Needing time to rest and having a place to stay, I’m thinking: why not take some time to write about my little journey. I also had many thoughts that I want to record, and this is the best place, I’m guessing.
I have been out of Calais since the 11th of November. The time seemed right mostly because I had the opportunity to take a lift with a couple of friends, A and R. They have helped me a lot, and I am very indebted to them. I could see that they were worried, in the way that they were trying to map out the whole journey for me. This was on the 10th, in the office of Calais Migrant Solidarity, end of afternoon. I’d just finished delegating the next day’s tasks, those that I was personally responsible for, to another dear friend, S. Then, I took the decision to leave.
Some words about the past
The decision to leave Calais was as personal as it was political. I had problems with some members of my family, who kept giving me trouble because my activist life stopped me from attending to dinners and lunches as often as before. I was still doing the washingup, as part of an agreement for maintaining the house. But that wasn’t enough apparently. This was what they gave me; my mom, another activist who was barely at home as well, and who did some cleaning once in a while, got a lot worse abuse.
It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, seeing my dad give a disgusted look at my mom every now and then, and always making snarly remarks about the fact she had so many debts, and the house was ruined. I suppose there was some truth to that; yet, I couldn’t stand seeing all this acid poured over her all the time. So I needed to leave. But where? And how? For a long time, this wasn’t possible at all. I’d just given up and let time pass, mostly using the internet as a distraction, reading blogs, setting up my own, doing translations, subtitles, chatting on MSN Messenger, etc. All those activities have paid since I can now speak a pretty good English.
As I was still reading political blogs by the end of 2008, I learned about the Israeli attack on Gaza, and that really pissed me off. I needed to get out somewhere, and so I enquired to my mom where demonstrations were held. I won’t detail all the things I’ve done, but I turned my attention to Zionism over the following months, and this led me to attend a meeting with a Palestinian teacher in Lille. As I needed a place to sleep for the night, my mom hooked me up with an anarchist friend of hers. That friend, J, then told me about the No Borders camp as we were sharing dinner. Pastas and beef steak. “OF COURSE I’ll go there”, I said, “if it isn’t too far from where I am.” I haven’t got any money, you see. I live on ruined-parent-welfare (RPW).
This was how I started getting seriously involved in migration activism. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any prior experience. Seeing as my mom was still working as a teacher, there were times when I was needed, to help with such things as going to the ASSEDIC, the post office bank, the CAF. All those meetings and interviews and administrative crap gave me an inside look into the system, if I’d decide one day to live on benefits. I went there to help refugees understand what was going on, for they didn’t speak French yet. I couldn’t do that really properly, for a lot of the words were technical or I just couldn’t muster the translation fast enough. In the end, I had to take notes and promise to provide a translation.
I did those things occasionnally, and reluctantly. Most of the time, I learned about my work the very night before. My mom would enter my room late at night and slowly approach my bed, making a pleading face and just saying, “Matthieu?” And I would respond, angry and outraged because I knew what was coming, “WHAT?” She would approach still more, doing the same face consistently, not saying anything, knowing that I knew. And after a little while, she would explain that there was really no other way, I would explain that I was very very tired, and she’d say sorry, and I would prepare to get a very very short sleep, and say “Okay, alright. _Thanks! _Yeah, nevermind.”
At the Calais No Borders camp, I really loved the way I could be open about my anarchist leanings. It was a liberation. I loved how I could just turn up and find something to do, and make myself useful. That’s what I’d always wanted. I think back to those enormous job gatherings, where hundreds of young persons like me try to impress employers. I tried going there, but I never went all the way. I mean, I looked at myself, and I looked at them, all of them, and it never made any sense to me, that I and not any of these guys would be selected, for some particular special skill, or some other shit like looking good. In French, they say you have “une bonne presentation.”
I’ve always been about modesty and simplicity. The job market is not for me. I can’t begin to try. So working at the camp was lovely. All equal, no stress, make yourself useful whenever, wherever and however. The simple fact of writing this gives me strength and hope again.
After the camp was over, I left with my abusing family to go on a holiday in the south of France. They are much nicer when you are always around. By that time, I’d developed tender feelings for one of the persons of the camp, and those feelings later turned out to be unilateral. While on holiday, not being active all day like before felt disheartening; I was also crushed by the lack of any internet, and therefore by the fact I couldn’t sort out my situation with that too-dear friend. I wanted to go back to Calais so much.
I did that in the end. I also found out that friend was too-dear indeed, and I tried to get over it. This was at the end of July. Some of the activists from the camp decided to have a lasting presence in Calais, and rented a lot at the municipal camping. That’s where I spent a lot of time, going back and forth to attend daily meetings, and that’s when I started getting trouble from some people at home (my lifestyle was called ‘deviant’ at some point).
While I was active
Once again, I loved how easy it was to help out people in such a big way. The first few weeks I spent standing back as I’d always done. My position was this: I can’t cycle because I’m afraid of the circulation, and I do the least possible cause I can’t afford to burn out. I speak French and English, so there were times when I was required, and I didn’t flinch from that. One thing I didn’t participate in was patrols.
