The Spirit of Occupy Lives on in France’s Emerging Direct Democracy Movement
by: Marisa Holmes Posted on: April 19, 2016
Editor’s Note: “The foundation of the French Republic,” writes Marisa Holmes, “– liberal democracy — is losing all legitimacy. People do not believe in it anymore. The conversation here is no longer about how to save liberal democracy, but how to replace it with direct democracy.”
Holmes reports on Nuit Debout, an emergent network of civic assemblies popping up across France in response in part to recent changes to their labor code. “Some of the most dedicated organizers of Nuit Debout,” she writes, “can be found in the Commission for Moderation of the Assembly. In their meetings, there is an ongoing conversation about the meaning of democracy. The people involved are interested in experimenting with other forms of governance that are direct and participatory….Thus far, the assembly has decided to support a diversity of tactics but to encourage nonviolence, to affirm that no one speaks for the movement (individuals speak only for themselves) and to oppose the formation of political parties.”
Read the entire account below. This piece was originally published on truth-out.org.
A specter is haunting France, and it is called direct democracy.
In 2011, throughout North Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe and the United States, there were similar occupations of public squares and calls for direct democracy. In reaction, there were multiple counterrevolutions, including military dictatorships and civil wars. There were also softer means of repression such as recuperation by political parties. The moment passed. Now, five years later, there is another moment beginning in France.
Throughout the last year, France experienced a turn toward the right. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and then again in the fall at the stadium and at popular nightlife destinations, created a climate of fear, and politicians of all established parties leveraged this fear for their own advantage, implementing anti-terrorism measures, including the state of emergency. Then, early this year, the Socialist Party backed a new work law, which would significantly change the labor code so as to encourage more precarious conditions.
These increasingly repressive and exploitative measures by the state could have continued without opposition. People could have given into fear, but they didn’t. They began to fight back. All the major unions including the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) took to the streets in protest. Then, militants within the labor movement, autonomous organizers, high school students and refugee groups joined. In this context, after a march against the labor law on March 31, an occupation began at Place de la Republique. The occupation is called Nuit Debout, which means “(rise) up all night.”
In the center of the Place de la Republique, there is a monument with a statue of Marianne, the symbol of the republic, who holds an olive branch and a book inscribed with the “Rights of Man.” She has been adorned with a large banner, which reads, “Where is democracy?” This banner highlights the way in which the foundation of the French Republic — liberal democracy — is losing all legitimacy. People do not believe in it anymore. The conversation here is no longer about how to save liberal democracy, but how to replace it with direct democracy.
On Monday evening at Place de la Republique, in Paris, people gathered to defend the space in which they have collectively been camping out, cooking food for each other and engaging in public discussions. The night before police came to clean and clear the park, removing all structures, but hundreds of people returned to the square. They were determined to continue the assembly despite being surrounded by police. The moderator stood up and explained that the police took their sound system.
People would not stand for this, and began chanting, “The sound system belongs to the people!” and a march began toward the police. Hundreds of people charged out of the assembly and surrounded the police vans, taking the sound system back.
The sound system, the tool that amplifies the voices of those speaking, is perhaps the perfect symbol of what is happening in Place de la Republique. Every day hundreds and at times thousands of people gather to speak, whether in small group discussions, in the various commissions or in the assembly. There is a constant cacophony of conversations.
Nuit Debout is a leaderless and spontaneous event. There is no one controlling it. However, some of the most dedicated organizers of Nuit Debout can be found in the Commission for Moderation of the Assembly. In their meetings, there is an ongoing conversation about the meaning of democracy. The people involved are interested in experimenting with other forms of governance that are direct and participatory.
Every night the moderators convene the assembly, which is a body of individuals who engage in decision-making for Nuit Debout. There are also stack takers (discussion facilitators who keep track of people interested in talking next) and people in charge of security who are trained in de-escalation. The first hour or so consists of reports back from the various commissions in charge of coordinating food and shelter for the people living in the encampment, as well as reports from the commissions focused on political action, media, education and any other basic needs of the occupation in the square. Then, typically, there’s some sort of musical break with songs of resistance and celebration, before moving into the debate portion of the evening.
There is no predetermined agenda for the assembly. People who are there on a given night decide what to discuss. The decision-making process itself is a hybrid of consensus and voting. People take turns speaking, and then members of the crowd wave their fingers and shout to make their feelings known. If an individual or a commission comes with a proposal, then there is a poll taken to get the feeling of the group. Then, the moderator asks the assembly to vote. If there is a majority, then a proposal passes.
The most heated topics have been around the use of violence and nonviolence, speaking to the media and representation. Thus far, the assembly has decided to support a diversity of tactics but to encourage nonviolence, to affirm that no one speaks for the movement (individuals speak only for themselves) and to oppose the formation of political parties.
