The Empowering Sunday

Monday, September 23. I wake up, go buy a coffee, it’s a bit chilly outside. I choose a bench where I can sit and drink my coffee. It’s ok, it’s a normal day, people walk by,  most of them old people, because at this time of the day the young generation is already working in an office somewhere. And while I am watching all this developing without any big surprises, I suddenly remember the yesterday protests, tens of thousands of people marching through the neighborhoods and it seems surreal.

There is a rhythm for everything and once you get used to it, you’re just playing along. It was the same with the protests. Yesterday was the fourth Sunday evening when people gathered to protest. It was beautiful, energetic, but probably less surprising then two Sundays ago.

You get the real meaning of such a gathering only on the morning after, when life gets back to its normal pattern. Only when you see people walking on the streets without paying attention to the one next to them, people in a hurry, people not caring much about anything else than what they have to do for the few hours, the surviving race, then you understand the beauty of thousands of people becoming aware that they have a voice and using it, playing the drums, making such long walks to neighborhoods where they've been only a few times in their lives, enjoying the long walk, singing, shouting, talking to other people.

I’m not trying to create a mythology of these protests, nor make them seem as a big street party, which is very useful in the lack of a street carnival. But they represent a huge change in the dynamics of social and citizen life, in Bucharest and Romania. Like I said before, this is an empowering practice, an exercise in being more tuned to the political decisions which affect you, directly or indirectly and more connected to the ones around you, being more than strangers simply walking by each other.

25,000 are not comfortably numb

15th day of the protests

 When it comes down to protesting, numbers are significant. And the fact that more than 20,000 people gathered yesterday and marched for about 4 hours through the streets of Bucharest, making it the biggest protest after the Revolution, that was simply unexpected and amazing.

There have been 14 days of protest so far and I have had my doubts, after seeing that during this week the number of protesters decreased drastically to some very few hundreds. Was it just a short-span fashion? Was it just cool to be there on the streets? Was it only the ego of some activists who wanted to feel that they are doing something? It’s easy to assume and state that if people truly care they will stay on the street every night until they get what they want.

But I was wrong. Probably we don’t have yet the dedication to be there every night. But the fact that people did show up on this Sunday evening, young parents with their very young children, old couples holding hands, people laughing and shouting, and not only a few of them, but tens of thousands, that was close to a miracle. Growing up in Romania in the last twenty years, there were tons of skepticism, making fun of, resignation, indifference, sorrow, a lot of anger, but an anger kept in your room, in front of the TV, or a newspaper, feeling really powerless. At least that was true for me and the people I have seen around me.

And now people walked out of their rooms and gathered with other people they didn’t know and they felt part of a community after being deprived of this feeling for so many years. Being part of a community is not just an extra-feature you may have it or you may it have not in your life, but it’s something essential to empower you and make you feel less vulnerable in front of all the shit that is taking place in this country. (and I mean mostly political shit).
It  felt like huge waves, one after another. I stopped in the middle of the crowd and didn’t move for about 20 minutes, just to get a feeling of this huge river and every 10 second there was a different frame, as new faces were showing up in front of my camera.

The sky was beautiful and blue, there were birds flying and a small moon has witnessed the whole protest.

Some of the protesters were very young. When I got in Piata Operei at 3.30pm, there were about nine people there, most of them 20-years old students at the Faculty of Medicine, writing slogans on papers, carrying flags. One of them, Dragos, just returned from his grandparents’ house and brought some apples which he offered to us. “Should I offer the policemen also some apples?” he asked. 

A lot of the protesters were young parents with kids. I didn’t even know there are so many beautiful, young parents in Bucharest.

Marching through the streets, surrounded by blocks where people opened their windows to watch the protest, protesters were inviting them to come out and join the protest, shouting one of the most popular slogans “Get out of your house if you care” and “Join Us”

The important thing is not to be afraid

13th day of the protests

“People are a bit tired, after having protested for so many days”, “It’s Friday evening, maybe there are some other events people are more willing to go to”. These were some of the explanations for the lack of protesters, as only about 100 people gathered on the 13th day of the protests. However, the idea shared by most of the protesters was that this low number was not significant. What they considered hugely important was that people would gather on Sunday evening, for another huge protest, everybody was saying.

An old lady who was staying a bit isolated from the crowd told me that she thought that the strategy of the protesters was wrong, as people were gathered too far away from the boulevard. “People should stay closer to the street and shout at the cars passing by, or the people passing by. They need to send their message to those who are not part of the protest, not shout to each other their messages.”
I saw the old lady the night before, while gathered at the metro station, because of the rain. She showed me an album she was carrying around every night, with pictures taken during the Romanian Revolution in 1989 by the French photographer Jean-Louis Calderon who died during the revolution. While she was showing me the pictures, people stopped by to look at them.

She told me she also took part at the Romanian Revolution in 1989. She was coming every night, after work, in front of Hotel Intercontinental together with her kids, an 11- month old girl, who was playing with her bucket in sand, in front of the hotel, among the protesters, and a 9-year old boy.

I asked her if she was coming alone at these protests and she said that sometimes her husband comes along, but sometimes she just comes alone. “I’m not afraid, she said, the most important thing is not to be afraid. I mean, if you are afraid, there is no point in coming here.”