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Life's a riot...and then there is Paris

Updated: May 4, 2023

' Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.' - John F. Kennedy


They are burning the bins again in Paris. Amongst the (mostly) peaceful protests against the pension reforms, a handful of activists are causing damage and fear. A few days ago, I watched a demonstration of almost 40,000 people passing down the Rue de Rivoli. As the group passed, I noticed a small group dressed in black, casually walking around and filling the bins with old posters and paper. Minutes later, the girl in the picture set fire to the bin, pulled out her phone to film it and then sat down with a can of drink. Before I took this picture, she turned to look straight at me. She didn't care. Moments later, the bins in a tree-lined park across the road went up in flames, and a bus shelter on the corner was kicked down as its fire started to die out.


I would have stayed to experience this moment of history (the demonstration, not the burning), but I was jolted back to the real world by the sound of breaking bottles, flares and fireworks starting up the other side of the park. I could see objects being hurled across the road and decided it was safer to move back to the other side of the river. It seems the violence is mostly directed at the Police.


Today, Macron spoke to the nation at 8 pm. 'There is anger because some have the feeling of doing their part, but without being rewarded for their efforts, neither in wages nor in effective public services...(reform was)...necessary to guarantee pensions and produce more wealth for our nation'


Throughout the day, the news channels shared that there would be a 'Concert des Casseroles' (bashing pots and pans - I had to look that up to be sure) outside Town Halls and from balconies across the country while the speech was happening. The resident of only one apartment in my road came out, and all I could hear across the city was the now familiar sound of sirens.


When I arrived in Paris, a very chatty taxi driver shared his views. 'Go on, guess how old I am?' he asked us. Luckily, my friend is fluent in French, or we would have got nowhere in the conversation. 'Seventy-nine' he told us proudly; he enjoyed working and disagreed with the protests. Easy to say when you are that age and enjoying your work. I am not sure the younger generations feel the same way, although I saw a number of retired couples clapping and encouraging the protesters on their march.


I will confess it is both fascinating and disheartening to witness the police operation that is in place in the City. I say this because the news channels spend more time showing footage of the violence than talking to the genuine protesters about the issues. It's hard to judge the extent of the discontent. It feels that for every protester, there is someone in a shop (they are rammed, and it is not just tourists inside), heading out for a run or watching it all happen from a local cafe. I have seen many examples of the now famous ''gif' in action. While I watched the demonstration, I also saw people trying to get home from work, pushing their way through the crowd as they headed one way, as the riot police ran past them the other way.


When mobilised, the Police run in formation past the pedestrians, two alternative worlds co-existing in the same space. The Prefecture close the roads to traffic but they won't stop pedestrians, cyclists or scooters from going about their business.




Later that evening the headquarter of Louis Vuitton were stormed and flares were set off.


'You're looking for money to finance pensions? Take it from the pockets of billionaires, After three months of mobilisation, I would lie if I told you that there is no fatigue. We are tired, but mobilisation is like a marathon. We won't give up,' said Sud Rail unionist Fabien Villedieu,


As I write this, I am watching live scenes of chaos and vandalism on TV. I can hear it across the river at the same time. I am only about ten minutes away, and on the fifth floor, so the sound carries.

Throughout the day, the white and dark blue police vans pulled up in groups of five, ten, and twenty, The two-person motorbikes arrived, one person to ride, the other to hold a baton (the police use batons, tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds). Hundreds of robocop-style officers gathered again on street corners in readiness.


French unions have now called for a nationwide strike on May 1. The CGT (General Confederation of Labour Union) Secretary-General has said, 'We call on all employees to put this date on their agenda and to come with their colleagues, their neighbours, their families and their children. It will be festive; it will be important,' the words 'massive' and 'unprecedented' have also been used.

Will the flames of the fires be fanned, or are they about to burn out? I guess I'll find out in the coming days.


He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices–women’s voices–had burst from a side street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep loud ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started! he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been the doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?”

George Orwell, 1984

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