I’ve made friends with so many people in just a month. I fell in love again (and once again, it later turned out that I shouldn’t have). I also noticed a peculiar thing. While I was working in Calais, every single person I’ve met and worked with, I feel like I’ve always known them. Usually when you meet strangers, you feel a little weird right? Not too comfortable. Well, the opposite was true here. That was quite incredible to me.
The migrants have given me confidence. There is a lot to learn in their struggle. I remember being quite afraid of being evicted from my home, because of all the fines my mom got for speaking her mind freely on the indymedia lille website, and that got her in the red with regards to bills of all kinds. In France you can’t insult an official. There is actually an offense that says the honor of public officials needs to be maintained. It is called “le delit d’outrage.” Most of the activists who participate in French demos, if they get trouble with the police, ANY KIND of trouble, even the slightest, will get a trial for “outrage et rebellion.” It’s how cops make ends meet at the end of the month. A few hundred quids from demonstrators.
But after seeing all the cooperation and solidarity that existed among migrants, and seeing how they were fighting day after day to cross the channel, my fear disappeared. There is a lot to learn from them. My fear disappeared because I knew and felt that I wasn’t alone anymore. My fear disappeared because I knew there were people enduring a lot LOT worse, and they were still struggling, and a lot of them, winning, against this whole crap. The state is able to prevail because people are too afraid to relinquish it, as most of them must be if the sense of community is dead, killed by the state capitalist system.
I did end up cycling, after S (another S) forced me to, under threat of ridicule. I thought I was gonna lose my life over a car accident. As we were heading towards the docks where we needed to meet someone, she looked back at slow me and laughed at my awkward-I-don’t-want-to-die-cycling. I was quite pissy about the whole thing, as you can guess from this paragraph.
After this, I was more open with the idea of doing the patrols around town. Patrols are the main activity in Calais; we do help here and there as needs arise, filing a request, going to the PASS clinic, going to the hospital, giving out blankets, etc. But patrols seem more meaningful, finding and filming the cops as they arrest innocent people; they take in a lot of energy as well, and one feels he has done all he could after two hours of cycling around.
This is the hardest part about Calais. The misery is such that activists are always wondering if there isn’t more to do, more efficiently. I have had that worry a lot of times, and I have felt guilty. I burnt out in Calais, took a day off, and I was back the day after. The town and its fascism cannot be escaped. That day off wasn’t really one. I pretended I did not care about the CRS officers/vans I saw three times in a day, when all I did was cycling around with no purpose. There is no rest from these assholes.
I cannot go on with this part without doing an endless account of everything I did. The point is, that I was living what I felt was a full life (FINALLY), unlike the previous one that was dull and empty in comparison. I had ideas and hopes. But those ideas did not seem to converge with other people’s. I wanted to speak but I felt my French co-activists were not on the same wavelength. I just had a vibe with people from Britain, probably because they were anarchists, like me.
Anarchy in the UK
So now, we address the political reasons that I had, of leaving Calais. Since the British state unlawfully blocks the movement of people across the channel, and since it seems to be the more willing one to implement that policy, it would follow that a weakening of that state is the best course of action. The principled opposition to state action is anarchist in nature.
I am a particular kind of anarchist. I stick to the dictionary definition in the first place, and in the second I go about my business and let the others do that too. The name is mutualism, or free market socialism. But under anarchy, who cares? Well, sadly, my anarchist friends would. They are anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-collectivists, etc. and when I’d say what I stand for, they’d ask me questions like “But would we have trains? Universities?” One of them did.
As I was stocking up on anarchist theory from America over the years, I understood that anti-state was the principle that moved all anarchist movements, and the rest was to the preference of everyone. Alliance is possible, and desirable. The state, to use Spooner’s definition, is “the name given to the territorial limits of power.” As soon as it is possible, inside those territorial limits, to escape such a power and to have your own way, then the state is down, liberty reigns. Therefore, in order for anarchy to reign, it is sufficient to be able to opt out. This possibility I’ve been wanting to present it openly to the public, in the form of a plan.
The plan runs according to the following lines: we know that not everyone’s gonna agree with everyone else. That’s not a point for tyrannical rule. That’s a point against it, and against the state, whatever process it portrays as justifying its existence. That’s also a point for community organization with consensus decision making. That’s a point for anarchy.
There shall be in Britain, not one rule for all, but as many rules as there are consenses. If we can get an idea what communities would arise where, we could simply map out the post-state-capitalist Britain, and give the possibility to every citizen of simply moving where they would prefer.
This could be difficult; not everyone is ready to leave, for personal reasons, and the balance is sensitive, between having the theoretical possibility of opting out, and being practically forced to stay. I’ve had this while at home. Battered women have this as well with their abusing husbands. It’s not enough, therefore, to know where it is possible to go and be free from the state. If it is sufficiently difficult, then the theoretical possibility of liberty still retains the practical stain of tyranny. I would hope that care and attention are given to this.
