It’s Autumn 2009, the middle of September, in the daytime.
I walk in the streets of Athens from Monastiraki, the flea market, down from Acropolis, up to Exarchia, through the luxury market area, past Parliament, the business district, the offices, government buildings, bars, cinemas and hotels.
I pass through buildings that burned down completely during the December riots, huge multistory corner buildings, still smelling of fire and rage: silent monuments of an outcry, remains of a thunderbolt that came from the sky and hit the city like a wild nightmare. The city breathes hard work, blackmail, exhaustion, obligation, exploitation and cheap amusements. Museums, galleries, stadiums and clubs inhale fear, misery and rage and turn them into a fake smile.
This ancient city continued on her way to normality, with all her fears and her cheap excuses, walking through this century like a slave girl in a parade, like a chained animal in a global circus, like you and I squandering our last and only lifetimes in a luxury mall or by the pool, drinking an expensive cocktail with our last euros, pretending to be the heroes of a Hollywood movie.
So many cars burned, but the streets are still full of them, going everywhere like empty private countries moving in the city’s veins and feeding the crisis. More than 500 shops were turned into debris and ashes, but in this city the market still works like an amusement park in the middle of a vast cemetery. The banks in all the major cities in Greece were smashed and burned, but people are still struggling with their clocks and their suspensions to pay back huge loans and high taxes. The workers’ strike was successful, but human beings still spend their lives in offices, keeping in good working order a mechanism that leads life on Earth toward extinction. All the universities were squatted for a month, but the students are still taking exams and dreaming of good careers, good money and two weeks of crazy holidays somewhere away from here.
Nothing changed … The clock of this world rings us out of sleep at 6:30 in the morning here same as anywhere else. We have to run to survive; we have to obey to stay out of prison; we have to forget our dreams to stay employed; we have to buy our lives from the supermarket and pay for the water we drink and the air we breathe and the place where we sleep.
Nothing changed … The government announces elections and the parliament is voting on our future; the politicians speak on TV every afternoon and plan our opinions; the policemen put immigrants without papers into concentration camps, and small paramilitary groups of Nazis go around kicking Arabs and Balkan people out of the squares. People go around in the streets like ghosts without lives of their own, and kids spend their time in front of computer screens in dismal internet shops and petit bourgeois apartments.
The same moves, the same decisions, the same confusion, the same doubts, the same wishes, the same answers, the same payments, the same walks, the same bars, the same clothes and shoes and makeup, the same songs and films and television programs, the same apologies, the same timetables. The production goes on and consumption consumes our days; the shops sell dreams that turn every night into individualized fears and collective social apathy.
Society sleeps in the night of oblivion. People try to find a way to live or else to leave, to get away from here. Paradise still waits after death, somewhere beyond our lifetimes. Nothing has changed.
Alexis is still lying dead on that pedestrian street corner in Exarchia.
Nothing changed, but … everything is different.
To express our rage with words or gestures is useless, ridiculous or dangerous – mindless or false common sense. Only cold-blooded animals are poisonous.
Everything is different …
More than 100,000 people took part in the insurrection of December 2008 and many more were influenced by those days. They wait in the veins of this society, ready to explode at any moment. Perhaps they can’t force the body of society in a specific direction, but when 100,000 cells explode in the veins of the social body, the body collapses – like the Greek state during December 2008. The bureaucrats of the state know this, and so do those in business corporations.
There are thousands of young people walking the streets of this country who, just a few months ago, encircled the police stations of their neighborhoods and threw stones at them, who burned the local banks and refused to go to school or work for weeks.
There are hundreds of workers who forced out the syndicalists at the head of the General Workers Union and assembled in their offices. There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who hate the system; there are as many lazy kids who hate working; and there are millions of dissatisfied producers and consumers of a life that offers nothing.
All these lonely people discovered their dignity during the insurrection, experiencing their personal and collective power to explode as the cities and villages caught fire and their horizons opened up beyond the white fog of tear gas. Those horizons remained open night after night and they remain open so long as the memory of the insurrection is a wound in your body and in the body of society.
Through our open wounds we are observing the horizons of our future. We are an image from the future.
There are thousands and thousands of people who don’t trust any government and hate the banks and the corporations. The insurrection helped millions of people across the world to stop, to see their lives with the clarity of a flashback, shifting their way of thinking for a moment and observing this world naked. The fairy tale revealed its ugliest face, and the beautiful smiles of the journalists and politicians froze … when they were unable to go on with the story that keeps the people in their place.
We stay awake in the deep night of social apathy. Around us millions of people continue sleeping, but their dreams are turning into nightmares that make them sweat as their hearts race and they weep silent teardrops that might wake them at any moment.
There are millions of people who don’t trust any official ideology or academic authority or any political leadership, who don’t vote for any legal organization, who mistrust rich philanthropists. The people of our times don’t believe in any universal truth or any specific lifestyle, any way of life or spiritual value system, any political agenda. They don’t read serious political or philosophical books or the announcements of the activists or even the free press except when they are in the metro for fifteen minutes. They don’t hear the right-wing president when he speaks or the speeches of the Communist Party; they want to go to a party, get drunk, find a boyfriend, go to the back of the garden and make love in the moonlight.
Nothing changed, but everything is different.
Hundreds of squatted social centers and radical student groups function in the universities, the schools and in the streets of all of Europe. Social initiatives, affinity groups, groups of friends, political gangs and underground meeting points in the streets and in squatted buildings bring the heat of their action into the soft belly of the regime.
