Occupying Paris at 75

by Terry Oliver on November 1, 2011

Martin Luther King Park, in front of our appartement, is a large sprawling area of former railway yards which was supposed to have become the Olympic Village if Paris had been chosen for the 2012 Olympic Games.

But London won that dubious honour and is now busily bankrupting its citizens, adding to that long list of hopelessly indebted cities who have unwisely been host to the Olympic Games in the past.

On top of the current financial crisis, it is ironic that London has willingly added to the UK’s already staggering debt burden.

Paris, meanwhile, has acquired the land and is constructing the largest environmental park in the northern half of Paris, plus a lot of much needed housing for its growing population – and no huge debt mountain to weigh down its citizens. Martin Luther King would be pleased.

He would also probably agree that the social turmoil today is equivalent to the period when he was campaigning for civil rights and the country took to the streets en masse.

The difference is that today’s uprising is spreading around the world – from the Arab Spring to southern Europe, to North America and Asia.

But curiously, Paris, which in 1968 was the centre of the fire-storm of all student civil unrest, is now standing on the sidelines of the Occupy movement.

I’ve been searching the streets and the internet for news of possible Occupy Paris protests to join and have found only one. It plans to begin a camp in the heart of the commercial/banking district known as La Défense.  A small group has set November 4th as the start of their Occupy Paris protest camp.

As my own  gesture of solidarity, I intend to join them but don’t think I’ll be taking a tent along with me – too cold and too old.  So I’ll be a daytime protester, to begin with at any rate.

Perhaps I’ll bring coffee and croissants for the campers for breakfast, and “pour encourager les autres” as the saying goes.

Yesterday, in the Latin Quarter, we saw a noisy demo of banners and flags, with loud  chanting and a sizeable police motorcycle escort. We hurried over to join in, thinking we had at last found an Occupy Paris spontaneous protest.

But no, the flags and chants were from the Syrian Students in Paris Support Group for their own country’s Occupy movement and its demands for the end of the Assad regime.  Still, as they paraded past the Sorbonne, chanting and shouting, the public support for them was obvious. So maybe the French students will after all turn out for the Occupy Paris camp on November 4th.

I hope so. I’ll be there to urge them on and at last be able, if only part-time, to show my support for this astonishing movement which has fired the imagination of half the world. At 75, I didn’t think I’d get such a chance again.

This song by Leonard Cohen, which should be the anthem of the Occupy Movement, says it all.

He sang it on his recent tour, age 75:


It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

(-you can hear him on YouTube if you don’t have the CD)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sam November 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

great post!

here’s the leonard cohen track link


Sheila Turnbull Reid November 1, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I honestly wish that Leanord Cohen had emphasized that the US can learn all it needs to know from listening to the refugees in its own territory- If those refugees;, mostly, ” illegals”, were granted a voice in the country that hole in the wall could all of a sudden get a whole lot bigger and things could look more hopeful for “democracy in the USA”..Of course the other minorities in the country also need to be given not only a vote but also a voice.

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