While in Athens, I have gotten into the habit of ending the day by enjoying an iced coffee with cream in an outdoor cafe in a park about one mile from my hotel. It is there that I have been writing these dispatches. As I remarked in my first report, the park the cafe is in is filled with children, teenagers, young couples, the middle-aged, and old people until quite late. The cafe does not start to empty until after midnight.
Tonight the streets belonged to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). Well OK, that’s an exaggeration. The streets in and around Syntagma Square belonged to it. Syntagma is where the Greek parliament is located. Whenever you read in the paper about “riots” in Athens, it's Syntagma Square they are talking about. The KKE has a long and sometimes heroic history. Like communist parties throughout Europe, it played the major role in the resistance against the German occupation. When World War II ended, the Party was immensely popular, and it was armed.
Newspapers and television news in the United States and Europe have done an excellent job explaining the crisis in Greece. The Greek people were borrowing money so they could live above their means, and now the debt has come due. The story has the virtue of simplicity and the edifying effect of a lesson in morality. Just as a family must pay its bills or face dire consequences, so must a nation. We get to feel sorry for the Greeks, but not too sorry. After all, it's their own fault.
Today I had dinner with an American friend in Exarcheia. Nothing remotely similar to Exarcheia exists in the United States. It is widely known as the "anarchist district" of Athens. According to my dinner companion, anarchist Exarcheia originated in 1973 in the student uprising that led to the overthrow of the fascist military junta that had ruled Greece since the end of World War II, when it came to power with the assistance of the British army. Exarcheia contains the Polytechnic University where the rebellion first broke out.
Today I had the longest conversation I've had so far with a Greek - an 18 year-old bartender at my hotel. At least he claimed to be 18. I told him he looked 16 and then asked him to guess my age. He said 14. He told me I looked young, with a broad smile on his face. I remarked that half of all Greeks his age can't find a job. He replied, "things are getting hard for us." I told him that I didn't notice any anxiety among the Greeks I've seen, and he replied "Greeks only care about themselves," as though that answered the question.
I’ve had to swallow a bitter pill today. If the news reports are correct, Tsipris has sold out. With one or two “face-saving” modifications, he’s accepted Germany’s terms for a bailout. They include a 50 billion euro fund of privatized Greek assets beyond the control of the Greek government as security for the new loan. Tsipris won two concessions on this: the fund will be located in Greece and not abroad (big deal), and 12 billion euros will be devoted to investment in Greece – in privately owned companies of course.
Athens is a Mediterranean city. The days are hot and the evenings pleasant. Like Madrid, people are up all hours of the night. I took a walk today from 10:00 to 11:30 PM, and was never alone on the street. Young women were not afraid to stroll by themselves even though it was a couple of hours past sundown. Sidewalk cafes were open, and newsstands had not yet closed for the night. There was not a policeman in sight. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a single cop since I’ve been in Greece.
I'm in Athens alone. I don't know anyone in the city and the people I do know are two hours away. I won't see them for another day. It's strange observing people whose language you don't speak. Every Greek I've asked, "Do you speak English" has replied "Yes" with a big smile on his or her face. But very few do. So communication is filled with awkward moments when we fail to understand one another. But you can learn a lot about people even when you don't share their language: facial expressions, voice intonation, the kinds of things they do.
Well, sort of. I wasn’t at THE White House Conference on Aging (which is to be held in July): I was at the fifth and final regional consultation forum leading up to the actual Conference. I was recommended for the Conference by SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders). My job was to bring up the particular needs and realities of LGBTQ people, to inject the queer into the conversation. I applied and was accepted, putting down my “affiliation” as writer.
Campaigning With Bernie, Then and Now: Why Labor Should Give Sanders Strong Primary Election Support
When I first met Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders, he was a pretty marginal figure in his adopted state of Vermont. It was 1976 and he was running, unsuccessfully and for the fourth time, as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party (LUP).