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August 26, 2010

The ‘Manifestation’ – It’s a French Thing

by soundlandscapes

Demonstrations, or “manifestations” as the French call them, are a way of life in France and particularly in Paris so if you live here you just have to get used to them. When I first came here eleven years ago I found this ‘leap to the streets’ at every opportunity quite mystifying. As time has moved on I have not only got used to it but I have come to respect the right of the demonstrators to protest and to enjoy the enthusiasm with which the do it.

Here in Paris manifestations seem to happen all the time except of course in the summer when even the most ardent demonstrators, along with everyone else, go on holiday. But come September and ‘La Rentrée’, that peculiar time of the year when everyone returns from holiday and life slowly gets back to normal, they will be back on the streets advancing whatever cause it is they support or are opposed to. And the causes are many and varied. I have seen demonstrations varying from opposition to pension reform to anti-globalisation to gay rights, to the regularisation of the ‘sans-papiers’ to more parking spaces for motorcycles and all points in between. It seems that nothing is too great or too small to take to the streets about.

At this point I should admit that I am not a natural demonstrator. I enjoy watching the demonstrations and I enjoy recording them but I am not a natural participant. I did though take part in one demonstration. It wasn’t planned, it happened by accident. I happened to be in the Place de la République one Saturday afternoon when I spied a demonstration approaching. It was a protest against ‘la peine de mort’ the death penalty, something I feel particularly strongly about and before I knew it I was joining in. It was the first and only time I’ve done it but I’m pleased I did.

Most of the demonstrations in Paris are peaceful if often enthusiastic. It is only on very rare occasions that any violence occurs and then only by a tiny minority. On the whole things are mostly good-natured. And just for once, a word in support of the police. At any demonstration in Paris the CRS (the French riot police) are present in force but, in my experience, they always seem to keep a discreet distance and never become visible unless things get hopelessly out of control which happens only very rarely. In all the time I have been watching demonstrations here I have never once seen the police be provocative in any way.

Love them or loathe them, manifestations happen here. People take to the streets to express their support for, or opposition against, a wide variety of causes. For the most part they do it peacefully, enthusiastically and with good humour. Long may it continue.

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