PROTESTS IN PARIS IN MAY AND THOSE COMING
I remember, when I was in the army and on leave in Paris, and I carried in my winter coat, a copy of Ilya Ehrenburg’s THE FALL OF PARIS. Those were the years in the middle 1970’s, when the May 1968 protests on the streets of Paris were still not quite a memory, but still a reaffirmation of the youthfulness of Paris, and what it was like to be young and alive in Paris, when the world had become old and rotten during the winding down of the Vietnam War. The last time I was in Paris was in the winter time of 2017, and I still carried the memory of the main character of the painter, André, in my mind, who in that great novel by the Soviet author, Ehrenburg, kept on paintings as his friends fell one way or another in their sacrifices to the naïve Poplar Front of that time, before the fascist, German divisions marched down the Champs-Élysées, then with strident boots clicking under the Arc de Triomphe.
During that winter time, while I was writing in my journal and taking photos for my eventual photo book on modern Paris, I observed the Parisians very keenly everywhere I went, and I noticed right away how they were bitter underneath their classical social correctness that is always there in the streets, the bakeries, the meat shops, the grocery stores, the museums and in the open parks of the Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries Garden, which I frequented alone to ponder on the loneliness and the beauty that will always be Paris. But more importantly I tried to study and observe the restlessness and anger that I could see only too well in the workers and students’ body language and words they would utter in the metro, stores and on the streets of Paris itself. The discontent was there to see before Christmas would come, and I knew there would be an emotion of fire and anger in Paris in the coming May. I was not surprised that this time, there would be a more engaging moment for the workers and students of Paris, who even with their political differences or even indifference to each other’s social agendas, nevertheless came into a deeper alliance for the railroad workers of France and the students of France who wanted a fair share of economic and social dignity which has always been their right since the French Revolution.
Photo by Julio Flores
I do not support the anarchists of Paris, although I understand their political rage and frustration in which they have in their history of the San Culottes who protested through the streets of Paris in July of 1792. The political ghosts of the San Culottes of those early days of the French Revolution are still with us, for the French Revolution is not a thing of the past, but a living historical work in progress. The San Culottes were not only anarchists, but shop keepers, small landlords, labors, housewives and revolutionaries who would be seen again in the spirit of those who fought at the barricades of the Paris Commune. This continual appearance of the masked agitators we saw on the streets in Paris in May, and will see again in the coming months, are not only part of the “grandes tragédies du Paris révolutionnaire”, but also the embodiment of the present day Paris revolutionary on the streets and boulevards of Paris. When I saw on television the broken shop windows, the cars and tires burning in the streets of Paris, how could I be surprised? When I saw the anger of the students in the streets of Paris in May, how could I be surprised even if they were different students in their rage from the students of 68’? When I saw the thousands of workers marching in Paris with vigorous stride with their red flags, I was not surprised, for since the days when I was a university student in my own country, I knew about the strength of the French workers which is not to be denied. There is no greater moveable feast than the French people when it comes to taking revenge on the streets of Paris.
Photo by Julio Flores
What sears in my memory of the novel THE FALL OF PARIS, which will probably be with me until the day I am no longer here is this brilliant passage —
“The year 1935 was a turning-point in the life of France. The Popular Front, which came into being shortly after the Fascists riots, was the breath, the anger and the hope of the country. On the 14th of July and the 7th of September—the day of the funeral of Barbusse—the streets of Paris were filled with a crowd of a million strong; the people were coming into action…. They clinched their fists impatiently”.
It is June in Paris and soon the month of July will come upon the streets and skies of Paris, and we shall see if there were will be thousands of clinched fists.