OK, so maybe I was a bit harsh before, on the French and their strikes.
I had this epiphany yesterday, while walking to the metro in the 7th arrondissement, when I ran into a massive street protest at Les Invalides and then later at Boulevard du Montparnasse. The above photos are shots taken from my Blackberry on my commute home yesterday afternoon.
Being thrown into the middle of the passion and excitement in the crowds of French citizens gave me a different perspective than I had when I wrote my previous (and admittedly somewhat snarky) post.
The crowd I saw wasn't just made up of older French people on the brink of retirement, protesting Sarkozy’s proposed pension reform. I saw people of all different ages, races, and what looked like varying economic backgrounds. While there were plenty of police on standby, I witnessed no acts of violence and no major disruptions.
Granted, if you were trying to drive around Paris during rush hour, I’m sure you would not feel so forgiving, since many of the major roads were blocked off.
- 1987: a pro-choice rally in Washington D.C. (sure I had no political leanings at the time, and was brought in a stroller by my parents. But I'm sure I had fun anyways.)
- 2000: the Million Mom March, supporting stricter gun control laws.
- 2003: a student walk-out at my high school the day we went to war in Iraq.
- 2009: the National Equality March supporting equal rights for same-sex couples.
And being in the middle of yesterday’s street protest, feeling the energy passing through the crowds, melted my ice-cold, cynical American heart; which was easy to keep cold when I was six-stories high, staring down at the protesters from my bedroom window.
While words like “communism” and “socialism” can have extremely negative connotations in the U.S., the same generally goes for “capitalism” in France. Of course, there are always exceptions.
But Socialist and Communist political parties are like, legit, on this side of the Atlantic. (fo real).
The Parti Socialiste and the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) are two of the major political parties in France. The Socialist Party were relatively close contenders in the 2005 presidential elections, and current Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who has been in office since 2001, is also a member of the Socialist Party.
When American protesters call Obama a “socialist,” (and then go and compare him to Hitler, who, um, I always thought was fascist? My bad.) let’s just say they’re not dropping him a compliment.
So in my earlier post, I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t understand WHY the French were protesting these proposed reforms. Or that I don’t sympathize with them. Or, that if I were French, I wouldn’t necessarily be out there, striking along with the rest of em'!
But as much as I still agree with the right to protest, and the importance of questioning change, especially toward a more “Americanized” system, which the French have spent decades fighting off, I still think this issue in particular comes down to numbers.
The French government has known for quite some time that something had to change: Former French President Jacques Chirac also attempted to pass pension reform back in 1995. He backed down after three-weeks of transport strikes.
So I can see why the French are taking to the streets and going on strike. Historically, they've been quite effective.
Sarkozy still seems to be holding his foot down (decked out in some spiffy man-heels, bien sûr). Although evidently, he was recently quoted privately as saying, "As long as the young people don't get involved, I can handle the movement against my pension reform."
Well Sarko, the young have arrived. According to polls, 68% of French youth between 25 and 34 years old support the strikes again Sarkozy's pension reform. And according to the French Education Ministry and student unions, 5% to 10% of French high school classes were disrupted or canceled during the major organized strikes.
Will Sarko give in to the public who voted him in, as did his predecessor? Or will he stand his ground, and push through his proposed reforms?
Only time will tell!
But do not fear dear readers: I will continue to write about fun things, like markets, art and cupcakes (and hopefully some other things, if I'm feeling creative). But I will make sure to keep you all posted on any first-hand footage I can gather around this major political reform movement currently taking place in France. I'm willing to handle a crowded metro car, or an extra walk to school, if I get the opportunity to experience this historical moment in time first-hand.
Needless to say, I'm quite "curieuse" to see how it all plays out.