When I was a young teenager, full of outrage at the injustices of the world while knowing very little about them, I remember asking my mother how journalists filming people in warzones or dying of hunger could live with themselves without doing something to help them.
Now I feel guilty of the same substitution of intellectual solidarity for real, practical, human solidarity.
My friends and I talk a lot about the virtues of “gonzo” journalism – the denial of objectivity , the embracing of the subjectivity of the writer, who must live what they are writing about, not merely observe as if they were outside the situation. Anyone who’s black bloc tactics to push through police lines have been foiled by lines of snap-happy photographers getting in the way will know that journalists are never truly outside of the situation.
We came here to Tangiers with this in mind, not just to collect information, but, crucially, to ‘see what happens’ in the sense of ‘see what situations we end up finding ourselves involved in’. As an affinity group of three close friends we should theoretically be able to react to events as they unfold, looking out for each other and gaging our respective comfort levels as we go.
Today we were told that 18 people died at the border with Melilla last night, and many more have been injured, taken to the border with Algeria and dumped there, including pregnant women. The man who told us was a Senegalese ‘mediator’ and translator working for a humanitarian association that provides services for migrants. We had miraculously found him on couchsurfing and he turned out to be the ideal contact to have made here, just at the time we were running out of money to keep paying for hotels, cheap as they are (about €2.50 per night). But because this has happened he has to go to Nador, on the Moroccan side of the border at Melilla for a demonstration that is happening there.
Everything we’ve been saying to ourselves and to others about why we are here would imply that we should be going too. The main reason we are not is money. It’s hundreds of kilometres away and apparently hotels there are more expensive. We don’t even have enough to get the boat back to Europe. So we’ve checked in to another cheap hotel here in Tangiers and are sitting or wandering about with nothing to do.
I have claimed many times that I am ‘not a tourist’ as if something tangible separates me from the people I see all over the place getting hassled by street hustlers and paying too much for everything. But I am doing the same, just as I was in Latin America when I also claimed to have some political purpose that meant I didn’t fit into the ‘tourist’ category. I’m just a poorer tourist, with no itinerary.
We have spoken of this trip a lot as the beginning of something, justifying our lack of direct action while here with the idea that we’re going to come back many times and organise various different actions, bring more white European activists with us. After all, we still know virtually nothing about the legal context for taking action here, or really what kind of action would be useful.
However, the future, as the song goes, is in the future, and for now I wonder what people make of us. A bunch of stupid privileged white kids who think they can save the world? Probably, and maybe they’re right, for all our self-deprecating remarks and talk of ‘the workers can only be liberated by themselves’ anarchism.
Do I daydream about utopian revolutionary solutions and unstoppable proletarian insurrections as a way to block out a truth I cannot accept? Do I imagine to myself that my small actions and gestures of solidarity are worth more than they really are in order to disguise from myself my true powerlessness. I am cynical enough to assume so, though my pride usually prevents me from admitting it to others.
I have done a good job convincing myself over recent months that my politics are not based merely on a patronising sense of ‘white guilt’ but instead on some kind of internationalist class-based solidarity. But when I was asked my our new Senegalese ‘comrade’ why we were here, the look in his eyes made the words I was saying seem hollow. I felt like I had failed some kind of test.
But this is besides the point. I feel I have enough strength to deal with such existential confusion, such guilt and such tiresome and constant misunderstandings of language and culture as I am bound to experience over the next few months or years, if indeed I do keep returning here under the banner of ‘No Borders’. The point is, I need money.
I would not be here if I did not have a mother rich enough to give me money to do so. Without her help I would not have even made it to the ZAD, the last place I went with the intention of doing ‘something political’, either. Busking, stealing, skipping, hitchhiking, and jumping trains have enables us to live successful lives as dropouts, and we have had a lot of fun, none of which I even come close to regretting.
But to be ‘Activists’ is different. The position of an ‘Activist’ is an inherently privileged one: it requires people to have both free time and disposable income.
Time in the world of dropout culture is never as free as it appears- even the simplest of tasks take hours, either waiting for drug-addled or otherwise twisted brains and energy levels to align, or simply because the ways we have found to do things for free simply take a lot longer that the ways people pay for.
As for disposable income, it’s a joke. Any money anyone has in a dropout community is almost immediately spent on communal resources, whether or not they want it to be. In Brighton I had to constantly beg slightly wealthier activists than myself for money to print flyers and such, for even small amounts seemed beyond my ability to raise.
Maybe I’m just too lazy and disorganised, maybe the musicians I busk and try and play gigs with just aren’t committed enough for my career to take off the tiny bit more it needs to for me to sustainably be an ‘activist’.
Or maybe I should just ‘give up activism’ and seek the good life instead. I have met a lot of apolitical dropouts, and many more whose politics consist mainly of just talking about it, and they seem the happiest people I can imagine being.
But my brain will not let me abandon the struggle.