France’s occupy movement fails to attract the crowds
In the middle of Argentina 3.000 people gathered, at the summit of a lost mountain.
Summoned by three local gurus, the flock anxiously awaited for the miraculous hour, 11:11
of the 11th date of the 11th month of year 2011, the moment when the 11th portal of cosmic
energy would open. It is a new beginning, so they claim.
The very same date but across the Atlantic in a cold Parisian morning, 300 souls
assembled in the Champs de Mars. Just like the Argentines, they awaited the D-Hour but
no cosmic portal. Their slogans being more mundane, they prepared to march towards the
business district of the French capital, La Defense, to protest against the government and
its way to fight the crisis. They are what the Americans know as *“Occupy Wall Street”*
and what the Spanish baptized as *“indignados”*, or outraged.
However, the French seemed far from being outraged. Lost
in the crowd, 73 years old Jacques marched slowly, his eyes
fixed on the ground. *“We are always a few hundreds”*,
sighed Jacques, a retired sociologist and a seasoned
unionist activist. *“You don’t get far when you have these
numbers”* he added before sighing again. In France, since
the beginning of the protests last May, the numbers never
took off like it did in Spain where demonstrators numbered
in the tens of thousands nationwide. In a country of 65
million, 400 is far from the organizers’ slogan, *“We are the
One of the reasons might be the lack of organization, the
French being used to channel theirs concerns through huge unions or political parties. *“I am old enough to know that
only structured movements can achieve things”*, said Jacques accompanied by his 35
years old daughter, Marie. *“By principle the “Indignados” do not want to organize. So I
am afraid that this might become yet another fleeting social eruption”*.
A few meters behind, Adele a 26 years old palaeontology PhD student, agreed. *“People
don’t participate because there is no structure and no message in these protests. The 99%
concept doesn’t mean anything”*, she shouted to overcome the noisy drumming of one
protester. And immediately after she confessed she showed up for the first time because
it was a holiday *“I have been wanting to participate for a long time but the previous
marches were all organized during work days”*.
And that is because Adele, like most other French, still has a job. The national
unemployment rate for October was 9 %, relatively low when looking at Spain’s
which spiked to 22 %. For Marie, Jacques’ daughter this is at the heart of the public’s
indifference. *“We are just a few because the crisis has yet to affect us. There are still lots
of people that make ends meet and can put food on their plate. So they lack motivation”*,
said Marie that for the past five years has worked as a full time unionist militant.
At the far end of the march, two couples in their mid-thirties stood out. Holding a
Parisian map and tourist guide they were evidently not locals. Arrived from Valencia
for the weekend the Spanish couples bumped into the march as they were taking photos
of the Eiffel Tower. And they joined in. *“It is different from our demonstrations, where
people shout and encourage each other. For what we saw, things here are better than in
Spain so people are less interested in protesting”*.
The Spaniards’ support went as far as the imposing Arch of Triumph, included in the
protesters’ route, where they abandoned the ranks to continue their photo taking spree.
Despite their desertion, Jacques was still walking and still looking down. He agreed
with the Spanish and confided, *“We have yet to suffer the crisis. Once the presidential
elections are done [next April] we will know how hard it will be. It is lying ahead of us”*.
A new beginning, so he fears.