You think you would only get a similar vibe by reading about 1968, 1848, and so on. But it would be the biggest mistake to believe that French streets have lost their democratic significance, even though the degeneration of the gilets jaune movement may scare people off and compromise its legacy. The truth is we need that space more than ever, and on Friday I finally had the proof as 29,000 students gathered in Paris for the most significant march since the 2003 anti-war movement.
A political communication lecturer recently confessed to me that for him the protest against waging war in Iraq was the one moment in which the European Union could on one occasion pretend to have a consolidated public space. As a swath of girls and boys between 12 and 27 gathered around the Panthéon, I was able to understand for what reason he could only see that element appear in seismic situations like that: because the vibration you feel from the cheers to the anthems sets up the scene nicely like in all good tragedies before the key revelation disrupts the characters’ lives forever.
The slogan “on est plus chaud que le climat” is a funny summary to a much bigger problem. It is the result of years of being considered a cranky fake generation with no plan for the future, and being overly tired with that ridicule. I grew up hearing that mobility projects in high school could not be financed because of the financial crisis. When it was time to choose a university, people would say it was not worth considering politics among my choices because “what kind of job will you get with that degree?” And all of those people accused me and my age group of being desensitised. I wish all of them suddenly had been at the march to see how much of a pain in the arse a reportedly lazy gang can be.
Shouting our lungs out is a beautiful way to express our dissent, but it is even better to see parents finally looking on us with stunned love as we make our way through Boulevard Montparnasse. Some hold their 2-year-old child in their arms to show him the people fighting for his future too, others stop working in their government office to indulge in some imaginary crowd-surfing. Others invite their teenage daughters to get downstairs and join the march, which finally brings a few adult faces on the line. The dance breaks in along with arms in the air, holding cardboard boxes recycled from the big supermarket down in Pigalle to make something useful out of utter waste. You can feel the lump forming in your throat, and for once it is not an anxiety know taking over.
My flatmate, who is used to marching for any cause on the left of the political spectrum, cannot stop smiling in seeing there is no contention. “We are all here, in peace, and we’re too young for them to make it controversial,” she comments. Quite an interesting perspective, if you keep in mind that some of the people pouring blessings on us from the balcony may have not agreed with green energy investment, or worked for forty years in a polluting corporation. But there is one point in that statement that makes me tear-eyed and positively overwhelmed: they have finally embraced our need to speak out, instead of silencing us with the same old talk about usefulness.
I have no clue whether my participation, Greta Thunberg’s speeches, or Antonio Guterres’ proposal for a UN summit will have an actual effect on the way we perceive limited resources. But the fact that we stood up and took up even a small share of responsibilities is a massive change. As my uptight Norwegian boyfriend marches next to me with a bit of a lost expression (it seems like silence remains the favourite protest form there), I manage to recognise how radical the involvement is, even for people who would not normally express discontent that way. A new energy comes across the human flow, and I am raved to be fighting at least one battle along with a mistreated bunch of rational hooligans. To our future.