Friday, February 6, 2009

Plus de Chercheurs, Moins de Traders!

February 5th marked another demonstration day for the students and faculty of the Universities of Paris. Paris III and Paris VII were the two most visible groups, adding up to around 3600 students and teachers.

Our numbers were rather disappointing. I'd been hoping to see more people from my university, Paris X, but found out that people aren't as mobilized yet since the second semester doesn't start until Monday. Our route was also disappointing. When demonstrations are organized in Paris, the prefecture of police has to be notified and they have to approve the date and the path of the demonstration. Obviously, they had approved a path that would be visible to few people.

We were supposed to end the manif at the pre-approved Place du Panthéon which is in the Latin Quarter next to the Sorbonne. Even then, there seemed to be few people around; our demonstration had been effectively contained so that we had disturbed only a handful of drivers and gotten the attention of only a few people who looked out the windows of their workplaces or apartments. I think it's safe to say that many of us were feeling like we still needed to be seen and heard.

So when the CRS tried to physically contain us at the Panthéon, they unwittingly put some fuel on the fire and motivated our group to march on. The riot police had used their trucks and a few armored men to block the street leading from the Place du Panthéon down to Saint-Michel. Unfortunately for them, they'd thought we students would keep to the streets and had neglected to block the open sidewalks on either side. They must have though we were stupid. In a calm but determined movement, our crowd of demonstrators headed towards these open paths. The cops made a vain attempt to stop us. However, they were terribly outnumbered and ended up leaving the middle of the street wide open. At this point all of the the demonstrators got past them and poured out onto the very busy Boulevard Saint-Michel where we headed towards the Seine. There was nothing they could do to stop us except call for backup and try to cut us off elsewhere.

To avoid their roadblocks, several hundred of us turned onto the equally busy Boulevard Saint-Germain which was choked with rush-hour traffic. As we marched between the cars yelling "Sarkozy, t'es foutu, la jeunesse est dans la rue!" and "Etudiants pas contents!" we were happily surprised to see that many of the drivers and passengers were giving us the thumbs-up and even cheering us on. Keep in mind that this was in one of the very richest districts in Paris where views tend to be very conservative. The reaction was amazing.

Our group continued on towards the Quais de la Seine where we were still trying to stay one step ahead of the cops. Traffic, narrow streets and lack of communication kept our group from staying tightly together and at one very tense and frightening moment, about 30 of us found ourselves surrounded by policemen carrying shields, teargas, tasers and nightsticks. One wrong move would have meant very bad consequences for us. We put our hands up in surrender and were allowed to leave under the unsaid condition that our manif' be considered over. A few ultra-leftists wanted to continue, but the rest of us agreed that it was safer to stop.

We had made ourselves heard despite our smaller-than-expected numbers. We had been a success. On Tuesday, students and profs from all over the country will unite in Paris for a national demonstration against the reforms. I'm hoping for a good turnout.