Friday 11/11/11: I now have contact with someone at the camp at La Défense. (When I told him I was reporting to New Orleans, he suggested that I get in touch with the group in Orléans). Unfortunately the day started with a police action. A few pieces of furniture had been brought in and a camp kitchen had been set up (still no tents or tarps allowed), and there was an info table (the info table was an old ironing board) and a makeshift bulletin board. Police moved in at 8 AM when most of the camp was still asleep. The stream reporter said they made a huge mess, spilling food, breaking bottles, trampling the posters and banners that are spread out on the ground. Says that a few nightstick blows were dealt and one woman was hit.
But my contact tells me over the phone that relations with police are evolving. Instead of the gendarmes mobiles (who are actually military; mobiles refers to the fact that they can be brought in from any point in France on short notice in “emergencies”), who are responsible for the violent attack on the first night, they’re now dealing with a team of CRS (part of the regular national police and traditionally feared) who are a regular presence on the site, and dialogue (unofficially at least) is slowly evolving. The officers who made the raid this morning were not in riot gear. Reports are that there were apologies for the mess made, and some of the equipment and supplies confiscated (medical supplies in particular) were given back. A new camp has been built, entirely out of cardboard boxes – which police are tolerating, at least for now.
All this needs to be considered in the light of the fact that the nationwide call to march from the Champ de Mars to La Défense was expected to bring thousands to the site, and some feared that the camp would be cleared while there were still only a hundred or so people there.
Police were keeping everyone to one end of the Parvis, denying access to the steps leading up the Grande Arche. By 10 AM a group had left to join the march; the stream showed a pile of clothing and supplies covered in plastic sheeting, which police are presumably allowing whereas tarps are forbidden. But police did move in and remove a pallet people were using to sleep on. The cameraman tried to engage the officers in dialogue, but they seemed unwilling to talk on camera. A female officer was in evidence.
“Why make such a big deal out of a pallet?” An older woman, to police: “What would your grandparents say? Aren’t you ashamed? They fought for your freedom in the war we’re honoring on Armistice Day!” At about this time, the annual ceremony in which the President lays a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was going on, heavily covered by the media – whereas not a single world was said about the march on any of the mainstream channels. The cameraman mentions that despite all this, “Dialogue with the police is easing little by little.” He says to someone, “No point in trying to set up a tent – they’ll just tear it out.” He explains that the officers are worried about the possibility of provocateurs in the crowd of marchers arriving.
Tweets come in saying that police are blocking certain Métro stations – whether to keep the march from swelling or to keep marchers away from Sarkozy’s home “fiefdom” in posh Neuilly is unclear.
Later: The first wave of marchers arrives at La Défense amid general jubilation. Reports are that the march was blocked several times, but one man says that all he saw was people being kept from going in the direction of the Étoile, where the wreath-laying ceremony was going on, but that police were cool.
Many signs, many banners: “Democracy = Transparency” One sign has a long explanation of the financial crisis and ends with “Dissolve the legislature, dissolve everything, start over, and create a sound system.” A boy of about eight has a sign: “Eat The Rich.” Another, smaller boy has one about cuts in education: “I cost too much.” Many people have cardboard signs with a large red heart. “The EU is a democracy? We can’t even vote for the president.” As marchers arrive they move onto the stairs – which are like a “natural” amphitheater –, unimpeded by police.
A chant goes up: “Don’t watch us. Join us!” (Yann Beauson’s photostream)
Later: A Free Podium or People’s GA is held. Estimates of up to 2,000 participants. People are free to talk about any topic. Many mention the movement itself, the importance of dialogue, the importance of peacefulness, for respect for the police, who are “part of the 99.” After the last speaker finishes, bands play and people dance. In the camp itself the mood has gone from discouraged (this morning) to ecstatic. Someone says over a bullhorn, “Make some noise for the people watching us around the world!” A huge roar goes up.
Sunday 11/13: The march on Friday seems to have infused new life into the camp. “Fabus,” my contact, tells me that many interested people are dropping by to see what’s going on. The group is working to set up a welcome/info area that will make a good impression. Of course they’re still limited by the fact that police are not allowing tents, tarps, or anything that resembles a shelter. The response to this is to use only cardboard, which the police seem willing to tolerate. I wonder if this isn’t because sleeping on cardboard is traditionally associated with homeless people and the strategy is meant to encourage that image. In any case, “architects” are working on building things out of corrugated cardboard – concentrating on modules that can be put together and taken apart quickly in case police decide to move in and disperse the camp again. People are hoping the better weather will hold. Some of the people who drop by end up getting on the stack to speak at the People’s assemblies being held daily. Two or three meetings – GAs, People’s Assemblies, work group meetings – are being held daily. The GAs are concentrating in the actions set for next weekend (more news on that as I get it).
Food is not too much of a problem, Fabus says. Lots of people are bringing food, though it’s mostly cold. Not too many hot meals. But local businesses are showing solidarity, sometimes providing coffee, hot food, a place to plug in and recharge, and so on. Some 80 to 100 people spent the night Friday and Saturday. Fabus says he feels the police are “shooting themselves in the foot” by harassing the camp, because their attitude is only building more solidarity with the general public. I ask whether there seems to be a clear set of orders from the police hierarchy. He says he doesn’t think so – at times the officers will let somebody arrive with a shopping cart of provisions, etc. and do nothing, but at other times they harass people, making ID checks (which the police in France can do at will, selectively).
Sometimes they’ll let a stack of cardboard be brought in, at other times not. The police commissaire (inspector), with his walkie-talkie and plainclothes bodyguards, shows up from time to time, which may influence the officers’ behavior. He tells me that the camp would love to have news of what’s going on in NO and other places in the US, and that they’ll post it on their information wall. They’re also keeping up with the marches from Nice to Athens) and New York to Washington.
UPDATES AND RELATED POSTS:
Paris Occupation Update: http://99getsmart.com/?p=1030
News of the Paris Occupation: http://99getsmart.com/?p=779
News of the Paris Occupation 11-9-11: http://99getsmart.com/?p=805
Update: News of the Paris Occupation: http://99getsmart.com/?p=873
Occupy La Défense, Paris: http://99getsmart.com/?p=791