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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!)
Sorry about last week’s Pariscope walk. That was a bit of a bust because it rained all weekend and Leo was sick with a cold. So we wound up staying at home, playing with the cats, and eating scrambled eggs. It wouldn’t have been very interesting to broadcast that live.
But today, for the first time, we’re going to use this Periscope thingamajigger to do real journalism. Because today is May Day — the International Day of Laborers and the Working Classes promoted by the labor movement, anarchists, socialists, and communists, as well as an ancient European spring holiday — celebrated without irony and with a large cohort of riot police everywhere in the world but America, where we will never be so over the Cold War that we can use the phrase “International Workers Day” with a straight face. The weather report says it will be sunny and fine, so this should be a colorful day indeed for journalists such as ourselves.
May Day’s an extremely significant holiday in France. As important as Thanksgiving in the US. And almost everywhere in the world, May Day means journalists can sell stuff. What kind of stuff? No one knows, but even no news is worth a few bucks: “May Day was celebrated peacefully in Paris” is considered news. (That’s probably the only news we’ll get out of the day, but it’s still news. Guarantee you it will not be celebrated peacefully somewhere else. Probably Istanbul. I remember one year when the May Day celebrations there were, to everyone’s astonishment, totally peaceful — and that was news.)
Alas, May Day is May Night for most of you. All times below are Paris times. (Here’s a handy time-zone converter.) But if you’re afflicted with insomnia, or working the night shift — tune in! And if not, you can still watch the broadcasts later, when you wake up. But you won’t be able to ask questions or interact with me, which is a shame, because that’s my favorite part of this.
By the way, if you missed my earlier posts about this: Periscope is an app that lets me livestream what I’m seeing and interact with viewers in real time. Here’s the info page, and here’s where you follow my broadcasts.
So here are some of the things we might see today:
First, May 1 has been a day for celebrating old French customs since King Charles IX received a gift of flowers on May 1 in 1561. So you’ll see people buying muguets to give to their loved ones. If you do that, it brings good luck. Families with children sometimes even get up early in the morning and go into the woods to pick them.
Second, although I doubt we’ll be able to get near it because of the crowds, there’s a wreath-laying ceremony at noon at the Arc de Triomphe, and then there will be a parade on the Champs Elysee.
Third, all the churches and the Panthéon will be open. Sunday Mass starts at 11:00 a.m. at most of them. But think I can only do about an hour of broadcasting in total before the battery runs out, so I’m not sure we’ll have time for the detour. It all depends what you want to see.
Fourth, May Day in Paris is traditionally a day for massive union demonstrations and parades. Each political party sponsors its own unions. We’ll see workers of the world uniting, socialists, communists, and lots of politicians trying to be out in front of them for the cameras. These should be particularly pugnacious this year, because the unions have been going absolutely berserk about the proposed new labor laws. You may even get a chance to see people in France singing The Internationale unironically.
At 3:00 pm, the left and the hard-left start their march at the Bastille. Recently, the Nuit Debout movement has been gaining strength. We can find them there, I reckon. If you’ve got any questions for Nuit Debout people but you won’t be awake then, leave them in the comments, I’ll ask for you.
At 11:00 a.m., the libertarians and the anarch0-syndicalists will begin their march for “a social revolution and libertarianism” and against the government’s austerity program. (What does it mean to be a libertarian in France, you ask? Hell if I know; that sure doesn’t sound like something any libertarian we know would do, does it? But they’ll all be there today, so let’s just askthem.) They start at 11:00 am at the Place des Fêtes, and head toward the Bastille.
Only problem is that there are a few scheduling conflicts. See below.
Fifth, May Day is also counter-rally and counter-parade day for the National Front. This year, there will be two competing National Front events to commemorate the day: a traditional rally, led by the elder Le Pen, and a “Great Patriotic Banquet” led by his enemy and mortal rival — his daughter Marine. Usually, the far-right parade goes from Opéra to the statue of Jeanne d’Arc near the Place de la Concorde. But this year, things will be a little different. France24 explains:
France’s far-right National Front party has shifted its annual May 1 gathering from its usual spot at a statue of Joan of Arc in central Paris to another location, citing a terrorist threat.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the firebrand founder of the National Front (FN), has organised his own rally at the traditional spot in defiance of his daughter Marine’s decision to host the event elsewhere in Paris.
If we go, and actually, I’d really like to see this — I’ve never seen the Old Boy speak — we’ll be going to the traditional one (at 11:00 am local time), because Marine’s banquet is invitation-only.
The annual FN gathering has taken place every year since 1988 at the gilded bronze statue of French heroine Joan of Arc (who was burned at the stake for heresy by the English in 1431) on Rue de Rivoli next to the Louvre Museum.
But this year, prompted by jihadist threats to the “idolatrous” annual gathering of anti-European and anti-immigration FN supporters, the venue has been shifted to another statue of Joan of Arc, this time at Saint Augustin, less than two kilometers away.