We could also use some anarchist legal theory, to put the statist criminals back into place. A lot more could be organized and prepared, to make the possibility of practical anarchy much more realistic and within everyone’s reach.
Back to the trip
But all this is awfully awfully distant. Not even close to getting started. I’m just going to stop and get back to where I left. I was preparing to leave Calais for personal and political reasons. It was a Wednesday morning. I was just up, and scribbling down some lines for the better brother, explaining I’d put my awesome webcam for sale, and he could do what he wants with the money. I was leaving in a hurry, having an opportunity to get a lift for free, and this money which was intended for leaving couldn’t be used anymore. I wrote another note to say goodbye, in a pretty pissed way, pointing out how I couldn’t stand them anymore, I put that in an envelope.
I then said to my mom that I was leaving. We had a hug in the corridor, and whispered goodbye. I put the envelope through the door after I opened it. I took my bags and left.
I thought I could have to use some of the money I’d saved, and tried to go to some exchange points around town. But it was so early at that point that nothing was opened. So I simply went to the office, where I found R&A, and C as well. C might be the longest running activist in Calais. I’m friends with pretty much everyone, and C’s no exception, far from it. I often find myself to be pissed about the same problems she is. She has this no-nonsense side that I like. And she’s stubborn and doesn’t know when to stop talking, which is so funny.
R&A tell me they’re going to get a tea somewhere, and then we’ll be off. I give C a special envelope and chat with her about the latest news from Coquelles, the detention centre near Calais, where innocents are routinely confined and from which they are sometimes deported. She has an idea something might be in the works there, and tells me she needs to talk to my mom about it.
We talk a little more about the situation in Calais, and life in the UK. R&A are back and I’m coming up with my bags. C goes back inside the office and gets out with a red rucksack, one of those that have been distributed to migrants, not all of whom need something this flashy. I make a pleading face, “Ow I need that!!” I have a small bag that barely remains attached, and another that quickly tires the fingers. C kindly gives it to me, and says she’ll just ask around for another one. That’s how cool migrants are.
I enter R&A’s vehicle with my newly acquired rucksack, being quite happy with it. Excellent. Nice start. We are heading towards the ferry, but first we need to make a stop somewhere. A needs to see a friend before she heads back to Britain. She comes back and seems somewhat upset. It looks like it was a great friend she said goodbye to. We are heading back to the ferries this time.
As I said earlier, the town’s fascism cannot be escaped, and even as I am in the process of leaving it along with A&R, we drive behind a CRS van, and my tension goes up. We eventually split up though.
R, seated on the left, is using his mobile, and French me believes we are about to have an accident, because his eyes are obviously not on the road. But British me will later realize, that drivers in Britain are seated on the right, and so it was actually all fine. A was driving, not R.
In any case, A drives us to the P&O office. I take my ID and my money, preparing for a shock. Actually, it really was as easy as some people said. The P&O attendant simply added me to the list of passengers in the vehicle, and printed out a little paper. All I needed, it turns out, was a piece of paper with my name on it.
Crossing the channel
This doesn’t sound too impressive. The problem is, it’s that particular piece of paper called the national identity card, or the passport. A was driving through all the controls, and I was thinking, more and more: all this, for a piece of paper. I had to show my ID and my face to someone in a cabin. And then we were off again, finally reaching the ferry.
The inside of it was even more astounding. It looked like a fucking casino. A place for the rich. My friends in Britain use the word ‘posh’ sometimes, I think it was appropriate. A was in tears and I went for a walk around the boat to give her some privacy with R. As I returned she seemed a little better. I didn’t think getting the ferry was so awful. I was thinking back to all those people who were living in shit in Calais, risking their lives and all, and I saw myself in this ferry for free, because I have a piece of paper with my name on it.
By that time, I was thinking of doing some ranting in some show with that recurring phrase, piece of paper, with your name on it. You get to cross because you got it, got what ? The blessed piece of paper, with your name on it. It decides life and death, what does ? The blessed piece of paper, with your name on it. You can go on forever with this. I could have screamed all this. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS. I’ve been feeling like taking my ID card and a pair of scissors and just destroying this crap before an outraged crowd of stupid statists. But the problem is, I might have to cross the channel some day. What do I use then?
Well, why not an alternative ferry company that doesn’t ask for passports? “We could try that for a little while, but then the state would crack down.” Statism, ya know. I guess so. Still, our own boats that don’t charge much, and that don’t fuck with migrants’ rights, that would be awesome to have, and efficient. The practical end of border controls, and we don’t need to feel awkward asking the state permission to walk-on-a-road-together-with-signs anymore.
But anyway, A&R shared some of their food with me. They had cheese, and sandwich. And I’d taken a coffee, on their money. They’re so nice. I’m leaving the rest of the trip for later, it’s late and I need to rest.