This is May Day, 2012. As the Occupy Movement seeks to re-boost the powerful engine that has all but sputtered to a halt during the winter, I am reminded that the 1968 May Revolution in Paris didn’t achieve its goals until a year later. That’s when General Charles de Gaulle was voted out of office. No one in the spring of 1968 could have predicted that anything short of death could have toppled the venerable national icon of World War II and the Algerian War, the hero of the bourgeousie, aka the powerful and conservative French middle class. But in 1969, he was gone—and many have credited the Events of May – which paralyzed Paris with battles and the entire French nation with strikes – with de Gaulle’s downfall.
Revolution is the spark, but the fire, in a democracy, is a slow burn. It must spread with white heat and ignite other fires throughout this large nation.
Both Occupy and the May Revolution sought to regain an acknowledged “voice” where essential issues are concerned. Voice, and thus power, and so “liberty” in the sense of a government released from plutocracy to be “by and for the people.” That’s all the people.
As I am transported back to 1968, I remember shouting matches and lucid conversations, pitched battles and yet, thousands marching in such determined, eerie quiet that we heard footfalls on the paving stones. Few Americans under 50 have even heard of the incredible events that I witnessed in France when I was studying abroad in 1968. Yet the May Revolution was the first student-worker-middle class alliance and “revolution” in an advanced, Western, capitalist democracy. Over ten million French citizens were involved in a general strike, tens of thousands battled police, and the army was called out.
In comparing these two revolutions, I have lots to blog about! I’ve seen descriptions of the May Revolution in several online articles, but not specific aspects compared:
-How health issues scuttled the Revolution – then, not now
-How the original organization changed the outcome
-Concepts of leadership
-The interplay of generations
-Forms of liberty
-And the greater revolution in technology, arts and culture.
Look for these topics in upcoming blogs! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Were you there in Paris in 1968? Were you in Europe? NYC? Berkeley? Vietnam? And how have your experiences shaped your opinions about the Occupy Movement!?
Elise Frances Miller’s novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones, is set during the 1968 Berkeley antiwar protests and French May Revolution. Available June 1 from Sand Hill Review Press. Visit http://www.elisefmiller.com for more about the history of the May Revolution.