Beyond the Square
There are many groups that meet at Place de la Republique and attempt to build bridges with other struggles beyond the square itself. There is now, for instance, a general strike committee that is building a network of militant labor organizers and rank and file. There are various youth and student groups. There are refugee groups. There is also Banlieues Debout, a network of new neighborhood assemblies that are discussing the need to address the ongoing racism and colonialism in France. On Wednesday night, there was an assembly in the square of Saint-Denis. Community members and militants organized tents, food and a child care station.
An assembly began using the same hybrid system of consensus and voting used at Place de la Republique. The majority of speakers were sans papiers (without immigration papers). One by one they spoke of their experiences with precarious work conditions and how the work law affected them. Several women domestic workers spoke. Students and artists spoke in solidarity. Everyone called for a general strike and for more assemblies.
In addition to the Banlieues assemblies, there are other occupations of squares and assemblies happening in cities such as in Nantes, Rennes and Lyon. The whole of the country is rising up.
In the background of what’s happening in France, the publication of the Panama Papers has revealed, yet again, the widespread corruption of government officials, and the collusion with business interests to further capitalist exploitation. In France, there was already widespread dissatisfaction with French President François Hollande, and the Socialist Party, but the context of the papers heightened this dissatisfaction. In Iceland, the prime minister has already resigned. In England, there are calls for Prime Minister David Cameron to resign.
The moment is bigger than France, and bigger than Nuit Debout.
However, Nuit Debout is symbolic of the desire for change in politics. There are groups inspired by Nuit Debout in Belgium, Spain, Germany, the UK and Quebec, Canada.
In 2011, there was a similar global moment. People had a glimpse at some horizon of possibility, but the political project of direct democracy was not fully realized. Perhaps the Place de la Republique is just one square in a long series of experiments in this project, from the Kasbah in Tunis to Tahrir Square in Cairo, to Syntagma Square in Athens, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Zuccotti Park in New York City, and many more.
With each experiment lessons are learned, but they need to be shared. This work will not be easy. There will be repression. However, it must be done. It is time now to face the specter of 2011 and build a global movement for direct democracy.
Photo: La prise de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël/Wikimedia
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Articles On PRESS
- Jun 13 The Fight For Local Democracy in New York City
- May 25 Crown Heights Tenant Union: Building Power One Building at a Time in NYC
- May 25 Activists Occupy Shipping Container to Halt AIM Pipeline Construction in Upstate NY
- May 25 Barrington, NH votes 795 to 759 to Adopt Community Bill of Rights to Protect Waterways
- May 25 Revoking The Consent to be Governed
- Apr 25 Announcement of Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Workstoppage for Sept 9, 2016
- Apr 19 The Spirit of Occupy Lives on in France’s Emerging Direct Democracy Movement
- Apr 19 How Sanders Could Lay the Foundation for a Third US Political Party
- Apr 10 Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward
- Apr 7 Reclaiming Black Land in Grafton, New York
- Apr 7 Meet the Lead Organizer Behind the Upcoming Mass Sit-Ins to get Money out of Politics
- Mar 28 Dismantling Corporate Control Isn’t a Spectator Sport: An Interview With Thomas Linzey
- Mar 16 Preempting Trump: Barnstead, NH Adopts First-In-Nation Law Protecting Against Religious Persecution
- Mar 4 This New Era Of Unrest
- Mar 1 Washington State Supreme Court Guts Local Ballot Initiative Process
- Feb 9 Debating A ‘New’ Pan-European Anti-Austerity Movement
- Feb 9 How New York Stopped A Liquefied Natural Gas Project In Its Tracks
- Jan 28 Food, Land, and Freedom
- Jan 27 One Oregon Tribe’s Fight for Federal Recognition
- Jan 20 Worker, Civil and Environmental Rights as Legal Ends: Defying Commerce’s Logic
- Jan 20 Fast-Food Workers Plan Wave Of Strikes For 2016 Primaries
- Jan 18 Greece’s Varoufakis to Launch Pan-European Progressive Movement
- Jan 6 California’s Largest Tribe Passes First-In-Nation Enforceable Ban On GM-Salmon and GMOs
- Dec 29 The Leap Manifesto
- Dec 29 “People’s Injunction” Launched to Block Canadian Pipelines
- Dec 29 How Black Lives Matter Came Back Stronger After White Supremacist Attacks
- Dec 29 Can Local Law Enforcement Be Democratized By A People’s Movement?
- Dec 9 Preempting Democracy: What’s Not Being Voted on This November Is Sinister
- Dec 9 A Bill of Rights That Puts Workers Above Corporations
- Dec 9 Government and Gas Industry Team Up Against Local Fracking Ban Initiatives in Ohio
- Dec 9 Fighting Fossils, Letting Go of Regulatory Law
- Aug 26 In Colorado, A Revolutionary New Coalition Stands for Community Rights
- Aug 26 Climate Crisis Pits Local Governments Against 19th-Century Legal Doctrine
- Aug 26 Hundreds of Communities Are Building Legal Blockades to Fight Big Carbon
- Jul 21 Will Labor Go Local?
