4: Water is life

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As we woke the following morning we made our way as close to the centre as possible and began to see how these actions we had been taking were beginning to intertwine. A march had been proposed in support of the protestors at Standing Rock in North Dakota. We stood by the ubiquitous I Amsterdam sign, 15000823_10157656044115290_2685683941056259967_o.jpg looking out over the grass of an open park to the galleries, museums and opera houses and onwards to a building with an American flag hanging outside of it. We gathered around it, trepidatious due to the lack of voices, signs or intimation of anything suggesting a demonstration was going to take place. At that point though a procession did begin to play. They weaved around a corner and with drums and other instruments to hand, we heard the chorus of ‘Water is life, you can’t drink oil’ We took these shouts to the gates of the American embassy and belted them out.

It is here that some folk question the cause and effect of demonstrations. ‘Protests change nothing’ people passively cry as they do nothing themselves to try to alleviate a perceived wrong or even countenance what a protest can be. The voices standing in Amsterdam were a long way from those on the front line in North Dakota but there was solidarity and it was a chance for people in this city and others to let the American state know that they are being watched and people are not wanting to stand back and implicitly support their bullying and IMG_2631.JPGlatent hypocrisy towards its native peoples protecting land. With these kinds of protests people are making a statement and stating a want to change what is in motion. From that, it’s more possible to be mobilised and together. The hope has to be that more direct action will follow on from that. How will that happen? Smash the banks?

We swept across the parks and entered through the archway of the central station in Amsterdam before taking over, if just briefly, the streets and roads of the centre of the city. That took us outside the Dutch bank ING, who had investments in the pipeline project. Again, what will our actions achieve? For one thing, we didnae smash it. Anything less and it’s hard to measure but you can’t just let those with power and those with money do something that seems wrong without even addressing it. These soulless entities dine out on the most vapid of marketing techniques to get people to tacitly agree to their existence, promoting values of humanity and family, advertising emotion as something they can package. Well fuck them. We let that be known in a fairly civil and engaging manner. Not for them but for the passers by in the street, taking videos on their phone and joining in with the chants. People inside, ‘clients’, ‘customers’, ‘consumers’, showed their appreciation as well. Never rest on your laurels, but with the right pressure, maybe that is the type of thing that will set the individual off on forms of divestment. In this week where an establishment still dictated certain power structures, it felt like we were getting through to people. You alone aren’t going to be able to overthrow these monoliths of control but alone you can take a stand against them and find their are others raising their heads like so. We wound down the march in an open square with speeches, messages and greater numbers than that which we started with.

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Our evening continued in the same vein of engagement. We went for dinner at Joe’s Garage, a squat that was hosting a dinner to raise funds for anti fascist and anarchist groups that were dealing with police brutality in a neighbourhood called Den Haag over the last couple of months. We dined out on food that had been foraged from across the city. Produce that was languishing in bins, ready for landfill were salvaged and had brought fifty people together for a communal meal where interests and ideas could flow. We got a greater sense of the lives beneath the surface of Amsterdam and seeing such depths of character, it served as another inspiration for how our lives could be lived back home. Distant, abstract notions of the world often make the planet seem an overwhelming place to inhabit. People sift into narrow prisms of how to live, how to get by, how to survive that they never dare take chances that might just be of greater benefit to them than the tightening screw of conformity that they live by. And whilst they’re nourishing themselves they can be engaged in actions that help the oppressed, helped the marginalised. This shouldn’t and needn’t be undertaken like some form of missionary work where one uses their want to do good as a privilege over the less fortunate. A materialist culture breeds this idea of success and hierarchy. Reject that and enjoy being on a shared level with people, talk about points of interest, not just the information that you’re told is trending.

We met another friend of Iva’s called Ricardo, an Italian Scot living in Alkmaar for the EU that had also lived in Edinburgh for a while. He told us about his job as a data analyst for the EU. Maybe these are the kinds of unknown layers that people complain about when they speak vaguely and without example of the overbearing bureaucracy of the EU. But from what I could make out, it sounded worthwhile and of a wider benefit to all citizens of the union. It was an insightful example of intelligent Europeans being given an opportunity to work with other such people towards creating an ever integrative sphere. Of course, this should always be watched over with skepticism but these people seem to care, they seem to be switched on. As a British person whose not always had much of an idea what direction to take, this seemed like a whole world being opened up. For any younger British people thinking that way, they better act fast, because potentially these avenues aren’t going to be around much longer. People have to take the actions to support the world they want to see.

We left the wider gang and went to meet a girl called Jeanine, a friend of Liam’s that he’d met working over the summer. We arrived at her house and for the first fifteen minutes or so insisted that Ricardo was our Uber driver and had told us that it was commonplace to invite your driver up to your house after the ride. He played the part of charming foreign driver well as our hosts sat there bemused at best, apprehensive at worst. After saying faretheewell to Ricardo we told them the truth and from there Jeanine took us on a wonder through the local neighbourhood. She took us down streets and hidden away paths that she told us to wander around the next day. Shielded by the glare of the soulless Heineken Experience, we were able to swoop around undetected in this quaint, interesting spot of the city far from the vapid wants of the touristic parts of town. For that reason, I won’t go into more details of the place for it should maintain its integrity, something that can’t be done if every gormless tourist fortunate enough to be shown it spraffs about it to everyone else. Maybe I’ve said to much already.

We stopped by a falafel shop where we were allowed to crack open the bottle of red wine Jeanine had hospitably provided. Even more hospitably she refrained from drinking any more than a sip which left the rest of the bottle to be consumed by the two of us, allowing Jeanine to tease out all of our secrets. There was an ease to the environment which was nice and we shared discussions on where we were in the world individually, where we wanted to go with that and how we wanted to entangle that with essentially good deeds and actions to other people. It seems to me that these vague notions of do goodedness chime with a lot of people and by talking about these things with others, with strangers, it creates an opportunity for them to become more of a reality. I felt more confident in professing these ways of living as a result of our interactions with Jeanine and so many others from the last week moving around.

After a while we wandered back to Jeanine’s. A confusion meant we hadn’t been sure where we were staying but mercifully she put us up for the couple of hours her sofa was available. It did mean an early rise from this late night so Liam and I left early and ambled around, finding a hipster cafe to get gourmet porridge and a couple more hours sleep. This would be all the rest we would have until early the next morning. By that point we would be finding ourselves knee deep in the end of a world order. It was November 8th and across the waters, millions of Americans were casting ballots for the Presidential elections. Despite the tumultuous nature of the world it was hard to fathom the extent that the American people would drive the planet into fresh chaos. The result might be lacklustre but this ‘unthinkable’ wasn’t going to happen.

We had plans to head to a bar to watch the election results roll in. Later on my night would culminate in the nether reaches of a darkened attic with two acid addled French guys and a Portuguese fella racking up lines of speed amongst one another but at this stage we were merely lounging around preparing for the night ahead. If the end of my night took an unexpected turn, I would discover the following morning that many surprising things had happened across the world that evening. Before all of that though we were at home when at around 6pm an Italian man burst through the door with two beautiful women by his side. Almost before he had finished the second syllable on his hello he was professing his plans for magic mushrooms and asked if anyone else would like to do the same. It was an interesting proposition and one we would go ahead with. They returned one hour later with a pot of mushroom tea and we toasted to the end of the world.

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