This is not a protest. People here are creating something different, insisting on “real democracy”, mutual care and a newfound sense of togetherness.

“To celebrate and imagine together.”
“To look at each other and smile.”
“No parties, no barriers, no labels.”
“Take squares and rediscover hope.”

— Quotes taken from interviews by the Nuit Debout TV group

Thousands gather every evening in the Place de la République, and even more during the days and nights of the weekends. Assemblies are held every evening at 6pm, with people of a wide diversity of ages and social classes taking part. The plaza begins to fill around 5pm with circles of people standing and sitting, talking under cardboard signs to identify the theme of their discussion, including groups on economics, education, facilitation, feminism, housing and ecology.

Then, around 5:30pm high school students march in together, chanting and singing behind sheets painted with their school names. By assembly time there are always medical, legal, media, library and kitchen areas. And, somehow, as with every occupation I have witnessed, there is a meditation circle a few meters from the drummers. Everything is so wonderfully familiar, having participated in similar assemblies and plaza occupations, from New York to California, Athens to Thessaloniki, Madrid to Barcelona, Buenos Aires to Cordoba — and on and on…

Brimming with Democracy

Paris is alive with democracy. Real democracy. Overflowing the streets and squares. People speaking and hearing one another in assembly after assembly. Growing in number, geography and diversity. The movement that first began with high school students rebelling against the police killing of a student, and then mass resistance to a potential rollback of long-held labor protections, spread to people speaking in squares, trying to occupy them at night, being repressed, and coming back the next day, and the next, and the next.

This is not a protest. People here are creating something different. They are not making one demand — they are speaking to one another insisting on “real democracy”, meaning face-to-face discussions about their own lives and things that matter most to them. And when and if they do come up with demands, it will have been out of these sorts of discussions — decided horizontally and together. There are now dozens of squares holding assemblies nightly in France alone. Many more dozens of similarly organized movements are springing up in other parts of Europe and Canada as I write.

For a more complete history of the movement and its day-to-day activities, read Marisa Holmes’ article. She is one of the initiators of Occupy Wall Street initiators and is currently in Paris.

Topics of discussion vary, though the most substantive conversations happen in the various commissions and in the neighborhoods where more assemblies are springing up. These discussions are then brought back as reports to the general assembly. After only two weeks the assembly decided that consensus, while appealing in so many ways, was not working and moved to a combined form of voting with consensus. The movement is learning through practice and together with people from other movements, like Occupy Wall Street and the 15-M movement, who are also there in the squares to support and share experiences.

So many things are consistent in Paris with the other movements for real democracy, from the importance of the face-to-face discussions, the exclusion of political parties, the striving for horizontal relations, the breaking down of hierarchy and the care of and for one another as much as possible — even if only in those hours of togetherness.

And of course the contagion of the hand signals to make one’s feelings known in a mass crowd, such as the twinkling of fingers in the air for agreement or the crossing of one’s arms in the air to show dissent. The Feminist Commission has added a new sign, reflecting the evolution of the movements, which is two fists meeting above one’s head to call out a sexist remark.

Source: Roar Magazine