Report from Beauraing – one week from Brussels
We arrived in the mid-size town of Beauraing yesterday and are staying until tomorrow. It is just past noon now. So far, an “action” meeting has occupied the day. We are relaxed, also due to almost a week of sunshine.
One frequently discussed topic is the “holiday camp atmosphere”, i.e. that we are not doing enough actions and have few meetings. Also we don’t have many contacts with locals and press in the villages we stay in. A Belgian newspaper called us a “Woodstock with a radical edge.”
A promising echo, but after the sit-in at the meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg and the following arrests, we did not speak about it in a larger meeting for almost a week. Considering all the experience our group has with police confrontations, I was unhappy that the action was so uncoordinated and we were often forced to react to a backwoods police force. I think we took too many risks and had more luck than skill. Also it was stupid expose ourselves to the police in a place without witnesses.
Nevertheless the group’s morale grew after this day and many marchers support confrontation. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder experience, while in the camp we often live side by side.
That we live peacefully in the camp is a result of the professionalized infrastructure. There are few practical issues to fight about. Our kitchen, medical and logistics teams work day and night. Nobody on the march has to worry about food, shelter or health care. This improves people’s frustration tolerance. Many at our camp drink beer, not everyone is happy about it, but drinking and fighting are not serious problems right now.
In Berlin, the infrastructure broke down at one point. Everyone had to see for himself how to get a warm meal and a mattress at night. People ganged up against each other, deadly fights could break out at the shower. This is not so different from the situation in East Germany, were jobs and public services disappeared almost overnight; drugs and hooliganism followed. Like in East Germany, you will not find explanations by analyzing people’s collective traumas or “cultural prejudice,” but by following the money trail.
As Fanon writes, a colony, i.e. a space where the basic means for survival are withdrawn, turns into a giant concentration camp. Every small inattentiveness towards another is an assassination attempt and provokes a violent reaction. Such colonies are not faraway places, they are portable like the passports that deny or grant legal protection. When people are outlawed, nothing else but lawlessness can be the result.
When everyone in a group has a minimal feeling that s/he will not be cheated, individuals will not act like assholes. Recently some mobile phones disappeared, but the refugee plenum reacted very quickly. Like with all thefts, there’s no hope recovering the stolen items, but it was made clear that we look out for each other’s things. People still feel comfortable leaving their valuables lying around all over the camp. People also respect the group’s finances; it happens rarely that someone demands repayment for private receipts, and they accept it if we explain them that we only pay public expenses.
At night, the film makers among us often show documentaries from previous actions, and most marchers watch them. Today, on our free day in Beauraing, we had a visit from a TV team, who interviewed some activists. Right now we are simulating a sit-in attacked by police and almost the whole march is taking part. There are also workshops from “radical clowning” to vegan sausage making.
The part of Belgium we are traversing towards Brussels is very rural and there are few people we could speak to here, but we are using the time to prepare greater actions in Brussels, to contact the press there and mobilize the local scene. Some of us feel that our group could do more campaign work. Because the marchers don’t have to set up the camp or cook, they have time to discuss tactics or speak to locals.
Sometimes we only march 10 km per day, about 3 hours. The experienced activists among us already have trouble finding something to do. New members often sit around waiting for orders, and since nobody likes to give or receive orders, there’s a lot of idleness. I also have the feeling that those who have a regular “job”, like infrastructure, banner painting, whatever, become a little over-ambitious and would rather work twice as much instead of training potential competitors. This is supposed to be a problem specific to capitalist wage labor – one will work for ten instead of risking his job. But it exists even without wages. A job is not just a source of income, it’s also a justification for having privileges. You don’t gain status through your job, you get a job because you already have a status. The job, the income, the consumption rights are just manifestations of your status.
Especially passport-holders need to feel like they’re “contributing” something, while refugees have an unquestioned right to stay. The headcount economics of care work dominate not just the European welfare/asylum system: The more souls we manage, the more we are worth. The less they speak, the better for us.
We often had the discussion about people working “autonomously” or “collectively.” The more we march, the more we see that stuff gets done faster when everyone knows what to do. It doesn’t make sense to choose twenty new people every day to pack the transport cars, when three can do it. Also, the refugees on our march are not here to learn a trade, they’re here to get publicity for their cause. If the kitchen doesn’t work, nothing works. Infrastructure is the backbone of our movement, funding is the engine. These fields are also controlled by “experts.” But we are not marching to build a kibbuz, we want the whole continent.
Refugee rights were a projection surface for dreamy white “anti-racists”, “post-colonialists” and NGOs as long as they could talk among themselves. We don’t want better humans, we want better rights for all, even the assholes.