Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The lady doth protest too much, methinks?

Tuesday the 19th of October. The girls school had been canceled (again) because of a student strike (blocus) in support of the workers strike (grève) about raising the minimum retirement age from 59.4 to 62. The actual average retirement age in France is higher than this because you have to have worked a certain number of years to be entitled to "full retirement" and the Sarkozy government is proposing to raise the national retirement age overall. Like all countries experiencing a growing aging population (social security recipients now living to 85 instead of 65,) France is trying to figure out how to pay for those additional 20 years, when they are already presently in debt.

Anyway, this is the not the story I want to tell. The story I want to tell is this: I opened my window to a big commotion outside, police helicopters circling above our apartment building, people yelling, in flight. I grabbed my flip video to record the sudden chaos in my normally calm bourgeois neighborhood. A group of teenagers started running down rue Victor Hugo. I had no idea what I was filming, who these people were, why they were running, so I just filmed. Seconds later, riot police followed, police cars ensued. Here's what I filmed.

Later that evening, after posting my video on Youtube, I googled the day's events and found another video, filmed simultaneously to mine (or a few minutes before) from 5 blocks away and a different vantage point.

One hour after posting my video, I began receiving hate mail on my Youtube page, I mean venomous comments directed personally at me. I was shocked. The rage that was expressed in these comments frightened me. Now I am not that shielded or naive, and I suppose after owning a store and being in the public eye for many years I should be a bit more thick-skinned, but as these comments rolled in, I was really upset. There was also frightening racist hate mail being exchanged between the viewers, people that I consider to be extreme on both sides. Is this my beloved France, I wondered? I decided to write a defense and address my critics and both extremes:

"I do realize that these are not the "strikers," that they are just young, angry kids. I am actually sympathetic to their situation, just not supportive of how they show their frustration. For those of you who are anti-American, anti-Maghreb, anti-immigrant or anti-children of immigrants, expand your horizons and get to know the people behind the stereotypes. Ignorance has always been the biggest threat to mankind. Compassion + kindness is what we all need to get through these times."

More hate mail, more comments about how stupid I am and how I should just go home to the states. Nice. Scary.

The week unfolded: more violence, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to innocent store and car owners, bystanders pushed to the ground and trampled, helicopters circling overhead, CRS police with machine guns patrolling the streets. It was surreal, like a scene from a movie, dramatic. And the crescendo was Friday night, when hundreds of "extreme right" youths descended into the streets, all dressed in black, covered with black masks, to confront the young disenfranchised looters (casseurs,) filmed in the video. They chanted la Marseillaise, France's national anthem and were then loaded into buses by the armed CRS. It all seemed so ironic, this random extreme patriotism mixed with random violence and hatred. It made me think of this prewar scene in Casablanca. Yikes. I am worried for mankind.


Esteban Blanco said...

Carol, this reminds me of the WTO riots in Seattle ten years ago. I know how scary it can be. I had to pound on the locked door of the flagship Nordstrom store downtown so I could get in and out of the way of the rioters coming quickly up the street toward me. All the shoppers and clerks were grouped in the center of the store, away from the display windows. Steve

north pal said...

wow! oh my gosh! i feel as if i was on the ground floor with this news directly from you. i know it is on the u.s. news,but... this seems much closer when i read it on your blog. that must have been so scarey. when people break loose, it is like a herd of cattle. be safe, my friend. Bestest,Denise

Carol said...

All quiet now. The French are on vacation for All Saints. And the bill was passed.

Rhonda said...

Wow, I meant to watch your video when you originally posted but life got in the way, of course.

I'm stunned at mankind sometimes.
Your video was amazing, it felt like I was there.

Carol, your video was simply your opinion. When did it become bad to express our opinons.

Hate is simply why I cancelled my Facebook and why I am afraid to post on Youtube anything controversial. You are a brave woman but we all knew that about you.