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"I’ll stay, whatever the cost": diary of a protester at La Défense

Translated Monday 14 November 2011, by Richard Pond and reviewed by Henry Crapo

This Wednesday evening the "indignants" are preparing to camp for a sixth night on the square in front of La Défense, still with the same intent: to occupy the Parisian business district in order to bring the public space and the realms of decision-making closer together. Last night was lively, with a new offensive by the CRS - the riot police - who tried to take away the canvas sheets being used to shelter us from the cold and rain. Only space blankets are allowed. And yet...

"And yet we’re still there. We’re occupying a public space. We’re putting democracy into action on the ground," explains DjiDji. That’s right, "DjiDji": the pseudonym of a convinced "indignant". With a big smile, he brings us her diary of five nights of struggle: "They tell us that our movement is finding it difficult to grow. But for me, we’ve already won. Before arriving at La Défense last Friday, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to stay four seconds in the square. Five days later, we’re still there. We’re there and we’re staying there." (Streaming video live from La Défense:)

Friday 4th November

4:30 pm. I arrive at La Défense, uneasy. There aren’t a lot of people, but I believe in what we’re doing just the same. Look - blue uniforms, vans, ninja turtles: it’s normal, we’re used to it. Provided that they don’t move us out too quick. I reply to some interviews. Goodness, I’ve never seen so much media around the movement.

6 pm. Wow, there are nearly a thousand of us. We’re trying to put a People’s Assembly in place. I get offered a megaphone. I don’t want to find myself being moderator again. You shouldn’t be too visible in this movement of equals, otherwise you’ll get verbal attacks and your motives will be questioned. I call on volunteers to moderate the assembly, facilitators, those who want a turn at speaking, scripts, and people who will time people’s speeches. Too bad, I’m going to be moderating, I don’t have a choice. The platform is built bit by bit. The assembly starts as best it can in total improvisation. We’ve got one megaphone, no sound system yet. Several people make interventions, we drop the idea of taking turns to speak because people haven’t taken it on board. But there is always someone wanting to speak, in the flesh, about the economy, about the financial system, about the lack of dreams conveyed by the policies. Money money money, debt, austerity: we’re sick of this injustice and this life without dreams, without joy, without warmth, without humanity. Some mates turn up. I jump at the occasion to suggest that they replace me as moderator. And there we go, cheers! I hand over the megaphone to Marc.

Tents have begun to be put up, against the orders given by the police against camping.

Night falls. Tents multiply. I no longer know the time, but the towers and the arch are lit up. It seems we’re meant to be saving energy and paying back some debt, but that only needs to concern the people, not finance and business, who don’t give a damn about ecology and the economy - as always. These people that we’re rising up against are sick, they are liars and criminals.

But the spectacle is beautiful all the same: it’s surreal to find ourselves opposite these temples of neoliberalism made of metal and glass with shapes sketched by architects excited by the folly of this grandeur. We’d like to steal this huge tent that adorns the insides of the arch and live in it.

There are dozens of tents and the police are getting worked up. We see the officials and the police intelligence agents talking into their radios. The riot police get into position, the helmets are raised from the hips to the head, and plastic shields multiply. We confer about what stance to take. We’ll defend the tents, even if we know we can’t hold out a long time. Above all, we won’t be violent or abusive, we’ll behave impeccably. The French will end up understanding who we are and just how contemptible our leaders are.

We get into place between, around and inside the tents to protect their position. I surprise myself: I’m not afraid. It’s beautiful, it’s great, we’re thumbing our noses at this business district. I’ve the impression of watching a film, on a big screen, in 6D! Blue metal, mist and light alongside the illuminated glass of the towers’ storeys and the kitsch Seventies-style colours of the Quatre Temps shopping centre. Yellow Submarine, Lucy in the Sky, Ziggy Stardust...

We adopt a stance of peaceful resistance: legs tangled together, hands crossed under our knees. Someone next to me is completely freaking out. I play the idiot, make her laugh, get her to do some deep breaths, suggesting to her that she should look on it as though it’s a film. She relaxes. She’s called Leila and is as beautiful as the night. Boom, they’re charging at us! The riot police run at us and violently plunge their shields on us to push us back and create a breach. They dive inside to grab hold of the tents. It’s violent, brutal. A few sudden shoves here, some tear gas there: I can even see what seems to amuse them about assaulting us. A world on the wane ... They don’t stop charging and they don’t stop robbing us of our tents, destroying most of them. Then they nab the trolley with our water bottles and provisions in it. Next they work away at our canvas sheets and space blankets. I’m scandalised. Our authorities are a disgrace, mean and shabby. This stinks of fascism, of misanthropy. "Poor people, get lost...".

The rain is now upon us. We’re unlucky - is the Good Lord on the side of the neocolonialists? They say Willy Brandt said, "I love the idea of God but I hate his representatives on earth." Myself, I no longer like the idea of God but I like his team of "indignants" on earth... We’re trying to get onto the upper
steps of the arch to protect ourselves from the rain, but a cordon of riot police pushes us back. They leave us on the steps where the rain falls, away from the dry ones. We feel that they want to humiliate us, wear us out.

