Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Street Party?!?

It’s Christmas, 2008 in Athens. The riots have subsided for about a week and despite the holiday cheer that inevitably seems to dominate for that one day, it is in the back of everyone’s mind that this country is filled with angry youths; we have let them down.
* * *
It’s Christmas, 2008 in Athens. I have eaten with my family and conversed with them on all possible subjects. And then I’m in a car heading into Athens. Where? I’m not sure exactly. What for? Well, for “What Street Party”! The plan is to park the car in Athens and hope by then we know where it is.
* * *
By the time we arrived, the party had reached its second location, the square by the flea market in Monastiraki. We parked the car in Gazi and took the metro. The music was audible before we exited the station. It’s early still and so the crowd isn’t massive but it’s very diverse, and by that I mean children, old people, teenagers, young adults. The children are dancing, some of the old people and young adults are too but everyone is smiling and swaying a bit even if they have not worked up the nerve to move their feet. There is a platform decorated in tinsel and Christmas ornaments. On the platform, stands a DJ using a computer to deliver the music that at least for this day, seems to reach all generations and backgrounds. A short man with a shaved head and friendly face has brought a stroller with baby Jesus in it and a striking woman with long blonde hair hands out chocolates and decorates the various party goers with tinsel, angel wings and such.
And though I was enjoying myself, my curiosity was making me anxious. Which spot is next? Is the DJ going to play while we’re moving? How in the hell is this going to work? At last, my curiosity was satisfied, and we began moving down a narrow street usually filled with loud, slimy vendors, however we’re the only ones making noise while the DJ continues to deliver. We were led to Athinas and walked on the road holding up traffic in our rightful lane. Some people were continuing to dance, others were beginning to, and some just walked with great enthusiasm. I had the pleasure of pushing Baby Jesus, which was a great conversation starter. Where were we going? I still didn’t know, most people didn’t, but no one cared either. And then we took a right, straight into the meat market.
I parked Baby Jesus safely next to his friendly-faced owner to go grab some beers. Upon my return, people were dancing on the empty meat stands, packed together on the floor, but no one was standing still. Many immigrants had joined us too by now and the happiness that glowed from their eyes made me consider the greatness of an event like this, its accessibility, its openness, its acceptance of everyone. It’s really hard not to dance in an atmosphere like that.
After the DJ had reached his peak and sustained it for some time, it was time to move again.
This time, our route brought us onto Panepistimiou where so many protests and marches have taken place, where some of the damage of the riots could still be surveyed. I had never taken part in any of these marches. They seem so pointless to me because no one listens. The thought crossed my mind that this is how protests should be; people should associate their causes with good feelings. The damage that still marked the city was like scars on a troubled man’s face and our parade gave people something positive and encouraging to look at.
And here we were docked for a while, dancing, drinking, smoking and celebrating to good music. The DJ was placed at the top of the staircase leading to the university building’s entrance and the crowd gathered all around, on the staircase and below the staircase. It had a cinematic aesthetic, one reminiscent of the glamour of music videos.
It began to rain and many took cover under the entrance of the main university building. Others were not bothered by the rain and decided to remain in the open space to continue moving freely. This did not affect how people were feeling as everyone was still sporting ear-to-ear smiles. As the rain started to build, it was agreed that the location must be changed to one of shelter and we slowly made our way towards the atrium of a shopping center. This was the final destination of the night. Just like at the other locations we had parked ourselves, the dancing was non-stop and mosh-pit like, particularly since this DJ decided to divert the music from upbeat dance tracks to more grunge and hardcore sounding tunes.
Although What Street Party had not come to a close, it was evident that things were winding down and we took our leave pre-maturely. We had been at it for hours after all, since the time spent at each location was about 2 hours with 2 DJs each building up to, reaching and sustaining a peak. Besides, we had to get back to the car. Needless to say, what I felt upon our departure was a sense of gratitude for this event. It was something new, and something that I imagine always feels new no matter how many times it happens since every party picks different routes and different DJ’s. Beyond that, I also love how inclusive this event was. People of different ages, from children to grandparents, from different classes and ethnicities, the homeless and immigrants to up-scale Greeks were all welcome to take part. In a sense, I felt that the party was a protest against exclusivity. And I thought about the riots and the smaller outbreaks still taking place like the aftershocks of an earthquake. It occurred to me that these hooded youths are genuinely angry; they feel forgotten and betrayed by their government and the public institutions upon which they rely. The thing is, these youths are responding with just as much exclusivity as their own government has extended towards them. They don’t engage the innocent passersby; rather, they scare them off. They don’t establish a feeling of unity and hope. Rather, they let out anger suppressing anything positive that exists within them. This anger is understandable but it’s being released as negative energy and this is counterproductive. “What Street Party” will not change the course of Greek politics either, this isn’t even the intent of the party, but why not promote a message in a positive form? Others will be more likely to listen, join and remember. Why else was the crowd so diverse and constantly growing throughout the night?
* * *
Several weeks later, I was at K-44 with some friends. All of a sudden the images projected on the empty cinderblock wall of the bar seemed all too familiar. That crowd walking down the street was What Street Party. By these images alone, which didn’t capture half the energy that was really there, our friends who had not attended What Street Party, began asking when would it happen again so that they could also contribute to the promotion of positivity.

1 comment:

  1. I felt that the party was a protest against exclusivity. And I thought about the riots and the smaller outbreaks still taking place like the aftershocks of an earthquake.I felt that the party was a protest against exclusivity. And I thought about the riots and the smaller outbreaks still taking place like the aftershocks of an earthquake.