If fear was the goal, the attacks missed their mark and then some. Immediately following three days of violence in our city with the threat of racial confrontation, bombs, riots, etc. - very real dangers - we piled into the streets with our daisies blazing, not our guns. If the plan was to divide the people, which I very much expect it was, terrorists failed miserably.
Imagine. 2 million people in the streets of Paris. We were all coming from different parts of the city. Corey was at Chatelet and walking with the masses from there. Emma & I from Ledru Rollin, Elsa from the 19th, Elodie in the 20th - all of us blocked so far from our rdv point that getting to Republique was not even an option. I had been warned earlier that morning by worriers to be so careful. About how foolish Hollande was to suggest a rally so soon after the attacks. But we weren't afraid. And that wasn't because of the police presence.
Now, I'm sure there were the occasional morons wandering around wondering where this Charlie fellow was but I don't think I've ever witnessed such a gathering of minds in all my life. People were informed. Most of us, it seemed, were not there for Charlie, we'd stood vigil for those victims Wednesday, Thursday and Friday already in equally impressive rallies of support. Of course we were horrified by what happened to them but even standing at Voltaire with a couple of friends of those who were murdered, the atmosphere was light. We weren't there because Francois Hollande said so, either. We weren't there to protect our freedom of speech. And we definitely didn't come out to watch all of those heads of state hold hands (btw, where the fuck were YOU, Harper?!), we knew we'd never get close enough to see that anyway. So why were we coming out by the thousands?
You've all heard me rant for years about my experiences immigrating to this country. It has not been easy and yet, I have ZERO doubt that for me, it has been a cakewalk compared to what most others experience going through the same process. I know this because even as an immigrant, I am treated differently because of the colour of my skin and my country of origin. Between the CPAM's tendency to 'lose dossiers' if they don't appreciate your tone of voice, the visa renewal office's perpetual power trip of making people wait outside in the cold for hours or putting certain people ahead of the line, demanding more proof for some than they do for others for no other reason than pure racism. Segregated hospital quarters for those 'sans papiers'. Secret low income pharmacies in basements. There is a larger problem in this country and this march was a huge spotlight on that issue, more than any other.
People everywhere were talking about the fact that so many news sources had changed the death toll from 20 to 17, excluding the three terrorists from the count. But in Paris, 20 people were killed this week, make no mistake. Of course I feel as much anger towards those three men as you do for what they've done to so many innocent people but the deeper issue here is that France was attacked by three of their own. Three nationals who felt abandoned and betrayed by their country and leapt right into the arms of a manipulative organization that was willing to treat them as one of them, not an 'other'. I heard many speaking of this before, during and after the march. Although it is hard to see it now, those men were victims too. Victims of a country that let them down.
On an even MORE interesting note, I was thinking back over my integration courses a few years back, part of the obligatory process of becoming French and remembering being in a room full of people from all countries & religions being taught that SECULARISM had recently been added to the list. The fact that not a soul has talked about this since is a good indication of the on-going problem in France. In this country, not everyone has the right to equality. Not everyone is welcomed as a brother. Not everyone is treated equally. And now you're teaching the next generation of Muslim immigrants that they must be secular while the rest of France is not required to observe this as law? Really guys? It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see the discrepancies. No wonder there is anger bubbling up and boiling over.
However, yesterday, change was brewing in Paris. People were talking about THIS. THIS was why we were all gathered here together, peacefully. Because we were well aware that this problem exists and needs to be addressed. The perpetual inequality in this country is more than partly to blame for the unnecessary violence that occurred in Paris this week. We were not afraid because we were as much the enemy as anyone if we couldn't admit this fact. We marched because we needed to be reminded of the tenets we're meant to uphold as a nation, as a planet.
What happens next is integral. But if yesterday was any indication of things to come then we are on our way to a better world. One with a big lens directed at these problems that rip us to shreds and the consequences of what happens if this change isn't accelerated and accepted.
Yesterday, for the first time since I moved here, I was very proud to be almost French. We are a country of so many different cultures, constantly struggling to co-exist & uphold our differences in peace amidst the constant threat of inequality from the administrations that rule over us. I am proud because I feel ONE with the people. All people.
Paris is one complicated town - at times infuriatingly so - but in all its piss stained corners, sardine-squished metros, incessant noises and sirens and constant tendency toward brutal honesty in everything from customer service to cartoons, it is a city that we love and cherish too. Not for its government but for the international citizens that comprise the LIGHT in the City of Lights.
Yesterday was one of the most beautiful gatherings of solidarity I have ever witnessed and I am optimistic that this attack will only result in an unprecedented unity in this country and not the divide that was intended.
Like I tell the kids every day, the only way to deal with a bully is to ignore them. Responding with violence of any kind, no matter how angry and frustrated you might feel, will only make you as bad as them. Ignore them and find another way to amuse yourself. They'll come around eventually and want to join in on all of the fun, you'll see.
We have a long path ahead of us but I am hopeful that change is possible and humbled thinking that so many of us are prepared to stand up for our beliefs. Changing the word 'WAR' to 'CHALLENGE' on terrorism is not enough. We have serious work to do and a duty to uphold if we hope to protect our country and our values from those that seek to dismantle it. May we never forget again.