No Borders Camp Brussels – Nottingham activists tell their story

Here is an article about the experiences of those that went from Nottingham to Brussels at the end of Sept/start October 2010, and lots of links to information about the camp and what took place.

No Borders Camp Brussels

At the beginning of October a group of us in Nottingham went to the Brussels No Borders camp. In many ways it was interesting and inspiring, and at the same time tiring and frustrating. Since returning to Nottingham we’ve tried to piece together our thoughts on the camp, its successes and failures and how it might be relevant to those living in Nottingham who aim to live in a world without borders.

We’ll start of with a collation post from Brussels Indymedia which gives us a rough idea of what autonomous group actions happened over the week.

Along with these actions we took lots of positives from the camp. It was a self-organised camp which changed and developed as the week went on. The levels of accessibility to become involved in the organisation varied between working groups, with social networks and lack of time to pass on responsibility and skills sometimes playing a role. However on the whole for those who wished to participate in the functioning of the camp there were possibilities. The camp was based in and around big old and abandoned train station which provided plenty of room both inside and outside, for the workshops, meeting spaces and camping.

From what sometimes feels like an isolated and fractured no borders movement in Nottingham, a sense of the bigger picture of this movement was an inspiration for us. Links were made between campaigns that highlighted the ways in which a No borders position intersects with other political issues.

For the most part the camp itself physically felt to us like a relatively safe space. Although there was massive amount of police repression during the camp it often felt like we were coming into contact with that once outside of the physical camp itself.

In terms of the negatives we’ve discussed during and after the camp, one of the big issues to us was how the camp interacted with the ‘mass mobilizations’. They took place throughout the camp but actually the only no borders organized demo was on the last Saturday. The innumerable arrests, most preemptive, that took place over the course of the week often took place when no borders was participating in events organized by other groups. This threw up loads of issues, not least that there was relatively little participation people like us who had just arrived for the week could undertake to understand the situations we were about to be a party to.

The big trade union demonstration on Wednesday for e.g. was expecting 80,000 participants. The trade unions had organized for no borders to be right at the back of the march. This inevitably left us isolated, and through our half – hearted poorly communicated attempts to address this situation left us vulnerable, assaulted, kettled and arrested. (although before the kettle happened we managed to get some physical solidarity from the other participants in the demo in the face of the police’s stalking.)

Brussels, as has been talked of before, is also quite an isolated space in terms of how accessible it is to a range of no borders activist. For this and other reasons there was unfortunately far less participation from activists without documentation/papers than what might have been possible.

Finally considering the international crowd, English became the dominant but also often only language used in group meetings which meant a lot of people probably didn’t engage with some of the larger daily meetings.

Preventative arrests were one of the biggest issues during the camp with police identifying any groups larger than two or three likely-looking people as a threat. This meant many autonomous groups were swiftly disabled by Belgian arrest powers before anything exciting could happen during mass actions. There were also incidents of police assault, sexual and physical as well as general intimidation tactics throughout the week.

The fact that every event organized by the camp (such as the demos, as well as smaller events like the city bus tour and the samba parade through the local neighborhood) was met by vast members of Police, indicates that they did view our presence as threat. More accurately what we were there to talk about, to oppose and also to create made them fearful. The predictable and excessive level of presence and force they used – particularly with the mass use of preventative arrests alongside the proposal to create a database of “suspected trouble makers” that will be shared across Europe, is another example of the way in capitalism extends its control via the “legitimized” power of states.

As a group we have felt inspired and reassured by the momentum of this autumn’s no borders camp and hope that the more we communicate in Nottingham about how to recreate that momentum the further we will get – there’s loads more information about the camp on the Brussels indymedia site.