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Rhetoric

In Italy, March to Athens on 8 March 2012 at 23:19

March to Athens
Day 122-XLVIII, Altamura.

Acampada Altamura after the rain

Altamura, March 8

Dear people,

Where the police didn’t succeed, the weather did. At least in part. Last night the rains came down, and when it started again this afternoon we were a lot less bold than when we took the square the day before. Those of us whose tents hadn’t resisted started to seek shelter under a roof.

It was a real shame. Not only because the rain brings down the morale, but also because it impeded us once again to hold a popular assembly. The last serious popular assemblies we held were in Potenza and in Vietri.

Today we hide under the arches of the old cathedral for an assembly among ourselves. The tensions between us and our people in Athens haven’t yet faded away, and apart from that we have to decide to go to Igoumenitsa or Patras.

Even though I always try to keep my distance, I obviously have my opinions, and I have shifted my position a bit since I joined the march in Rome. By now, I have made a tacit alliance with the Old Man. We have come to appreciate each other, and we share the same long term goals. So whenever the assembly is about to decide on something important we meet up for a petit conseil de guerre, ‘a small war council’.

Instead of exasperating the assembly by simply blocking proposals, we try to prepare the terrain by measuring the spirits and trying to convince people before the assembly starts.

At the moment the important thing is to make sure we go to Igoumenitsa instead of Patras. Most of the French are in favour of Igoumenitsa. They did more than 1500 kilometres of march already, so 500 more won’t be a problem. Many of the Spanish are in favour of Patras. They want to walk less with the excuse that ‘we can do more propaganda in the villages we pass.’

Now, those of you who have been following my adventures, know very well that I don’t take myself – or life as a whole – completely serious. I like to play. And today I played the role of orator to defend the cause of Igoumenitsa. The original was in Italian…

“Dear comrades,

First of all, I would like to remind you that if we didn’t have the fortune of possessing a well filled treasury, then Patras wouldn’t have been an option at all, and we wouldn’t be here discussing about it.

If we decide to go to Patras, we will empty our treasury. And with all the unknown factors of Greece ahead there might come a day that we will bitterly regret it.

Having said this, there are a lot of more or less valid reasons to go to Patras.

We will be able to do more propaganda. We will be under less pressure. We will be able to choose between many possible routes, etc. But most of all we will have more time. Indeed, we will have so much time that we could easily take an entire month of holiday before continuing our march and still be in Athens before the fifth of May.

But I sense that the real reason why people would want to go to Patras is because it would mean we wouldn’t have to walk so much.

To me, Patras smells very much like the ‘easy way out’. I would interpret it as a sign of weakness, almost of defeat. And not just me.

My proposed route from Igoumenitsa

Surely I would understand us taking this option into consideration if we really didn’t have enough time. But I can assure you, with all the data at hand, that we can easily cross all of Greece and reach Athens before May 5, respecting the consensus that we reached at Sermoneta. [15 to 20 km a day. Two days of rest per week]

For me, this would be reason enough to go to Igoumenitsa. But maybe not for you.

That is why I want you all to realise very well what we are doing, and what we have already achieved.

Tomorrow this march will be four months old. Some of us have done it all, right from the start in Nice. And many of us have walked the greater part of it.

Not me. I have only been with you since Rome. But all the same, it has been a pleasure and an honour to walk with you people.

In these past four months the march has crossed the mountains three times, in winter.

I can tell you that not even Hannibal, nor Caesar, have ever done something similar.

Our march has encountered the snow, it has resisted against the freezing cold, against persisent rains, hail storms and more.

So here we are. We have reached the other end of Italy, and with our efforts we have conquered the hearts of the people we encountered on the way.

And now that spring is finally upon us, I cannot conceive the possibility that these hardened veterans would choose to sacrifice our treasury to bypass most of Greece and take the easy way out, going to Patras.

I honestly think that everyone who is to be considered a real marcher of the March to Athens has the moral obligation, towards him- or herself, towards the people who support us, and towards history, to finish this march in grand style by crossing all of Greece, starting in Igoumenitsa.”

Even though it was a tongue-in-cheek speech, the French loved it. They nicknamed me Cicero. I hope it will be enough. For now we haven’t decided yet. Whenever we have, you will be the first to know.

 

Drying a sleeping bag on the victory monument

Same Old Story

In Italy, March to Athens on 7 March 2012 at 22:16

March to Athens

Day 121-XLVII, from Gravina in Puglia to Altamura, 12 km.

Altamura, March 7

Dear people,

The amount of stories is endless. I have preferred to talk to you a bit about the briganti while we crossed the mountains of Lucania. Because even though we are peaceful, we share their indignation against the state. And we have adopted their battle cry which we have sung whenever we found ourselves confronted by police or carabinieri… “Hey! Ho! Hahahaha!”

I could also have told you about Padre Pio, the local saint which is venerated all over Italy, but particularly here. I could have told you about local specialties and customs, about the practice of witchcraft…

Camp in Gravina

None of it all. But there is one thing that I still want to touch upon before we march further into Apulia. It’s about the basis of our current economy. Petroleum.

The region of Basilicata – the official name of Lucania – is one of the few territories in continental Europe, maybe the only one, where there’s oil to be found.

I’ve seen the installations here, on one of my previous travels. I’ve seen the chimneys burning away the natural gas 24 hours a day.

It has only been a few decades since the drilling began, but since then things around here have started to change. Real estate values have dropped, the environment has been polluted, and the local underworld which hadn’t previously been active here, started to become attracted by this new ‘market’.

Arrival in Altamura

There’s a strong movement in Basilicata active against the oil industry. People are angry, mainly because they feel colonised. Big oil takes away their resources, but hardly any of the profits return to the local population. Fuel prices here are as high as anywhere else. So yes, times have changed, but one way or another the south has remained a territory of exploitation.

Comrade Max

 

On the Cathedral square in Altamura

 

We reach Altamura, the ‘city of bread’, and we take the central square.

Police arrive. They had been informed by their colleagues from Gravina for a change. They start off on the wrong tone.

‘You weren’t supposed to occupy this square. We had agreed you would put up your tents elsewhere.’

I know nothing of such an agreement, and neither do the people of the vanguard. I answer that we decide ourselves which square to occupy. In this case we put our tents right next to the cathedral.

“And who are you, the duke of Altamura?”

Not quite. I’m a modest person. But the officer doesn’t like me. On the phone with his commander he calls me sfacciato (insolent). At that point I change attitude. I have lived two years in Sicily, enough to take insults very personally.

When the commander and the rest of the local police force arrive, I make it clear that respect is the basis of a fruitful dialogue. “I will not talk to you,” I say to the officer in front of his superiors, “you have failed to show me respect.”

Honestly I don’t like to humiliate someone in public, and in this case it was mainly theatre, but it worked. Police were a lot more reasonable after that.

What followed was the same old story. They don’t want us to camp here. They want us to show documents. They forbid us to make a fire, etc.

The fire is lit under their noses. We refuse documents. They try to insist, they menace to use force. “We can still come to an agreement, but if our superiors in Bari give us the order, we will take you in.”

In the meantime a crowd has gathered around us. They like us. They talk to us. They bring us food and blankets.

“As you wish. But do tell your superiors that if they decide to use force against peaceful citizens, it will be broadcast live on the internet. It will go around all the social networks. The whole world will be able to watch it. So with all the bad publicity that would result from it, your superiors should think twice if it’s really worth the effort.”

It wasn’t, of course. Like many of their colleagues before them, the police very silently retreat, and leave the square to us.

Local public in Altamura

 

Panorama