Arson attacks, riots, demonstrations, free festivals and distribution of analysis and propaganda are organized every week, day after day, by ordinary people. These actions send signals: that there are targets, that there are institutions to mistrust, places to avoid, ways that have to change, places and relations of enslavement, places and relations of emancipation, points of no return.
Nobody trusts the government. Everyone knows that capitalism is destroying the planet, turning life into commodities, humanity into a destructive mechanism; it is suppressing creativity, love and fantasy; turning basic needs into a constant problem; and offering none of the happiness promised to the ex-Soviet Bloc countries.
Neoliberalism is dying. Everything is different.
We are here in the highways and in the squares, out in the streets, downtown in Exarchia and in the city center, still hanging around on the corner where Alexis liked to meet his friends. A whole new generation of people is around. You make so many new friends during an insurrection: so many new comrades to decide their own future and offer their new directions.
Everything is different. Week after week there are wild demonstrations for Freedom of Public Space from the State, Freedom of Immigrants from Borders, Freedom of All Prisoners from the causes of imprisonment, Freedom for All Workers from their imprisoned lives. These demonstrations are traveling on the body of the city searching for the wild riots of the future, preparing with their chants the spirit of active negation, the fire of radical change, the hope for a general social uprising.
People are beginning to reflect again on what general social revolt will look like. It will look like December 2008 and we are here and waiting.
Now we are here and waiting: for society to digest the smoke of the burned luxuries, to express openly its distrust of state institutions and make directions and decisions that will appear on the social horizon for the first time. Hundreds upon hundreds of small pamphlets of radical analysis are distributed week after week by amateur intellectuals preparing the end of the classical Western way of thinking. Thousands of posters put up in the streets of each neighborhood by the local squats and social centers send a signal to the petite bourgeoisie that the days of obedience, work, consumerism and individualism are coming to an end. Thousands of short films and paragraphs of critical thought use the internet to transmit the real stories of our lives, the real news of our actions, to connect the moments in order to produce the myths and dreams of coming insurrections.
The “important” people of this world try to persuade us that all these are not important. Anyway, they say, all these underground books and pamphlets are published by nonexistent publishers; the short videos on the internet are just childish games for kids and naïve romantics; the radical blogs are not efficient; the squats are places for criminal activity; and the youth cultures are the commodities of the near future. Anyway, they say, nothing changed: The television doesn’t speak about “all these” anymore except when a “terrorist” action occurs. The demonstrations are just some small riots around Exarchia. All that happened in December was a childish revolt over the accidental death of a child, which a few isolated anarchists took advantage of to express their nihilism, they say.
At the same time … “It’s midnight in Europe.”
There is a feeling of the end of an era all across Europe, and amazing stupidities are happening in the heads of postmodern thinkers as postmodernism dies. Nobody controls the spirit of the age. Nobody can offer solid analysis about what is happening around us. No one can predict what this world will look like in 50 years. Young people smile silently behind their black masks near the barricades, imagining a world with no obligations.
Everything is different. Maybe the elites, the rich, the famous and “important” people act like nothing changed, but nothing is normal anymore and no one has the authority to speak in the name of the people. The people express more mistrust toward the regime than ever, and perhaps they are ready to speak for themselves in such a way that no sociologist or journalist will be capable of understanding their language.
In the night, everywhere, the people speak about the general failure; in the bottom of their hearts, they know that everything has to change, that many things have to burn to ashes for humanity to continue its way in space and time.
I walk around in Exarchia. I pass through the squatted self-organized park, where old people from the neighborhood stay in the shade of trees and speak with young women about last night’s police attack on the area. A few meters away, at the place Alexis was shot, there is a marble monument with flowers and posters all around the walls, and a lit candle … It’s early in the afternoon; some young people stand around talking. People from a new squat give me a 32-page pamphlet analyzing everyday racism on a molecular social scale; on the other side of the pedestrian street, I see two people from an underground post-rock band that I know from free festivals talking with members of a DIY drum ’n’ bass collective.
No one will propagate a new way of life with words alone. There are no theories that can describe our passions. Maybe we are the ones who will take back our lives from capitalism and aristocracy. Maybe, like Alexis, we will be shot in the streets of our cities. There is no plan or even a specific goal or a single achievement we are fighting for. There are no futuristic visions of paradise inside the heads of the people, not even a wish to be in such a place except perhaps for short-term expensive holidays. We fight to survive, to maintain our dignity, humanity and critical thinking from one day to the next; we fight off the businessmen, politicians, armies and kings of this world as they attempt to steal our future and turn it into coins – day after day after day. We are the survivors of humanity in a war with our most pathetic selves.
We are lost in the darkness of a world in which we are strangers, foreigners, customers, guests, separate individuals; or we are just slaves that share some small personal salary to survive. We are survivors in the desert. When we meet, we meet in void; in void we live, the void we share. When we decide to attack, our attack is like thunder that comes from outer space and breaks the night of social apathy. We are waiting, waiting for the proper moment …
Nothing will stay like it was.
We are an image from the future.
Tasos Sagris is a poet and writer. He is a member of the Void Network – a cultural activism, theory and ephemeral arts collective founded in 1990 in Athens, with cells now in London, New York and Rio de Janeiro. His book of poetry, About Human Love in the Western Metropolitan Cities, was published in 2008 in Greece.
This article was adapted from We Are An Image From The Future / The Greek Revolt of December 2008, edited by A.G. Schwartz, Tasos Sagris & Void Network (AK Press, 2010).