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AI image of farmers protesting in Brussels

I write this while farmers are spraying liquid manure at a police wall on a neighboring street.


I used to get all the fun protests on my street. It was the legal route for protesters to follow, and it would end at a police wall in front of Le Berlaymont, the Imperial Fortress of the Evil European Union Empire or whatever. We moved here during Covid and got to see wave after wave of Libertarians throwing themselves against the police wall, and they’d always devolve into a pitched battle of mounted police in the park launching tear gas against Molotov-cocktail-throwing protestors. It was all in good fun, only one time did they light a neighbor’s building on fire and in general, I give them 5 stars over whatever crap was recently uploaded on Netflix.


Now the farmers are protesting, and it seems they didn’t take the advised police route. Instead the tractors just rolled over their barriers and went straight onto Schuman, where the Bureaucratic Buttress of Le Berlaymont stands supreme. On one end, they lit a big bonfire of tractor tires, and on the other they’re dumping steaming cow shit.


Farmers at Le Berlaymont
Tractors lined up at Le Berlaymont

My own history of unrest


There was a time I was all about protesting. I was there in Denver during the DNC, rallying against whatever tool they were about to put in place at the time (Obama), shouting down the War in Iraq. The police presence was ominous—snipers lining the tops of the building, big police armored vehicles with machine guns pushing the crowds into a kill box (just in case, of course, they didn’t really intend to kill anyone, right?). In general, the police responses to protests that I had been to in the States seemed designed to escalate violence, round up prisoners, and make bank on bail fees.


Fast forward to my life in Europe/Asia/Africa, where I tended to accidentally be at random large-scale protests, from the yellow vests to pre-Maidan-free-Timoshenko festivities, to the revolution in Egypt. For me it’s just a case of really bad timing, but for passport control guys everywhere they must be considering whether I’m an agent of some sort.


Managed protest


But the protests I’ve witnessed in Europe are managed very differently. In Paris, there are squads of police that take up corners throughout the city, out of the way and view of the protest itself, only to move in if violence ensues. This is similar to what I’ve noticed in Prague. They’re somewhat non-confrontational, even to the point where no one gets arrested despite flaming cars sent flying through the Arc du Triomphe a la Fast et Furious. When the police do come in to settle things down, there’s a bit of a beat down, but then at the end of the day you can spy protesters and policemen sharing a cup of post-apocalypse joe, with only one or two protesters actually getting written up on charges and probably no one actually getting arrested. Despite hurtling incendiary bombs made of other people’s property. I mean, no wonder protesting is a kind of national sport there.


Farmers protesting
A room with a view

Here in Brussels, there was a certain pattern to the Covid protests. There was a police wall defending on street, wall to wall. They’d have basically a barbed wire fence set up, where the police would stand around and look intimidating. Nobody could really get past the fence, so they wouldn’t actually do anything. Then some anarchist blackguard dude would stand on a wall and start shouting. That’s when you knew shit was going down. Molotovs would start to get launched, police would raise their shields and make jokes between themselves.


Let's start a riot


And here’s where I’d like to be fair to the Covid-protestors. Mostly they were peaceful people in tight situations just looking to release themselves. It probably wouldn’t have gone violent had it not been for the two or three blackguards who were there just to bring on the violence and incite a riot. The majority of protestors weren’t there for a riot.


Meanwhile, from behind the protestors, three water cannon trucks would roll up and start spraying everyone until they left. And here’s the kicker, this was the designated spot because they knew the protestors could flee into the massive park across the street and dissipate. Few arrests necessary; even during that one tear gas occasion I mentioned earlier.


What's the point of the farmers protest?


What is the point of most protests? Bring media attention to cover your event so that viewers can ask, “What’s that all about?” and maybe do a Google search to find out more. I’ve seen loads of peaceful protests here, from pro-Ukraine protests to anti-Iranian Ayatollah ones. But there is a line, when you’ve gone from raising awareness to being a nuisance, that you don’t want to cross.


tour guide to Brussels

Take an audio tour of Brussels, click here.


Now, as I hear the sirens outside my window and smell the poop in the air, I’ve got to wonder about the farmers. Those dudes are absolutely all here for action and being a nuisance. And clearly not that much worried about their farms they claim to be protesting about, because it’s this kind of thing that kills public sympathy for their cause. What exactly is flinging poop on residential buildings going to get them? Public support? I don’t know. I sympathized with them earlier. I still do maybe, I don’t know, but I do know I want the police to get their beat down on so I don’t have to walk in shit when I go pick up my son at school.


Postscript:

It was an interesting walk home. The tractors for the most part had left, so the columns of police vehicles were also headed out. The kiddo was busy asking me what all the problems were.


“Why are there police?”


“Because there were a lot of farmers protesting.”


“What do the farmers want? Mom says they want more money.”


“Basically, yeah. Protections against cheap imports, minimum product prices, looser environmental regulations, be able to use pesticides, and so on. But it goes down to money.” I have a tendency to talk to my kid like he's an adult.


"They want candy don't they?" he asks, threading the lines together in his little head.


I talk to him like he's an adult, though he's clearly not one.


And then as we passed Schuman on the way home, witness to the burning piles of tires and shit. “What’s all that?”


“Well, the farmers were spraying the police with poop.”


“That’s bad. Probably they were stealing candy too.”


“No, I don’t think they wanted to steal candy. They don’t want to steal, they just want to make honest money.”


As something of a “classical liberal” myself, I don’t wholeheartedly agree with trade restrictions and minimum prices. For one, not having those benefit a huge number of impoverished people throughout Europe. The small-time farmers might be hurting, but they also need to realize that if food prices are raised, then everyone hurts. They seem a little unaware of this, since I did see once sign saying, “Our death is your hunger”. Which didn’t make that much sense, as no one is plotting to kill farmers.


But the economy is changing. Farm production is absurdly high, far beyond the needs of the world. There is no agricultural reason for world hunger anymore. And it was the lack of foresight by farmers who just needed to earn a living that led us to the Dust Bowl as well. I do feel for the farmers. I’m also in a trade where most humans will one day be replaced by bots. Not that anyone actually wants to read text written by bots, but other bots do at least, and that's more than can be said about people who want to read what I write.


But whatever, I just know that not all farmers fling poo, most just want to earn an honest living.

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