I feel the opposite though, a whiff of scandal filling my arteries. I make this a personal matter: I will stay whatever the cost. If they want to make me budge then they’ll have to take it to the end. I’ve the impression of having nothing to lose any more. A friend shouts out to them: "We’re fighting for your kids. You don’t understand a thing. We’re proud of what we’re doing!" I want to kiss him. Then I realise that we’re all feeling the same thing. We won’t give up!

Night goes on, the rain continues and intensifies. I am drenched, the water comes in by way of my neck, under my clothes. We sing, we yell, we march. The police don’t stop patrolling the beautiful surroundings of our chance meeting. We can no longer call it a camp, but we’re not going away. I’ve got two sleeping bags and a ground sheet attached to my backpack. All of a sudden a cop wants to take them off me. I hold my bag firmly and refuse to give it to him. I tell him that he hasn’t got the right, that these are my personal belongings, that it’s theft. A journalist comes up, a camera glowing in his hand. The cop gives up and goes away.

We’re going to spend the whole night under the rain. I’m not going to sleep even a second, but I no longer feel tiredness nor the cold nor the damp. I can no longer smoke, too wet, even the lighter no longer gives a flame. But our resources are immense. This is a mini-war, our internal reference points are changing. Our mobiles now never stop receiving texts messages: "Stand firm", "We’re with you", "I’ll bring coffee tomorrow", "We’re proud of you". It’s stupid but we feel brave, a bit like heroes. That helps us to stand firm.

The cops are soaked too, staying under the rain to watch us. Even they are being badly treated by those giving them orders. Around five in the morning, I go to see them: "It’s pissing us all off, mucking about here, isn’t it? How about if we have a football match, the indignants against the police?" Smiles in response. But they obey their orders - they don’t move.

The early morning begins discreetly, with waves of mist. We’ve held firm, relief has come. We’ve won one battle but not yet the war. The rain has stopped, but now we’re being showered with something else: breakfast! A thermos, another one, croissants, pains au chocolat. A wonderful breakfast! We’re becoming middle-class again, yippee!!

Saturday 5th November

I tell myself that I’m now going to return home, have a bath (not a shower - the shower was enough!) and sleep one or two hours. But I don’t manage to leave, I feel at home here. "No way of moving", we don’t want to be separated. We laugh as we say it, we all feel the same thing. The bonds of friendship that bind this movement are jubilant. Those who don’t know what a social bond is need just to come with us, they’ll get the experience directly: it goes further than the concept. "The main thing is to not to be seen with the eyes, we see things well only with our hearts".

Interviews are endless: Direct Matin, 20 Minutes, Le Parisien, paper and web, France 3, alternative media, internet media, Agence France Presse, Reuters... and even an Iranian outlet. I have the impression of being a star in the midst of a festival. Calm down boy, it’s just a momentary illusion. And don’t let your ego corrupt you. This movement is pure, you mustn’t let yourself get intoxicated with the cameras and the microphones. I feel like it’s easy to let yourself get corrupted. The purity of our ideals demands an iron discipline within. My love of this movement brings back humility to me. I love to show off, but that will remain just a game.

After some hours, I’m almost dry. I’ve not stopped walking and I can’t manage to concentrate on what is being said in our assembly. I can only do one thing, stay still, that’s all. The hours go by. Around 10 pm, exhausted, I return home, spend the night under the duvet, telling myself that I’ll come back tomorrow evening.

Sunday 6th November

10 am. A phone call wakes me up. It’s Agence France Presse wanting news. Suddenly I go into overdrive, get two flasks of coffee ready, go to buy some chocolate, some fruit juice, some dried fruit, nutritious biscuits, chocolate snack bars - and there we are, I go to La Défense. No change. The police are still there. I’m going to be speaking to them a lot. I feel some of them are ill at ease, they feel some sympathy for the movement and don’t much like the orders they’re being given. I wouldn’t want to be in their position.

We write on some banners, we play some music, we send information to the press and to friends of the movement. Come the evening, I decide to stay.

Around midnight. It’s getting cold staying in in one spot. I talk with a girl, "G", she’s funny, we have a good laugh together. Very naturally, we stay together on the boxes. We’re given clothes, a blanket, a sleeping bag. I’ve got a glove on my right hand. Eva’s got the other glove. I wanted to give her both but we had to negotiate... G and I lie down beneath the clear night sky that surrounds the skyscrapers. We talk, about everything and anything. We mostly just talk any old rubbish. We get tired. I turn my head towards her. She looks at the sky. I find her beautiful - even more beautiful in these circumstances. I feel the heat of her body. Sensitively, we keep each other warm. This is what I remember. I want to take her in my arms, to kiss her. But I’d risk spoiling a fine moment, fragile like a crystal. And then, I’ve never wanted to be the boss of the IMF nor a member of parliament, I don’t know how to do anything without consent. And anyway I’ve already got a girlfriend, so what’s all this about?! It doesn’t take much.

The following morning. I’m going to empty my bladder near a flowerbed. I collect some pretty rosebuds. I offer them to her. Some minutes later, I see the flowers planted in a cereal box. My heart is crushed for a moment, I was right not to try anything. Let it go mate, it’s not the right moment for gallantry.

Midday. I’ve lost my voice and I’m getting a cold. I can’t go on. I need to take care of my strength. I decide to go home.

I’d try to have a siesta but the media are calling and texting me constantly. I don’t manage to work. Finally I get to sleep - a good "muddy sleep", in the words of the poet Robert Desnos.

To be continued...


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