unblock the situation, the moderator asked people if anyone had radical objections against one of the two ports. Three of us were ready to block Patras, but in order to avoid conflict no-one did.

If the assembly would have decided to go to Patras, I wouldn’t have blocked it either. I would probably have left the march instead.

The assembly decided to send a large transversal delegation to the navigation companies.

 At the port terminal, neither of the two companies made any trouble with regard to our shopping carts, but if we went to Patras, the dogs would need to have some kind of passport.

The dogs are with us since we crossed the Apeninnes. They are shepherd dogs decided, and they probably considered us to be a herd that needed to be guided. For some, this implied a form of ‘verticality’, and they denounced it. But one of the few principles of our movement is that we are inclusive, so everyone can come along.

The Greek company serving Igoumenitsa would close an eye on it. And apart from that, Patras is twice as expensive.

So that more or less sealed it. The dogs broke the deadlock, but at the moment the assembly still has to confirm the final decision.

Latest news, this right in. It’s just passed one o’clock. The assembly has confirmed. We are going to Igoumenitsa. We will depart tomorrow evening at seven. We will arrive thursday morning March 15 in Greece at seven o’clock in the morning.

Scenes from Acampada Bari

Coast to Coast

In Italy, March to Athens on 11 March 2012 at 23:07
March to Athens

Day 125-LI, from Palo del Colle to Bari, 17 km.

‘And so it came to pass, on the eleventh day of March in the year of our Lord 2012 that the brave marchers to Athens finally reached the most venerable city of Bari…’

Bari, March 11

Dear people,

The wind comes from sea. It batters the plains and brings along the sweet odour of salt and spices. The first faint hints of the East are in the air.

It’s not just the air, or the odours. Also the colours are changing. Since we descended down the mountains into Apulia everything started to get brighter. The green of the hills, the white marble stones of the old town centres. I’m sure I could say the same about the blue sky, if we had been lucky enough to see it.

Irsina, Gravina, Altamura, Toritto, Palo. Each of them is a maze of bright alleyways and snow white houses with iron balconies. When you arrive there during the hour of the siesta, like we do, you will not find a living soul there, except for an occasional cat.

Acampada Palo del Colle

Thanks to the people of Palo del Colle

Then you come closer to the sea, and the wind gets stronger. You hop from one suburb to the other, and then you finally find yourself in front of Bari, one of the places which bears the name of ‘gateway to the East’.

I’m walking together with comrade Milton from Naples, and just before Bari we get lost. We don’t want to take the national road, but every other road we take seems to lead us away from the metropolis, or ends up being blocked.

We walk for hours and hours through the desert of an industrial park, through olive groves, past abandoned villas and old outskirts in ruins. All the while we can see the city in the distance on all sides, like a fata morgana, but we don’t seem to reach it. It’s as though Bari were protected by some kind of magnetic shield, and only the faithful can enter.

As a last resort I direct a prayer to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of the city, asking him to let us through. And lo! a small road opens up in front us. Our hearts are beating full of expectation while we start following the path that takes us straight into Bari at sunset.

Comrade Milton and the sunset

"The whole world is our fatherland"

When we reach the old centre we find the others have already been camped for hours in one of the most beautiful squares. It’s close to the boulevard. At night, when all the other sounds die down, we can hear the sound of the waves in the distance.

We have made it. We crossed Italy coast to coast. Some of us have even descended the entire peninsula. Together we sit down around the fire. We toast, and while the luscious odour of hashish rises up from the circle, we reminisce about the various episodes of the march.

Then a police car stops by. The driver addresses us with a smile and with curiosity. He asks where we are from, where we’re going and why. We explain it briefly, we give him a flyer. He reads it, he nods, and he says: “Very well. Keep up the good work.” Then he drives off.

"Only when the power of love will be bigger than the love of power, the world will know peace."

Acampada Bari in the early morning light