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Democracy in Action: Nantes Protest

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Voting is nice. Every 4 years (or so) you make a single decision and then retreat back to your homes hoping things will get better. It is simple, doesn’t require much effort, apart from a detour on the way home from work perhaps. It is easy, only take a few minutes and the instructions are incredibly helpful in big bold writing for the oldies.

 

Don’t mistake this for democracy, though. People often say, especially after Russell Brand’s frank admission that he is not a participant in the electoral soap opera that rears its ugly head every half decade that one cannot complain if they do not even vote.

 

On the 22nd February 2014, a protest took place in Nantes in the West of France. The protest revolved around the construction of an airport, which has been touted since the 1970’s. The potential construction is emblematic of the power of capital and the perpetual need to reinvest surplus accumulated capital in expensive and speculative construction projects that involve absolutely no democratic input from the local residents.

 

 

Around 30,000 people from across France came in solidarity with the people of Nantes and the occupation (called the ZADZone A Défendrebrave collective of anarchists, ecologists, socialists, communist and anti-capitalists) who have been living on the construction site in some capacity since the project was first planned.

 

Even the police I personally spoke to, informed me that as Nantes residents themselves they are of course sympathetic and in agreement with the protestors complaints – their sympathy didn’t stop the firing of hundreds of rubber bullets and tear gas though.

 

 

This is democracy – of course private property was destroyed like a car, a few shop fronts (Vinci is the company who is constructing the airport), pavements and parking meters, but no one was hurt (apart from a protestor who lost an eye from a rubber bullet) and so the ‘violent’ label is misleading.

 

 

This was democracy for the simple reason that together, a community of likeminded people, fed up of the lack of involvement in the decisions that affect their lives become incensed and show their indignation against the market forces and the moneyed interests that have shaped our world in the last 30 years.

 

Whereas in England, my country of birth, I see no signs of protest. I see delusion in some, but mostly I see the anger and the hardship, and the people struggling to survive, but no clear evidence of a reservoir of mutual community spirit that forces us as a society to address the imbalances in our economy, the disparity between the haves and the have nots and the suffering of millions in one of the wealthiest nations.

 

We need to find our community spirit.

 

We need to fight for our democracy, which as Howard Zinn eloquently put it “ requires direct action by concerned citizens”.

Do not be alarmed though, I am not calling for people to pick up arms and fight in a literal sense of the word, instead I am simply calling for the recognition that all is not well, but it can be, or should be.

 

People often forget the important role of social movements throughout history, even the movements that are still within living history, such as the US Civil Rights movement, where African Americans and their supporters were labelled as troublemakers, anarchists, commies, and a myriad of other pejorative terms for sitting in chairs meant for 'non-colored' people. This didn’t stop them in their aims. They challenged the long held beliefs of many in society and changed the institutions forever.

 

Think of the 5-day week, the minimum wage act or any other employment legislation that protects workers, but that is somehow being taken for granted by today's labour force, they have not been conjured out of thin air. The legislators didn’t one day suddenly think to themselves that this would be a grand idea.

 

It was pressure from below that caused the lawmakers to act.

 

We have to remember our history and be willing to struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds for our shared future.

 

 

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Video of Nantes Protest (not from author)

 

 

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