John Pagani: Paris Manifestation
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28/03/06 France - The Maori guy in the All Blacks beanie confused me. We emerged from the underground right in the middle of Place de Republique and he came straight up to us. I thought he had clocked us as kiwis, so I said, 'kia ora'.
He wasn't Maori, he wasn't a kiwi. He was a plain clothes cop telling me to get myself and the kids out of the way. A moment later as I pressed the kids into a wall a gang of teenage boys jostled past, running, aggro, getting close to a fight. The front of the giant march was charging into the square and there were scuffles and pushing to clear room. There were young men prowling for trouble. If the demo I watched in the wet spring sunshine ten days ago was a Saturday afternoon party, this dark afternoon was a tense confrontation with gatecrashers.
My five year old was off school because it closed for the general strike; my two year old was turned away from creche this morning because not enough teachers showed up to work. Our underground Metro line was running though, so it was easy to travel across Paris to watch the 'the parade' as my five year old called it.
I sped them away from trouble, past streets blocked by lines of riot police standing only just out of the way. They stood glaring behind riot shields and visors, bristling batons and holstered sidearms, guards over their shins, knees, elbows and shoulders like blue Star Wars soldiers. Behind the pack a cop held a cannon for the tear gas and then there were trucks for dragging away prisoners and more trucks for spraying water at crowds.
It would have made a great photo if I could have stopped, but you don't with two small kids clinging on. Behind the police was sanctuary and their protection.
The Place de Republique is beautiful, dominated by a towering goddess, La Republique, reaching out with an olive branch in the street where Louis XVI's head left his shoulders.
Under the darkening sky, we looped around the central square and found a safe pool to drop anchor. Then the near-black sky broke and drenched the march as tens of thousands poured into the plaza like rain water sluicing down a river.
The noise and humour of the early protests was gone. This was angrier, rows of young men surged around the sidelines waiting for the rumble.
I told the kids a 'parade' is called a 'manifestation'. Everyone was angry because the guys who make the rules were making a new rule they didn't like. They were shouting 'resistance', which means 'you can't tell us what to do' but you're not allowed to say it to Dad. I told them there once was a king who made bad rules no one liked and he didn't listen when people told him to stop taking everyone's toys for himself. So you know what they did? They brought him here and they chopped off his head!
Will they do that to these guys? I don't think so baby.
While we were on our way home the riot police moved to clear the square, firing tear gas and their water cannons.
The trouble-makers are a different group, not the students and union-organised workers, but young groups travelling in from the out suburbs. Last week some of them started attacking the students.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion the protestors are demonstrating to keep their own protections, while that protection comes at the expense of others who know they will never share in the future that the students feel is being threatened.
Link to a short movie regarding the protest:
John Pagani is a Euro-Based commentator and former chief press secretary for Hon Jim Anderton. Read John Pagani's Blog