- Jul 20 Challenging Bedrock Law: “Dillon’s Rule” in Detroit and Beyond
- Jul 19 Defining a Federalist Approach to Immigration Reform
- Jul 18 Why Are Fracking Hopefuls Suing a County in New Mexico?
- Dec 8 Finally, The Court Case We’ve All Been Waiting For
- Nov 8 Ohio and Colorado Voters Adopt Community Bills of Rights
- Nov 8 Community Rights Organizer Sets Sights on Fracking in Southern Illinois
- Nov 8 Critical Issues Deserve a Higher Standard
- Nov 7 Indigenous Peoples Experience Of Climate Change And Efforts To Adapt (Video)
- Oct 8 Naomi Klein Addresses New ‘Mega Union’
- Oct 8 Disco may be the only way to stop Monsanto (Video)
- Oct 8 (Ohio) Frack-Backers Launch Preemptive Strikes against Democracy Attempt to Block Community Bills of Rights from Voters
- Oct 8 The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Speaks to the Need for Wise Immigration Reform
- Oct 8 Support Local Food Rights Will Not Be Deterred by Legislature’s Blow to Democracy
- Oct 8 Economic Sovereignty At Stake
- Oct 8 Sangerville, Maine Adopts Community Bill Of Rights Ordinance to Reject Transportation and Distribution Corridors
- Oct 8 Sacred Headwaters
- Oct 8 Oregon Communities Launch Statewide Network for Community Rights
- Sep 8 Bowling Green, OH Group Submits Bill of Rights Petition
- Sep 8 Judgment Day
- Sep 8 Judge Blocks Envision, SMAC Initiatives from Appearing on Ballot
- Sep 8 Why a Rights Based Ordinance In Nottingham, NH?
- Aug 8 What is the Local Food System Ordinance of Lane County?
- Aug 8 Lane County Initiative to Protect Local Farming Encounters Hurdle; Campaign Still Targeting May 2014 Election
- Aug 8 Benin: Local Knowledge And Adaptation To Climate Change In Ouémé Valley, Benin
- Aug 8 Local Food System Ordinance of Lane County, Oregon
- Jul 8 Envision Spokane Statement to Legal Action to Block the Community Bill of Rights from the Ballot
- Jul 8 Why does the Spokane City Council continue to ignore and distort the substance of the Spokane Community Bill of Rights?
- Jul 8 History of Efforts to Keep the Spokane Community Bill of Rights Initiative off the Ballot
- Jul 8 East Boulder County United Launches Campaign for the Lafayette Community Rights Act to Prohibit New Oil and Gas Extraction
- Jul 8 Benton County Community Group Files Petition for the Right to a Local, Sustainable Food System
- Jul 8 Rivers and Natural Ecosystems as Rights Bearing Subjects
- Jun 8 Caring for Home through Nature’s Rights
- Jun 8 From Field to Table: Rights for Workers in the Food Supply Chain
- Jun 8 Will Ohio Be Fracking’s Radioactive Dumping Ground?
- May 7 First County in U.S. Bans Fracking and all Hydrocarbon Extraction – Mora County, NM
- May 7 Self-Replication at Stake in Monsanto Patented Seed Case
- May 7 Guatemala: Mayan K’iché Environmental Sustainability As A Way Of Life
- May 7 Small Farms Fight Back: Food And Community Self-Governance
- May 7 State College Borough Gov Denies Pipeline Permit: Fight Isn’t Over
- May 7 Muzzling Scientists is an Assault on Democracy
- Apr 8 An Addition to the Climate Movement-Civil Disobedience Toolkit
- Apr 2 Thornton, New Hampshire Rejects Community Bill of Rights To Ban Land Acquisition for Unsustainable Energy Systems
- Apr 2 Grafton, New Hampshire Adopts Community Bill of Rights That Bans Land Acquisition for Unsustainable Energy Systems
- Apr 2 Highland Township Adopts Community Bill of Rights That Bans Toxic Injection Wells
- Apr 2 PSU Pipeline Violates Community Bill of Rights
- Jun 26 The United States Conference of Mayors Resolves that Corporations are not Natural Persons etc.
- Apr 30 Information and Documents concerning Oregon LNG
- Mar 9 1st Annual Read the Dirt Writing Competition!
- Feb 24 Oil Sands Pipelines, here?
- Feb 23 PRESS: Genetically Engineered Animals?
- Feb 23 PRESS: The 9th Annual Skagit Human Rights Festival March 2012
- Jan 27 Bellingham Rights-Based Ordinance Proposed to Stop Coal Trains
- Jan 26 PRESS: Occupy Seattle Joins in Solidarity with United Farm Workers
- Jan 20 Planning For a Future (Original)
- Jan 8 PRESS: Associated Students of Western Washington University Adopt Resolution Opposing Cherry Point Coal Terminal