With the coastal Athens breeze on my face and a stack of leaflets under my arm, I hold onto the back of a DEA comrade I just met as he revs the temperamental engine of his scooter up a steep hill. Jason is on the back of a scooter in front of me, holding on with one hand and with the other he carries a bucket of glue and a large brush. The compartment behind him is full of posters, leaflets, and two stencils (one that reads “No to Fear” in Greek). Before leaving I asked one of the comrades whether or not there were any surfaces that were off-limits.
“Is there anywhere we can’t paint?” I asked.
“This is Athens,” he replied laughing, “You can paint anywhere.”
I push the can of red spray paint further into my back pocket, afraid that it’s going to fall out at the next speed bump. A flutter of papers paints the sky as the comrade on the back of the lead scooter tosses a handful into the air. The shrapnel of red and white drift across our path each reading “Oxi” and we drive through like an explosion in a bad action movie.
Ever since I got to Europe I’ve been wanting to cruise around a city, any city on a scooter. We pull up to the first stop, hop off the backs of the scooters, and hit the street lamp lit building fronts in every direction. Fifteen Oxi posters are glued to the walls of electrical boxes, business fronts, and concrete barriers. Stickers are slapped onto street signs and before we can get to the stenciling, we’re already back on the scooters heading to the next location. Mushroom clouds of single page literature fall at every intersection. Every building we pass is covered in spray paint, most of it reads “Oxi”. I can’t help but wonder who in this neighborhood we’re informing. It seems like everybody is already voting no, but the comrades say it’s important to make their position seem overwhelmingly unanimous.
A few stops later, the drivers tell us to lower our voices as they scout around for any police presence in the area. They spot a few cops, but the police are like tired old bulls who seem only vaguely interested in us. Maybe there is just too much going on so close to the referendum, they couldn’t possibly be bothered by six marauding activists decorating their neighborhood with the Greek word for no. Who knows, they might even be on our side.
If there’s anyone voting yes I have yet to see any evidence of their existence.
After the midnight ride, we head over to a gorgeous Villa on the hilltop which has been occupied by a group of anarchists for the last five years now. I can hear the beat and hear the growls of a singer echoing down the alleys before we hit the main street. Thousands of people have shown up for a hardcore show. Young punks, middle-aged rudeboys, metalheads, goths, anarchists, communists, high schoolers, college students, engineers, architects, artists, and the full gamut of Greek counterculture and counted culture is out dancing in the pit, banging their heads to the crash and snare of a two-step beat, they’re flirting with each other, talking politics and referendums, they’re holding one another in the dark, they’re gathering around the plastic fold out bar slamming beers and hugging new arrivals, they’re lining up to use the porto-potties, they’re picking up their trash from the well trampled dirt, and grilling mysterious meat near the opulent double door of a mansion none of us could afford on our own. The feeling is energetic, electric, and hopeful. It’s like a massive organic machine that has twisted up from the earth and hammers iron fists against the rocks that once barred its growth. This is the power of a people who have found strength through unity and common struggles, a people who have taken what they need when all the waiting and plutocratic negotiations have failed them one time too many.
Under the professional stage lighting and the cacophony of a hardcore breakdown I can’t help but ask our host where the occupiers get their electricity.
“They’re probably stealing it,” he says shrugging.
“How often are concerts held here…like this?”
“Oh, about every week.”
“How late do these concerts usually last?”
“Sometimes until the morning.”
“Do the neighbors complain?” I ask.
“No. The neighborhood…they are with us,” he replies.