16 March 2006

Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.

"Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances." -- US Department of State

Now look, I'm all for following the advice of the US government when it comes to my safety abroad. But what are we supposed to do when the public demonstration is right outside our apartment? This photo is taken from one of the windows in our apartment, looking out at Général Leclerc. You'll have to look through the trees on the left, but there is a massive group of protestors on bicycles there. Their chants and songs woke Colin and I up this morning.

We initially figured that they were gathering to protest CPE, a set of proposed legislation that, among other things, would allow employers to hire anyone aged 26 and below on a 2-year probationary period. During this time, the employee could be fired without a reason. Needless to say, the 26 and younger crowd is not terrifically excited about this prospect, so they've been protesting in droves for about a week now. The oddest part for me is that the college students are striking. (I think it's a bit strange that students refusing to go to class is an effective form of protest, but then again, the system is quite a bit different here than in the US!) There was a big sit-in at the Sorbonne earlier this week, that ended with the police raiding the building and tear-gassing everyone.

After unsuccessfully trying to convince Colin to get dressed and go down there, I decided to throw on some clothes and take the dog out. There were police all over the place, and the protestors looked very organized and under control, so I figured I wasn't in any real danger. I got a great video of them as their protest parade got rolling, which you can see on my Youtube site. (Link in the right-hand menu bar, or just go straight to it at http://youtube.com/watch?v=MCzjlF__sy0. Some highlights to watch for:

  • Didge got wound up by all of the noise and started barking. In response, one of the protestors barked back. Another protestor called out, "Ooo let the dogs out?" which was met with a loud chorus of "Woof, woof, woof, woof!!" from his colleagues.
  • At the very end of the video, there is a rather sad looking chap on a La Poste bike. He totally cracked me up - it was all I could do to keep from laughing at him.

Since I couldn't quite read what their shirts said, Colin ended up surfing the internet to figure out what this protest was all about. Turns out, they are angry future P.E. teachers. Apparently, the government recently cut a ton of positions from an annual competition to earn teaching positions at the high school level. In response, all of these students decided to stage a big protest today, culminating at 9 pm at the Eiffel Tower. Most of the people we saw had biked from either Marseilles or Bordeaux, perhaps both! (Look at a map of France -- that is NOT close by!)

In the meantime, there are still tons of protests going on around the city regarding the CPE controversy. So, we're going to have a large mix of unrest throughout the entire city today, not all for the same cause. I guess it's a good day to be angry in Paris! (At least the weather is good today.)

Postscript: CNN really needs to get a new correspondant in Paris. We watched a video from their website in which this guy did a mediocre job of explaining what the protests were all about. But, the worst part is that most of his protest footage was from the WRONG protest! He had all of this great footage of the angry P.E. teachers, and it was really obvious to anyone who knows what's going on. Maybe if this guy spoke a little bit of French, he could have gotten directions to the right protest, or at least explained what the cyclists were actually doing. (OK, I don't know if he spoke any French or not, but I think I could have done a better job than him, just based on Colin's internet research.)


At 16/3/06 12:06, Blogger croust said...

Now...when Amy says that Marseilles and Bordeaux are not close to Paris, I ask myself: "Just how far have these bicyclists gone?"

From Marseilles to our door is 763 km (477 miles). From Bordeaux to our door is 570 km (356 miles). The route from Marseilles in particular is not really what I'd call flat, since it crosses the Massif Central (in other words, it's a lot like biking from Lexington, KY to Dover, DE).

On top of that, today they are taking their protest on tour around Paris, with the last event scheduled at 2am tomorrow morning.

Folks, these are some seriously upset—and seriously fit—PE teachers!


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