The one at Saint Augustin is just a wreath-laying. No speechifying, they’re saving that for the banquet. But the real reason they moved the rally isn’t because ISIS threatened it. It’s because last year, Marine (the daughter) totally lost control of it. She’d just placed a spray of lilies and roses at the foot of Joan of Arc’s gilded statue when a bunch of nekkid Femen chicks burst onto the scene. And if that wasn’t mood-ruining enough, out of nowhere her embarrassing father ambushed her. The Old Boy was supposed to be safely in the hospital, recovering from heart surgery, but he materialized exuberantly, clambered up on the stage, ruddy and demented, and began shaking his fists in defiance. Marine just couldn’t catch a break.
So this year, she’s having an invitation-only Great Patriotic Banquet and leaving Pops to be blown up by ISIS:
The nature of Sunday’s official rally has also changed. The Rivoli gathering traditionally sees FN supporters marching to nearby Opéra after speeches by party leaders.
This year, however, the event at Saint Augustin will be a stationary “patriotic banquet” in the shadow of St Joan (she was canonized in 1920).
“Daesh [Islamic State group] has directly threatened the FN,” said party lawmaker Gilber Collard in reference to a recently-published article in a jihadist magazine that described the FN rally as a “prime target.” “We do not want to risk the safety of our militants.”
Daesh has threatened to blow up everyone in France, so really there’s nothing special about them threatening to blow up an FN rally. Everyone understands the real logic of this. No photos of Marine ahead of the 2017 elections with a bunch of nekkid ladies and her crazy Pops, period.
But it wasn’t just safety issues that caused the change in venue. In 2015, Jean-Marie le Pen was removed from the list of speakers at the May 1 event, but appeared on stage anyway in chaotic scenes that many saw as a purposeful attempt to undermine his daughter’s legitimacy.
“I think that was a malicious act, I think it was an act of contempt towards me,” Marine Le Pen, who took over the party leadership in 2011, told French radio after the event.
No kidding, Marine. (This family is straight out of King Lear.)
“I get the feeling that he can’t stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it,” she said.
It’s true, he can’t. It drives him nuts. He’ll do everything in his power to sabotage her.
Indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted for making anti-Semitic comments, inciting racial hatred and for Holocaust denial, has become a growing problem for the FN as it tries to move its public image away from the overt racism and anti-Semitism of its beginnings.
Jean-Marie Le Pen has not been invited to the “patriotic banquet.” He told Metronews he wouldn’t deign to go to what will be a tightly-controlled and watered-down rally, even if he was invited.
Instead, he has prepared a 40-minute speech that he will deliver to die-hard supporters at the Joan of Arc statue on Rue de Rivoli.
According to Metronews, Le Pen senior said, “I call all the people who are not afraid of Daech to meet before the statue of Joan of Arc on May 1, instead of the Pyramids, where I will address the yuuuuuge crowd of patriots who will, I am sure, respond to my appeal.” (Read: If you go to my daughter’s rally, you’re a complete wuss.) “Il n’y aura pas de place pour les pleutres et pour les lâches,” he said. “There will be no room for spineless people and cowards.”
“I want to maintain this FN tradition started 28 years ago,” he said, referring to his daughter as “Madame Le Pen” who had “broken the tradition of marching from the statue of Joan of Arc, supposedly because of a Daesh threat.”
“I haven’t been invited [to the patriotic banquet] and I wouldn’t want to go,” he said.
“Despite this, what I desire, and what will be the subject of my speech on Sunday, is for the FN to unite ahead of the [presidential and legislative] elections of 2017,” added the man whose bellicose words and actions have done more to divide the party he founded than any other.
Recently, Marine has been posing in lots of photos with her cats to soften her image. These take on a somewhat different meaning when you know that last year, one of her father’s dogs devoured one of her cats. Yes, that is correct: Her father’s dog ate her favorite cat.
Anyway, Marine has threatened to excommunicate any FN supporter who goes to her father’s rally. She’s reportedly going to have spies in the crowd to see whether any of her faithful followers are betraying her. So let’s try not to miss that: Skinheads, spies, and the Old Boy whipping up the Party die-hards; that should give us a really good feeling for the old Front. Tune in at 10:00 a.m. Paris time. I’ve never seen the Old Boy live, so I’m looking forward to that.
By the way, the Old Boy’s a big Trump fan. He calls him “Don Trump.” I don’t know if his English is good enough for him to realize that this has a second meaning.
Don’t be alarmed if the broadcast starts and stops suddenly. It’s hard to concentrate on where you’re walking and what you’re filming at the same time, so if the crowds require me to pay some attention to what’s going on around me, I’ll just stop filming. (May Day is notorious for pickpocketing. This is also why I’ll be mean to the adorable little urchins who try to give me flowers. I don’t hate adorable little urchins with flowers. But I do hate their parents, who put them up to distracting people so they can pick their pockets.)