Journey to Camp Rostock

Friday June 1 on the train from Berlin I was jammed in with hundreds of 18-23 year olds” standing room only though I luckily scored a seat amidst the backpacks. Sweet, friendly crowd, all in their private groups talking and laughing. A couple of guys come on the train’s PA system and tell jokes, make statements and then launch into a German rap made up for the G8, later someone sings a folk song in English against the G8 and still later a raucous punk rock song is played that gets a lot of the kids in my car singing along”¦ feels like a crowd going to a concert or a big camping jamboree” and I suppose it is!

After I rolled in to Rostock I spent 2.5 hours trying to find my way to the Convergence Center and then to the Camp, but luckily Tina and Rob were waiting at the bustling gate for me, so after some trepidation I found my temporary “home.”

Hundreds of people were pouring in every hour all night Friday and continuing throughout the weekend, leading to a population over 5,000. Here are two shots of the camp from different heights but a similar angle, one on Saturday morning and the right-hand one about 24 hours later on Sunday, to give you an idea of how densely crowded it became. And Camp Rostock is only one of three campsites set up to accommodate G8 protesters.

To the east across the river loomed a nuclear plant, steaming day and night. Several times I emerged from tents to catch a glimpse of this dark machine silently dominating the skyline several miles north of Rostock city in the former East Germany.

Once a bustling port city in the Soviet economic block, the city is now tidy and westernized but has 15%+ unemployment and the port is pretty dead compared to its storied past. The old socialist apartment blocks have been prettified too. What used to be an unbroken expanse of gray is now painted to liven it up a bit. Combined with the well-tended parks in the open spaces beneath these behemoths, it made for a fairly pleasant neighborhood compared to the former bleakness.

In preparation for the G8 summit starting tomorrow, June 6, thousands of protesters are converging on Rostock as a staging area for the direct action attempt to blockade Bad Heilingendam, the small luxury resort on the Baltic Sea where the leaders are going to meet. Like summit battles in past years in Seattle, Washington, Genoa, Quebec, Gleneagles, etc., protesters are inventing a new culture in the camps, workshops, and protest marches, or at least many are trying to. (There are also the old tired leftists with their red flags and old-style communist barking and chanting too.) In Camp Rostock where I stayed from Friday night through Monday night, the whole camp was jumping nearly 24 hours a day. Impromptu stages featured hiphoppers, beatboxers, speeches, bands, djs, and movies while bars in many group camps poured an endless sea of beer (the local pilsner, Rostocker, is quite good).

Camp Rostock became quite Burning Man-ish” wall-to-wall tents made it quite cozy, even too cozy! A hundred porta-potties dot the perimeter, a big communal kitchen, meeting tents, “streets” (mud paths) called Durruti Blvd., via Guiliani, rue de Arundhati Roy, Kurt Eisner Platz, Rosa Luxembourg Allee, Leiselotte Meyer Weg.

We had speed tweakers next to us the first night but they thankfully slept through the next day and night. On Sunday night there was an absolute roar surrounding us until at least 3 a.m. The nearest stage had beatbox and rap performances in German, English, French, Spanish, terrible quality speakers make it pretty loud and bad from our distance. In the furthest away corner of the “Hedonist Barrio” (“nice and noisy”) by the river is a rave disco keeping a few dozen dancing to the wee hours under the long sunset/dusk of northern Germany’s summer nights.

On Monday morning I stayed in camp for a few hours, and jotted this note while sitting at a picnic table:

Another affinity group departs the camp. A solitary drum strikes an irregular beat as they practice huddling behind their banner as though it were a shield [I saw them later at the “Right to Move” demo]. Here at Camp Rostock, a liberated” or at least tolerated” zone, people are hanging out, slowly composing themselves for the day’s activities. This a.m. a sit-in at a refugee office. Mid-morning a variety of decentralized “actions,” followed by today’s big march for the “Right to Movement” at 1 p.m. Something of a medieval military camp here, strange collection of motley youth, dreadlocked and scruffy, unwashed, ripening”¦ the sun suddenly pops out from the gray Baltic clouds, lightening the day, urging the laggards to get moving. A helicopter comes up from the south and circles the camp, clearly filming it. No weapons here, just stacks of newspaper, flyers, cards, homemade banners, some professional banners too for traditional socialist and communist groups, even a beautiful green one for La Via Campesina. Lots of milling about; toilets were cleaned today! Kitchen continues to function beautifully” great quantities of food passing through each camp, literally tons.

I was very excited to find a newspaper full of great articles called Turbulence. You have to go and check it out. It was by far one of the most intelligent collections of political writings I’ve seen in a while, and it’s sharply focused on the issues facing the movement, or movements, that stage these counter-summit gatherings. One article by Sandro Mazzadra and Gigi Ruggero is called “Singularization of the Common” and they do a nice job of describing the impasse facing these summits, while still endorsing them as a common place of global politics and global movement. Here’s a quote from their piece that I liked, partly because it says something I am also trying to say in my forthcoming book in slightly different language:

“The term “˜multitude’ proves to be convincing when the point is to understand the insurrection of subjectivities at the level of the common while leaving behind both the liberal religion of the individual and the socialist cult of the collective.”

I had a strange thought about the camp experience” one dark view would see it as practice for life in camps in the future, involuntarily”¦ with much fewer resources and pleasures one would assume, but who knows? This might be as much an experiment for the state as for the “multitude”. So much in formation, so much information! It was a remarkable experience of Political Camp, a dash of boy scouts and an ample splash of Burning Man” unlike BM though, everyone here is intentionally political. Walking around the camp as an unaffiliated individual was fascinating, equally lonely and self-conscious as curious, open and glad for observer-status. Saw a lot of affinity groups meeting but didn’t think I should stay and listen” characteristically though, the meetings are in the open and undoubtedly self-consciously transparent. Overheard a Greek group, a Spanish one, a Francophone African group (Senegalese and Malian I believe), but mostly German, French, a few Danish, a smattering of Russians and Poles, a few U.S. folks, the few Latin Americans and Asians were probably already living in Germany.

The anti-G8 gathering is sprawling over three camps and two convergence centers/Indymedia centers, plus there’s an alternative summit/NGO conference I didn’t even check out, and a big music show for four straight nights (where I discovered Obrint Pas, a great ska-punk band from Valencia, Spain). At the level of infrastructure I’m impressed. Big expensive tents, 200 portable toilets that got cleaned yesterday, daily food provision for thousands, intense communications facilities, even a tent dedicated to recharging mobile phones, and another with ten open access internet computers. Then the Indymedia centers had more rooms full of open access computers plus wireless, plus 2-3 rooms each for Indymedia producers to work” most were videographers it seemed, but plenty of writers and photographers too. Fun to be a part of it, a fascinating moment in history.

Here are the three pieces I helped with posted on Indybay in the past three days… mostly my photos and captions. I didn’t write the pieces, which were done by a woman Rob met and then Rob and Tina did the latter two…

June 2: Big opening anti-G8 march

June 3: Resistance is Fruitful!

June 4: Right To Movement march

I’ll post more personal accounts of these with some more photos later tomorrow… until then…

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