Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Solidarity, as Weapon and Ethic


“We made it! An eight-language banner in fucking forty minutes!” beamed a Balkan anarchist comrade to those who’d been hurriedly creating this enormous expression of solidarity. Nearby, another anarchist comrade from the Revolutionary Anarchist Group, was painting the words “We never forget, we never forgive” in Turkish; his friend-mentor, murdered in the bombing of a peace rally in Ankara just a couple days ago, had just been buried back home.

Many other anarchists, from across the Mediterranean, Balkans, and Europe, along with a sprinkling of some of us from the United States, were mingling outside the social center — the welcome spot for this four-day segment of the ten-day Mediterranean anarchist gathering. The original kick-off was going to be public talks in the evening, but they were delayed. The anarchists of Salonica, in less than a day, had called for a “manifestation” (demonstration) in solidarity with this latest act of state terror.

As usual, the truth may never be known. There’s a media blackout in Turkey and the region; during the Gezi occupation, as our comrade from Turkey reminds us, state television showed penguins for four days (“everyone in Turkey knows everything about penguins, yet many know nothing about Gezi”). But comrades explain that at the Ankara peace gathering, police were eerily absent; they showed up after the bombing, and part of what they did was tear gas people who’d been hurt. Some of the dead were killed by the gas, not the bomb, although the bomb murdered and wounded hundreds. And further shattered emotions and hopes.

The bombing didn’t, it seems, shatter the resolve for getting more serious about what it means to resist. So here, some 1,000 people marched in two strong contingents, with our banner in eight languages, illustrating the power of what it means when anarchists confederate across borders to strategize together, to share ideas, difficulties, and sorrows, to invite each other to amp up mutual aid for our projects. This morning, for instance, I’m about to head back to the social center — by way of an anarchist-created map showing all our meeting spaces, squats, and bookstores in the neighborhood for this four-day gathering — for an “assembly” (a wide-ranging word that sometimes involves sharing, sometimes presentations and debates, sometimes decision making) about how to increase solidarity efforts around welcoming and mutually aiding refugees, especially across the borders “represented” here.

But back to our manifestation last night. The local anarchists, from the start, told us “internationalists” that they might want us to walk on a parallel street once we reached the Turkish Embassy, if a physical battle started between them and the police. They asked us to stick together as a bloc. For their part, they “armed” themselves with numerous heavy sticks carrying red and black flags, part symbol, part defense, if needed, and many carried motorcycle helmets as further defensive measure. Many of them seemed to be walking with their particular anarchist group; here, people are much more aware of working with and through groups, not individuals, and act as a group in demonstrations. The same is true of the many Marxist/Communist groups, who also converged with us at the pre-set meeting point, about 15 minutes from the anarchist social space, to start the manifestation.

There, we formed two huge but separate blocs — literally, a big gap was created by our varied, enormous banners between the 500-person (plus or minus) anarchist bloc in the front and the 500-person (plus or minus) communists in the back.

It felt electric, at least to those of us “internationals.” A Spanish comrade walked next to me for a long while, telling me again and again in slow, halting English, with a huge smile on his face, how emotional this was for him. He gestured to his eyes, to let me know it was causing tears of joy; he gestured to his arm, to let me know how this show of lived solidarity was causing goosebumps. He couldn’t believe that a few anarchists had brought this many together on such short notice. “Doesn’t this happen in Barcelona?” I asked him. “Not so fast.” But also, as he told me, not for things that are expressing a wider solidarity beyond anarchists. A comrade from Paris ran up to me later and hugged me, also a huge smile: “We are living our solidarity!” And yet another visiting anarchist told me, “I’ve never seen people who live out their ethics so much, so naturally, as if this is how just how we should be.”

All of us felt something so much bigger than ourselves, including in the joy of being able to share our various languages, without losing them or the nuances of culture and history they embody, and yet without borders dividing us because of that — because of so much else.

Our big manifestation meet up with a mass of police, already in tear-gas masks and with shields. We stood along their line for about a half hour, in what felt tense for about 1-2 minutes. And then the manifestation moved on and finally ended at our original starting point. Our Salonica comrades told us: “We decided not to engage in a fight with the police. It’s important to pick the right moment, and for now, we have four days of our Mediterranean meetings ahead, so we decided it’s more important to do that.”

And so from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., we listened to comrades from across the Balkans share their stories, mostly from three tiny antifascist groups in three smallish cities.They showed their PowerPoints of fascists and fascist graffiti and attacks in their towns, and their graffiti, stickers, and actions to counter. All mentioned how small and relatively alone their are. One person asked for ideas on how to open an anarchist space in his town without the few anarchists getting beaten up or killed, or their space burned down, by the fascists. And then one of these speakers cried and smiled at the same time, overcome with how moved she and her some anarchist group were by being asked here, by being taken seriously, but mostly, by being shown such warmth and solidarity, so they know they aren’t alone.

That we aren’t alone.

Solidarity is indeed our weapon, when we live it.

* * *

Note: Please excuse any and typos; I’m rushing to write in between wanting to take in every second of my time here in Greece. I hope to write in more depth following this gathering, and with fewer misspellings.

(Photo by Cindy Milstein, one-third of a big banner for solidarity demo in Salonica, Greece, for those who died at the hands of state terror in Ankara, October 11, 2015.)


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This entry was posted on October 14, 2015 by in Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces.
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