today i wandered around exarchia for awhile.
athens, like many big cities, is divided up into smaller districts. really they're just big neighborhoods. it's the same kind of thing as in seattle, eugene, tucson, and other cities in the states. so exarchia is the anarchist stronghold. it goes beyond eugene's whitaker and tucson's dunbar springs. in exarchia- the cops don't even go in. there are certain understood boundaries around the area and cops aren't welcome within these boundaries. cops adhere to this because it's understood that, should they enter, revolt will follow. it's interesting because in other areas- cops have a really large and overtly dominating presence. near the parliment building (where apparently prostests are held on average twice a week) there is always a bus full of riot gear ready to go. serious riot gear- i could see helmets and shields and imagine there's a lot more that they don't leave hanging in the window. then as you walk along- there are cops stationed at nearly every block, in twos or threes. sometimes with little pistols in holsters like they have in the states- sometimes with full on machine guns ready to go.
but here's the thing- it's really all for show. before the riots of last winter, when a 15 year old anarchist boy was shot and killed by police, it had been since the 1980s since anything of that severity happened. here's a little bbc piece about the situation overall. the cops here are trained to be really threatening but not actually kill anyone. same as in the states, i guess. but still- the presence is different. i passed two riot gear busses today, totally ready to go. and the guys walking around with their machine guns out- how can you not hate that and want to fight back? i'll be unpacking it all for a long time, mentally speaking. these are just first impressions for now.
i asked a bit about it all and was told that the police presence hasn't increased since the riots last winter- it's always been this heavy and is nothing new. but i think exarchia has increased its notoriety, anyway.
the grafitti is insane there. the ground floor of every single building there is literally covered in grafitti. stencils, posters, tags, messages in greek, english, and spanish. covered. i took tons of pictures and i promise i'll post them when i'm back home.
the best thing all day- really all week since i've been here- the most beautiful thing i saw in this place was a lovely little guerilla park, built on the site of an old parking lot. d.i.y. guerilla gardening at it's finest- the folks in exarchia got together, decided to make a garden, cleared out most of the concerte- dumpstered wood and the things they needed and planted a wonderful park full of benches, tables, interesting bits of artwork, trees, flowers, and edible things... i saw many tomatos. i was moved to tears, sitting there, actually. after walking block after block of dirty streets and grafitti everywhere that says "fuck the police" and other similar messages of anger, frustration and hate- this little park was a testament to people coming together to create something beautiful. and honestly- this tiny park in the middle of anarchist exarchia was the cleanest place i'd been in all of athens- even the touristy areas where my hostel is located. and there was a big sign at one corner that said, "love is possible." maybe it doesn't make sense how i've explained it here- why it was so moving and emotional. it just meant a lot to me that here, in athens, on the other side of the planet from my little world in tucson- there are some other anarchists out there who are trying to build something positive and loving in the midst of so much anger and frustration. this little park really inspired me and made me understand that i have like minded people all over the world- people who are sick of the status quo and sick of the way our world priveleges the rich and institutionally powerful- and who are trying to build something good in spite of it all and not succomb to hate. it's too easy to succomb to hate and really, love is the stronger force.
and so tomorrow i set off into the sunrise. i'm looking forward to being home. it's been a good trip. i saw many things and learned a lot. but now i'm out of money and feeling increasingly guilty about borrowing from my mommy, who doesn't have so much to lend out. anyway, i'm back to work in a couple weeks and things will even out again. all the same- i'm surrounded by these rich american kids in this hostel- kids who've been everywhere without batting an eye and who are just here to drink and get laid. grrr... but i must not succomb to hate.
i hope that whoever you are, wherever you are, you are happy and enjoying yourself. if you're not- go take a walk and smell some flowers or something.