I pick up a newspaper left on a bench in the National Gardens; it’s a few days old, French. Inside there are photos of last week’s demonstrations in Syntagma, the smoke of burning tires rising behind the images of protesters. Across the page, another photo of people crowding a public space, standing on an overturned car, mouths opened to release shouts – of what? Robson Street, Vancouver. I recall a quote captured in a Canadian paper before I left: What else do you expect me to do? I have to let it out somehow, he says to a journalist as he sets a newspaper box alight.
Today the broad street that divides the Parliament from Syntagma is closed, filled with protesters, allies, street vendors and the curious. There is a low, raised platform up against the wrought iron fence in front of the government buildings. A man speaks in the cadences of the indignant – les indignés, l@s indignad@s — as they have become known in the languages of Europe. The gathered crowd responds in the rhythms of street litanies echoed in squares around the world. We will not be defeated.
Over to the side, a handful of police stand or lounge on the steps leading to the Presidential Palace. Perhaps it’s because weeks have passed and, for the most part, things have fallen into a routine of public space occupation, marches, rallies, speeches. But for the veterans of Toronto streets, the contrast is worthy of note. Police on the street, a public gathering, and no black ramparts of helmets, shields, batons.
Today, the international team of trainers met all day on a rooftop patio in a hotel north of the city centre, in an area known for student activism. To my surprise and delight, one of the trainers for the Swedish/Norwegian/ Dutch boat is Martin Smedjeback from Gothenburg, Sweden, and my colleague trainer in Sudan! The group of trainers is small, considering the number of boats signed up for the flotilla – three Canadians, an Englishwoman, two Swedes, a U.S. American woman, one Italian, one Spaniard as well as a couple of resource persons from the Free Gaza movement, both of whom were a part of last year’s flotilla. We build a list of those elements we need to cover: legal issues, documents the boaters will need to sign, media awareness/messaging, team building, medical triage, boat safety, encounter/attack scenarios and weapons, physical props, including banners, anti-piracy defences, confidence-building (in one another and in our own abilities to respond; critical thinking, power dynamics, commitment to non-violence whatever happens, consciousness of white privilege.
Late in the afternoon, we leave, burdened by a clearer sense of how this drama will play out.
A small group of us spends the evening wandering Athens, back to the Plaqa, the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple to Zeus, the Aereopagus – making the most of the tourist time available to us, savouring dinner at a table set on an ancient cobblestone street, surrounded by people like us, equally enraptured by the city’s delights. Nearby, an accordion player does a good impression of Yannis Parios. The contrast between the work of the day – planning for violence, for fear, for captivity – and the invitation to Hellenic enchantments is stark.