Tuesday, March 21, 2023

manif sauvage


I drifted down Rue de Temple around 9:45 last night. My goal was the Place de la Republique. I thought there might be an impromptu demonstration – a manif sauvage – there, if anywhere. When the censure was rejected and the “reform” became law, I felt that I had to see what was happening in the streets. I told A. that if I felt I was in some spot where the cops would target me – or demonstrators in general – that I would ghost. But in my neighborhood everything was just the same. We live, in the Marais, in a sort of cloud cuckoo land, where the garbage is still being picked up.

The first indication that the night was going to be a little less calm came as I passed the park which is in front of the Mairie. On my left, there’s a little alley by a church, where usually there are a lot of homeless people camped. Out of the alley, suddenly, came a stream of running people. As I went farther and saw more clearly, I saw the cops, all geared in their Robo-wear, moving at a trot down the alley. They were yelling stop. Nobody fleeing them was that stupid. The people who emerged from the alley managed to reach the other side of the street and simply dispersed. You couldn’t tell the people at the café from the potential manifesteur. Up ahead, I saw the usual flotilla of cop vans, about ten or fifteen. I decided, after standing there for a moment, to continue.

As I crossed from Temple to the Place, I noticed that some of the people who’d run out of the alley were with me. And as we reached the Place,these people walked ahead. Nothing was happening, and then suddenly a crowd formed. It got larger. The police didn’t respond right away. And then the crowd started singing. To my astonished ears, it sounded like Ca ira. It wasn’t. Later, at home, I looked it up: On est la. The song of the gilet jaunes. The song of the Macron mini-ice age:

On est là !

On est là !

Même si Macron le veut pas,

nous on est là !

The other part, which I didn’t hear sung – because a demonstration is not a chorus – is :

Pour l’honneur des travailleurs et pour un monde meilleur,

même si Macron le veut pas, nous on est là2 ! 

Usually, it is simpler to say Macron, demission, foutre!

I decided to drift up the street in the direction of the Bastille. I called A. I said everything was fine. Then the crowd started to head my way. I walked with them. My companions to the right seemed to know exactly what to do. As we passed by some construction site on the sidewalk, with its barriers, they grabbed the barriers and took them into the street. Other people brought other matter. It amazed me how easy it is to make a barricade. Oncoming traffic came to a stop, and the crowd poured into the street.

At this point I began to chicken out. I saw the empty spot behind the marchers and the cops coming up behind, and I suddenly had visions of the kettle. There’s been a lot of violent face to face at Republique over the last couple years with cops and protestors. So I called A. up, and she advised duck down an alley and come home.

Which I did.

All pumped, I looked at the live stream someone was sending over Twitter. I watched the cops milling around the Bastille. Then the noise of the demonstrators. Then the strategy – a crowd of disparate pedestrians suddenly coalescing into a group. Then the cops massing. Then the fires – in garbage cans, spreading to bikes – and the dissolving of the protestors before the cops and their re-coalescence. It isn’t guerrilla war, and it ain’t beanbag. We will have to see whether a government by the rich, for the rich, and of the rich will rule France – or whether their Plan B., Le Pen, comes in. Or whether by some miracle we can rescue France from this awful, mediocre version of reaction.

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