Refugee Freedom March Pt. II, 20.5.2014 to 21.5.2014

After cheerful processions through five or six villages, we camp near a small monastery on 20 May. We have a good marching band with drummers and a trumpet and simple slogans to sing:

– O lala, o lele, solidarite avec les sans papiers
– Vive la marche des sans papiers, Strasbourg a Bruxelles par pied, pour la liberte
– Abat, abat, abat les frontiers / Personne, personne, personne n’est illegal

We avoid aggressive slogans, slogans in languages locals don’t understand and other mistakes spontaneous demos often make. Our messages are simple and in the end, everyone will have a small “tape message” to repeat to the public. Not everyone can talk freely to regular citizens, but everyone can learn it.

Before each village, we gather the march group and our “hype man” (man!) gives a warm up speech to raise the group’s energy. We forgot the banners on the first day, but brought them after. Our group is well trained, after only 2 days of marching.

Our people run around and give flyers to every villager we pass. The villagers react more friendly, the better we perform; most wave their hands from a distance. One old woman even came down from her terrace and danced with us in the street. The people are not afraid, and this is important, because they have no idea who we are. For example, one woman and her little son passed us on their bikes on a hiking route, and the police offered to clear her way, but she just waved them off.

Although we often block traffic, the drivers are friendly. The only driver who yelled at us was a German handwerker on a customer visit. Also in villages known as “conservative”, people often give us water on the march. Last night, we slept on the property of a fancy tennis club. The mayor came personally and ate with us. He let us use the wifi from his nearby home and even paid our electricity bill. He had given us the camp site without asking his council – they’re too “old fashioned”, he hinted.

We even have a march security team: guys with walkie talkies at the front and back of the caravan. They make sure we don’t block the opposing lane. Only two regular police cars accompany us, so it’s good to have our own traffic security.

The greatest danger to our movement are the meetings. They stank in Berlin and they stink in France. Usually it’s the Berlin group of activists who summons the meetings, proposes topics, what to do and then extensively discusses all hypothetical actions we could decide to decide upon. Of course each statement – which never deserved air time in the first place – is translated into five languages. This way, it takes only 20 minutes to discuss whether or not to let a German reporter take part in our march – decision to follow.

Most refugees attend with faces that require little explanation. More experienced ones get really angry. At least this is better than resignation, which is the polite reaction to this bullshit. We have 6 hour long meetings every day – on the march. If there’s anything to discuss, people can do it then. Afterwards they are tired.

Today I developed a tactic to peddle my issues without ever going to a meeting:

1. Grab sugary snack
2. Find person you think can solve your problem (yes, usually it’s one person)
Offer them sugary snack
4. Politely
creep into their conversation
5. Ask if they can fix your problem
6. If yes, ask them to fix it; if not, go back to 1

Bribing your local functionary is the usual way of getting shit done under socialism, and also in (gr)assroots movements, cronyism is the only way to survive the deadly incompetence of the democratic council or the dictatorship that offers the only salvation.

Despite the happy family vibe in the general meeting, most peer groups stick together. Those people who share a language do mix, but many refugees speak no English or French.

But so what? The refugees don’t want to make friends with us, they want to get (positive) publicity for their problems. As activists, our job is to make sure the march goes through, to contact politicians and journalists and get out of the way when we’re not needed. Meetings are the opposite – we get in the way when we’re not needed. 90 percent of the speaking time at meetings is occupied by the master race. They hold their real meetings at lunch and declare when it’s time for solidarity and when to sing “freedom, liberte, libertad, azadi, huriya, libertad”.

People communicate more easily by playing soccer together, cooking, playing music (even if they’re bad). Although there is so much talking in our movement, sometimes even rivalling the discursive quality of smaller city councils, our public communication is evolving only very slowly and it depends much more on the morale of the activists than on their theoretical firmness. Yes, sometimes the local people are just ignorant, but more often we, the “radical” students, are more prejudiced than they and do everything to prevent the erosion of our moral pedestal.

I saw it again today, when we held an open mic rally in the center of Saverne, a medium size town. Our mobile kitchen set up at the town’s central fountain, right in front of a mobile sausage stand. The people eating there, usually not the premier members of their community, and the overdressed teenagers dozing in the sun, were confused and never really opened up to us – because except for one or two people, none from our group even spoke to them.

We set up a big sound system and let people publicly proclaim their issues for all to hear – in at least five languages – but we did not descend to even have one longer conversation with the one or two hundred citizens who passed our rally. We handed out a few flyers and waved from a safe distance, but that was it. One journalist from the local paper came, a few kids petted our horses, one woman and a drunk man grabbed our mike to proclaim their support, but public relations are not press relations.

If we want to “reach out” to the public, we have to talk to people. This is the whole point of marching through the countryside, otherwise we could just send a press release and ask a European parliament member to read a letter from our movement at the next plenary session. Yaaawn!


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