What I remember from the march
What I remember from the march is not the boring meetings, the migration stories, the cheesy songs, the fights, the wasted young (and old) men, the critical whiteness debates, the all-inclusive banners – I know all this from Berlin and I know it won’t change soon.
I remember the what was different than Berlin, where there was potential for change:
The sleepy village cops who marched with us out of boredom, because nothing ever happened in their backward regions. Whenever they tried to disturb our march, we easily convinced them to rethink.
The mayor who paid our electricity bill and let us sleep at his commune’s fancy tennis club – without telling his conservative council members.
The local chapter of the Marxist-Leninist party who organized a huge sports hall for us to sleep in and donated ten euros – together with a picture showing a sad black man. The caption read: “Asylum for all oppressed people.”
Two young officers in Belgium, male and female, who prevented their older colleague from sending our march the wrong way. They escorted us all the way to our sleeping place, through the liveliest part of town. The guy laughed when he saw we had pasted his car full of stickers and the woman sounded her siren and waved good-bye to us.
The “diversity” of the homeless people in Brussels: Romanians, Roma or not, Jugoslaws, Belgians, Maghrebis, Afghans. I met all nationalities on the street, except Vlaams. In Germany, the majority of people living on the street are Germans – because stray foreigners are very promptly deported. In Belgium, like in Italy, the streets are full of immigrants.
A family from Macedonia had lost their Belgian residence permits over night; the oldest girl was still dressed ready for the schoolyard, now they were sleeping in the park. They watched our gatherings for a day or two, but did not feel comfortable enough to join.
One Romanian family in the park had paid a truck driver EUR 1000 to smuggle them into Belgium. Although Romanian citizens are also EU citizens, the Romanian state does not give passports to homeless citizens. I know this problem from Germany.
The father repeated with devotion that he’s not a thief or beggar. I gave him a tent to sleep in, but had to move it away from our media tent, because our security guard, an immigrant from North Africa, felt uneasy having “Romanians” sleep next to our valuables. In fact, some homeless kids were sneaking around our camp, stealing stuff, but so were our own people. But instead of giving the guard a lecture on triple oppression in broken French, I just moved the family to a quiet corner of our camp.
The park we slept in was full of immigrant kids who played football or did other teenie stuff. The whole neighborhood was full of immigrants, the immigration office was right next to our camp. However, in the week we were there, we never properly introduced ourselves to our neighbors. A few visited us, but it did not feel as if we were making real contact with the people. Instead, we ran around in front of government buildings, shouting slogans, waving flags.
The final purpose of our “revolutionary” movement is to talk to those in power and convince them to make decisions in our favor. By walking to Brussels, we implicitly paid respect to Europe’s epicenter of power. We usually ignored “regular” people, after handing them a flyer or yelling “Stop Deportation!”
In 2013, one of the Belgian activists told me, the sans-papiers had marched together with the unemployed; they were received warmly in every village. He was disappointed that people did not even leave their houses to join our march this time.
We already proved our distrust in the power of the people and our trust in the capitalist, racist regime that rules Europe. The distrust is not unfounded. Mass movements are scary. But if our march has shown one thing, is that most people are threatened by the same forces as we, or at least that they support us. When we demonstrate in remote villages, in dying mining towns, the people actually care what we have to say. We cannot draw lines between working people, unemployed people, migrants and refugees. Our papers are different, our interests are the same.
The dope dealer who supplied our camp in Charleroi was a white Belgian of maybe 20, wearing a wife beater and a baseball hat. He visited our camp with his “gang”: his girlfriend – pushing a baby – and some little cousins. The future of all Europeans is unemployment, street crime, drugs.
It’s bad enough that the police and rappers portray social problems as a “minority problems.” We have to stress that the problems in the refugee squats, on the street are majority problems. That the children of engineers will be fighting over empty beer bottles with the children of prostitutes. This is the only social equality Brussels can promise us. They did it in Eastern Europe, and they’ll do it in the West.
Even if some Europeans still have outdated, even colonialist views, our counter-propaganda cannot consists only of shouting at them. There are plenty of chauvinisms within our own movement: The superiority of this or that religion, of penises, this province vs. that province, or the shameless commodity fetishism of many friends, not to mention the “soldiers of Gaddafi”…
With refugees, the typical explanation for such views is: “Oh, they’re just colonial subjects.” Then we ignore it, and hope they’ll figure out for themselves.
When Europeans express the same prejudice, they are racists and we don’t speak to them anymore – hoping they’ll figure it out for themselves. If we, the high-priest_esses of equality cannot provide a simple, convincing explanation why nobody is better than anybody else, then how can we expect “commoners” to figure it out for themselves?
So what I learned from Brussels is what I learned from Berlin – you can’t change society without talking to people. It’s not about telling everyone how bad things are in “those” countries, but how bad they are right here. And that they will get much worse for everyone if we don’t act together.
The problem of internment camps and food vouchers, for example, is a very peculiar problem. Only refugees in Germany have these problems. With such a narrow focus, even “Lampedusa” refugees or East Europeans are excluded.
So if maybe 0.001% of the world’s refugees make it to Germany, focusing only on the German situation excludes 99.999% percent of all refugees, not to mention the many people living in miserable conditions in Germany. We need more universal demands: work for all, equal rights, free healthcare, freedom of movement, etc. If they see us fighting for their rights, they might also fight for ours.
As Marx wrote in 1844: “Warum soll der Deutsche sich für die Befreiung des Juden interessieren, wenn der Jude sich nicht für die Befreiung des Deutschen interessiert?” A minority movement must fight for the well-being of all or end as a lobby group.