Monday, May 2, 2016

Reflections on the Revolution in France

Thank you to everyone who came out with me yesterday. I take it most of you didn’t have the app that would let you send me questions. I saw that a loyal six or seven of you stayed with me all day long, but there were almost no comments. Don’t be shy! If I don’t answer, it’s only because I’ve learned the hard way not to look at the screen when I cross the street. The comments disappear quickly, so often I don’t see the question. Just ask again.
Despite our efforts, we missed the news. There were several events that had the potential to be newsworthy, but there was no way to know in advance which they’d be. It turned out the action was at Marine’s Great Patriotic Banquet, which was again crashed by Femen (link NSFW):
At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.
Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN.”
Their protest was short lived as riot police controlling the gathering moved quickly to arrest them with the enthusiastic help of FN security guards.
Didn’t look as if the black-clad riot police were about to do anything newsworthy. So I left.
As those of you who joined me at the rally for Len Pen père at the Joan of Arc statue learned, a lot of journalism involves waiting around, doing nothing, in a place where news might happen. Len Pen père‘s rally could, theoretically, have been newsworthy. But only in the hands of an excellent prose stylist. (For those of you who saw it, take the Claire Berlinski Journalism Challenge: I think I translated everything important, although if my voice wasn’t audible, ask me and I’ll tell you what people said. You’re on a deadline. You have to turn what we saw into a 1,200-word article. What would you write?)
Anyway, we missed the chance to sell a story that could legitimately be packaged with photos of topless women. Would have been worth about two hundred bucks, I reckon.
It happens.
Looked like a peaceful May Day in Paris to me.
My second journalism fail was in the afternoon. Remember how about two-thirds of the way from Bastille to Nation, I decided there was nothing to see or report? “May Day was celebrated peacefully in Paris,” I concluded. Not even worth trying to sell that. Remember how I turned around to walk the other direction? I did that because as you saw, May Day was being celebrated peacefully in Paris. So I figured it would at least be more interesting for you if I walked facing the crowds, rather than with them, so that you could see people’s faces and their signs. Big mistake.
I wake up, look at the news, and see this:
Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 10.36.06
If we’d just kept walking another five blocks, we would have been eyewitnesses to news we could have sold, because what looked like a news-nothingburger of a peaceful May Day in Paris to me was apparently not, according to AFP:
Paris (AFP) – French and Turkish police fired tear gas at protesters as tensions erupted in both countries during May Day rallies Sunday, while thousands marched across the globe for the annual celebration of worker’s rights.
From Moscow to Madrid, workers chanted demands for higher wages, better conditions and more job security as many countries battle economic uncertainty and high unemployment.
Thick clouds of tear gas hung above the Place de la Nation square in Paris where youths in balaclavas and ski masks lobbed cobblestones and bottles at black-clad riot troops shouting: “Everyone hates the police.”
Thing is, I did think I smelled a faint, peppery hint of tear gas. I assumed I was imagining it. In my experience, if the cops are using tear gas, people around you are coughing, running, and looking mighty unhappy. I’m fairly insensitive to OC spray, which is what I thought I smelled, so usually I see how people are reacting to it before I smell it myself. (A small percentage of the population isn’t that sensitive to OC. I’m part of the lucky minority. It takes quite a lot of it to deter me. If you want to deter me in a non-lethal way, dibenzoxazepine does to me exactly what it says on the tin.)
I turned around about two-thirds of the way down the route, if I rightly recall.
Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 11.26.14
I neither saw nor smelled “thick clouds of tear gas,” and we sure didn’t see “youths in balaclavas and ski masks,” did we? I saw the “black-clad riot troops.” We hung out with them for a minute or two on the corner opposite the Hôpital Saint Antoine, and I said something about how obvious it was that they were thinking, “When do we get a day off in honor of our labor?”
I only recall seeing one anti-police sign. Did you see any others? I can’t remember what the one I saw said, but I know I thought, “What an idiot. I’m sure even he doesn’t mean it.” Everyone in Paris understands why the cops were there and everyone’s grateful to have them there. I stand by that, actually. As the AFP journalist who actually got the story reported:
The May Day rally was the second protest against the reforms in a week to descend into violence led by troublemakers known as “casseurs” (breakers) who actively seek confrontation with security forces.
I believe it. It had to have been triggered by a very small number of professional pains in the tuchas. There was no serious anti-police vibe at the march. The police and the marchers were interacting respectfully, and you’d have to be an idiot beyond imagination to believe the cops were there for any reason but to keep people safe.
Here’s what we missed:
Had I been the only journalist in Paris, you’d have heard that “May Day was celebrated peacefully in Paris,” which would have been, technically, inaccurate.
That said, the five or six hours you spent with me — during which Paris was sparkling, joyful, and peaceful — seem to me a more accurate representation of what the day was like. We checked out the far-right rallies, the far-left ones, and everything in between, and we saw about 17,000 well-mannered people peacefully assembling and politely expressing their weird and extreme political views. I don’t agree with the views expressed, but I liked the good manners with which everyone expressed them. The violence was provoked by about a dozen casseurs, apparently. They were absolutely unrepresentative of the day or the mood.
Now, some reflections on the Revolution in France. Zafar asked me what I meant when I said, “The French Revolution failed.” I’d suggested that in many ways, this explained the difference between the French and the American way of looking at the world. I was specifically thinking of this passage in Patrick Lawrence’s book:
Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.56.37Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.57.31Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 12.57.58
And this is what prompted me to say that all of the people we saw out there obviously feel dissatisfied, and want something to change, but they have no what they want to change into. There’s no ideology left for them anymore, nor any example to follow. The Russian Revolution failed. No one will ever put that kind of innocent faith in Marxism again. Even the American Revolution appears, to the world, to be failing — and perhaps it is. So what are the people we saw for? They don’t know.
Everyone here knows, deep down, that the El-Khomri law will pass and must pass. They know it because they’ve spent years experimenting with the alternative. It didn’t work. The 35-hour work week didn’t reduce unemployment. It made it worse.
So people are dissatisfied, but not in any way they can make coherent. They had a revolution. It failed. They had another one in 1968. It was so successful that the people who took to the streets then are now the establishment. If Myriam El-Khomri, the labor minister of the Socialist Party, has realized it’s time for the French to “[align] ourselves with laws applicable in other countries,” so has everyone.
There’s no credible ideology left to admire, nor any model of a successful country to emulate. So they were on the streets out of tradition. It’s the first of May, and that’s what everyone’s always done in Europe on the first of May.
And it was a beautiful day, even if it wasn’t particularly newsworthy.
Did you see anything I didn’t?
(Thank you for almost pushing the counter to the 25 percent mark!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.