The gathering would not have been possible if the typical Cuban tardiness had prevailed; so it’s necessary to say that it was a success thanks to the punctuality of those who attended. Those who came late were unable to participate in the event.
Prior to the Nov. 6th march, a few officials arrived from the Ministry of Culture and the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS), the official organization of creative Cuban youth. There was no confrontation of any type, though maybe a little tension, a few surprises and some strange remarks (like “Why didn’t they tell us what they were going to do?” or “Be careful, you might be manipulated by the enemy!”).
Some dissident bloggers also showed up. One of them was an older grayed-hair person who had apparently met me at the theological institute where we had both studied. He asked me, “Who’s organizing this? I see that people from ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’ are here. This must be an official march.”
He was obviously referring to Pedro Campos Santos, an advocate of “self-management” socialism, who had arrived accompanied by several comrades.
In the middle of the small crowd -of which I’m sure the majority was neither “official” nor “dissident- one could enjoy a few minutes of cordial diversity, albeit tense. Civilian police personnel included youth who stood out by their short-cropped hair and who dawdled around the edges of the gathering.
The area had filled with well-known trova musician, rappers, cultural promoters, performers, writers and painters. They were not “dissident elements,” though most are in fact bearers of critical and analytical voices in their works. Along with them were many teens, university students, and a minority of “older people.”
Several AHS officials mingled light-heartedly with these “pilgrims.” It was not an ambient of hippies, freakies, or emos – subcultures were underrepresented.
The diversity was evident, but at the same time people came together in a friendly atmosphere and in consensus. We were learning how to be plural, but not average, and while not ceasing to be normal.
This was because, despite its capacity to “shock” the Havana public, the march was the work of normal people -youth in the majority- wearing the daily clothes of ordinary Cubans. There was no clowning around. We carried posters that read “Join in” and No More Violence).
Despite the unusualness of the event, most of bystanders maintained a relaxed frame of mind toward the march; there were even interesting conversations with some of them. The songs of Silvio Rodriguez, John Lennon and Los Van Van were sung as we marched dispersed – not in columns, lines or arrays. We were more like would-be riders all heading for the same bus.
An almost euphoric happiness was a key element of the whole scene. Later, some people commented to me that prior practical and spiritual preparation is needed for this type of demonstration. That’s true; the real balance was fragile, and because of that fragility the march constituted great audacity. We Cubans don’t have the culture of organizing marches “from below.”
This time the security forces accompanied us in an open and disciplined way; they remained along the sidewalk, as if protecting us and at the same time defining our space. For an instant I recalled the English “bobbies” from the great London march against the war, which I participated in two years ago now, and from which I saw Big Ben for the first time. There too the police had had to stop traffic and help with the crowd with crossing the streets.
The presence of the forces of law and order has a sense of ambivalence in demonstrations of this type. We didn’t know that several people were prevented from participating. On the other hand, the tacit condition of participation -also tacitly recognized by the security agents- was non-contentiousness: understood as our refraining from making explicit political slogans.
Some friends pulled out a poster championing “self-management socialism,” but they were strongly persuaded by fellow “pilgrims” to put it away. Alternately, at the beginning of the march, AHS officials warned me of the danger that “right-wingers could begin chanting counter-revolutionary slogans.” But such a thing didn’t happen.
That non-definition, mixed with commitment while at risk, gave the pilgrimage a special tone; it endowed it the feeling -unmistakable for me- of a moment of revolution, like it was the radical introduction of a new social practice. It seemed that in a certain sense the pilgrimage was a success, but it was clear that we Cubans must hurry to rise to the heights of civic praxis, which little by little we are learning to do for ourselves.
After the march double-backed down 23rd Street to the point of origin, there began the pilgrimage across our personal abysses: the pilgrimage through inner fear, mysteriously accompanied by “profound stupor in the face of the dignity of the human being.” To struggle against violence is to be a poet in the creation of a better planetary society, but it begins with the closest social being: with oneself.