English, please / Protest

Why I Skipped Work and Joined the Protests

By Mihai Mateaș

Published on 2 February 2017

A young man is offering tea to freezing people, another is carrying a box of coffee cups, inviting people to choose between a “cappuccino, Americano, whichever you want”. A young woman is handing out candy from a large bag she is carrying. Next to her, a young man with an expressionless face is holding a cardboard sign that reads: “The morning shift”.

My friend Ella joins me at the protests in the morning; her eyes are still bleary. Today is her birthday. She’s not answering the many birthday wishes, because she needs her phone’s battery to send out news, photographs and videos. We meet up. She’s got tears in her eyes. “Why are you crying? Did something happen?” I ask her. She nods towards to Government building and says “Isn’t’ this enough?”. Yes, it is, Ella!

Two boys show up, within minutes of each other, and start handing out plastic whistles to those who want them. The square becomes an acoustic battle field between an two armies, that of football referees and of traffic officers.

My friend and boss, Daniela, replies to the text I sent her earlier of a few photos from the square. I had stopped here on my way to the office, at 9am. She writes back ”Stay right there, Mișu. We’ll take care of your work today”.

I see a young man with a printed message on an A4 paper: “Corporate worker on lunch break”. Right away, a microphone and camera corner him and they’ve got their interview!

My friend, Crinu, writes me text after text: “Where are you?”. I answer. He shows up with a bag full of warm coffee and tea bottles. He hands them out to people. He stays for a half an hour and then says goodbye: “I need to go back to the office, but I’ll see you here tonight”.

A few mothers with children arrive. They’re either carrying them or holding their hands. The kids look on fascinated, how some young people put together a few banners, crouched over the cardboard that is spread out on the asphalt.

My friend Diana has a flight to London in two hours. She writes to me: “I’m coming to the square. I’ll be with you for half an hour.” She shows up with her carry on luggage: “I’ll take the bus to the airport. I hope I’m not late”. She stayed with us for half an hour, and then we said our goodbyes. “I’ll join the protests in London”, she tells me.

I start seeing banners with an increasing amount of inventive slogans: “You stole all that money, and your teeth are still funny?!”, “Bars, not pardoning!”, “Stop the thiefocracy”. They hand out the national anthem. The crowd is shouting: “Thieves in the night!” and “I refuse, I refuse, I refuse this abuse!”.

My friend, Claudiu, texts me: “Where are you? I’ll be right there. Can I get you anything? A pretzel, some coffee?”. I ask him for a bottle of water. He brings one and also a pretzel. We stay together all through the protests. We shout, along with everyone in the square: “Day in, day out, we’ll be here to shout!”.

A few students come with banners: “The Government will fail this exam session!” and “GoverNULment”. They’re cheerful and they show it. They shout: “You’re not getting away with this!”.

My friend Costin takes his son to the doctor’s and then he joins us. After an hour spent in the square with the rest of the protesters, he heads back to work, not before he promises to join us again in the evening. Later, he writes on Facebook: “I offer accommodation and food for whomever wants to come join the protests, from inside or outside the country. I make a good goulash”.

A few young men show up and start handing out plastic bowls of hot soup to everyone. One person who gets a bowl wants to pay for the soup. “You don’t need to, it’s free!” comes the answer. The two men smile at each other. The soup advances to the others who feel the cold.

My friends and colleagues Simina, Dan, Gabriela, The Other Dan, Oana, Anca, Mihnea, Sînziana write to me on Facebook and send me texts saying that they’ll join me on their lunch break. They want to know what to get me. They do show up, just as they promised. Although I told them I didn’t want anything, I got a water bottle. Just in time, I was thirsty. One hour later, they go back to work. I’m staying.

Two girls, armed with a black nylon bag, pass through the crowds and pick up the litter: water bottles, coffee cups, cigarette packs…

My friends Anca, Răzvan, Greta and Sebastian arrive armed with sandwiches, coffees and water bottles. And the coolest banners, improvised from cardboard boxes. But the messages don’t really matter. Let’s just say that one of them was very direct and quite explicit and it was addressed to PSD.

On Facebook, they’re making lists of companies who support the protests with water, coffee, food and even accommodation for those who don’t live in Bucharest but want to join the protests.

My friends Lușu, Adi, Cami, Răzvan, Vali, Lucian, Eugen, Mihai, Irene, Andreea, Cătălina, and Andrei have spent last night in the square. They write to me: “See you out there tonight.”

I get a text from my friend Luiza: “Mihai, we’re getting some cool people to write about how they didn’t go to work today and joined the protests instead. For Scena9. Do you want to write anything on this?”

And I did, Luiza. Why did I not go to work? For my friends. Why did I take to the streets? For my other friends, whose names I don’t know, who are there at this very moment. For us. For all of us.

Main photo: Andreea Retinschi

Translated from the Romanian by Cristina Costea

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