I stood snapping away at hundreds of people, young and old, all out to prove a point... blocking roads, waving flags, banging drums and standing shoulder to shoulder in the face of oppression, and calling for a better situation, a more just situation.... I wasn't convinced.
Today in Paris, the streets are back to normal, as if things had never been abnormal in the first place. These manifestations are so common in Paris and France that the act of protesting is now a cultural past-time... the students know how to sing and chant, the police know how and where to control them, the business men and women, for whom work doesn't stop, know how and where to go to avoid the traffic, the politicians know how to humour them and how to act like they care. Come 8pm everyone is satisfied, and there is not a scrap of dirt, not a stray banner or hard line protester to be found scattered over the streets........ you'd swear it had never happened at all.... and your left wondering why they had bothered in the first place.
For many students in France there has not been one class or lecture since Christmas. Numerous marches and sit-ins have resulted in a stand off between the government and the students and faculty of France's Universities who are unhappy with President Sarkozy's tough economic reforms. On some occassions these protests have been close to erupting in all out violence with some students breaking windows and throwing stones, while union wide protests that involved not just the students but many public sector workers have resulted in nearly 2.5mllion people protesting in one day marches on the streets of Paris.
I look back to the '68 protests in Paris which demonstrated to the world the power of the people to voice their anger at numerous issues and the Vietnam War...... it also demonstrated the lack of understanding on the part of the student organisers who's actions led to spiraling violence and the destruction of their city streets in the hope that the Universities be returned to the people from the hands of the police.. These "successful" protests that brought a camaraderie to the people of Paris, forced an armistice from President G. Pompidou and the resumption of student control to the Sorbonne, are looked upon by today's student protesters as inspirational... to think that students could have such power... to think that they could bring change....
Yet things are different in Paris these days, these protests are not over civil rights and war.. these protests are about money... these protests are about the refusal to accept the end of an easy ride...
Everywhere is paining at the downturn, the recession, the depression.... everyone has got to dig in. It is of course understandable that the people of the world should have a chance to make sure everyone carries their fair share of the load... but there is a time to shout and a time to dig in and start being realistic.
Shutting down the University system in a country for 3 to 4 months is not a realistic answer to an economic recession... and I don't need a Masters in Economics to tell you that.... its just plain stupid.... irresponsible and anti-productive..
The relative normality of these protests and the lack of impact they are having on the everyday lives of Parisiens makes me wonder why they bother doing this in the first place if they are "just another protest". The thousands of students, teachers and citizens who join the marches seem more interested in the experience than the struggle... they seem to know more about the experience than the struggle too.. the ability of a small group of activists to rally a large manifestation of protesters at short notice is made so much easier these days with the use of Twitter, Facebook and SMS texting... its so easy these days to cripple a country already in Economic decline... a few simple posts on Facebook and Twitter can result in.... a few thousand students who are there because their friends were going, '68-ers who want to relive the old days, a few hardliners who would march against world peace if it meant they could throw a stone at "the man" and a couple of tourists who are there for the "real French experience"... just post it online, hope they show up et voila... une manifestation!
But dont forget, all this is cleared with the government and plice first, because it would be simply ludicrous to think they could do it without permission!
Furthermore, one wonders the validity of their claims of oppression when the youth of other countries like Moldova, who have successfully employed the use of these Internet based communities to organise flash protests, are in active struggles against corruption. While the students of Paris fold up their banners and head home to get in an hour of study before bed time, in case...god forbid...they fail to pass their summer exams, the youth of Moldova will have to wake up to another day of real oppression and bad governance... they will wake up to a real struggle, a struggle against a problem they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in fixing.. summer exams and government funding is irrelevant when the very government that controls them is ignorant of their voices and desires...
Something tells me, when I look across the throng of french students with wavey haircuts and iphones, walking purposefully down a street in central Paris, that nobody here is angry...like really angry... nobody here is going to be satisfied at anything that can be given to them to shut them up...something tells me that if i was to return to that very spot in two or three years time i will see the new breed of Parisian protesters, with whatever new haircut is fashionable and whatever cool gadget is new and expensive, singing the same songs, and banging the same drums about nothing in particular.... because these protests are not about anything really except for the youth of France trying to prove a point to their '68era parents, that they too can march and sing and shout about nothing and get away with it... while the rest of the world just gets on with it.