The Occupy Movement has sparked a national brainstorming. It began with effective naming, slogans, high energy, and an endless conversation. Talk and more talk, all day and into exhilarating, sleepless nights. The Occupy Movement and the 1968 French May Revolution share quests for a public voice, shared “horizontal” leadership, and space for open-ended, open-minded debates.
One of the major similarities between events in 1968 Paris and 2011-12 NYC is the inter-generational nature of the protests. In the spring of 1968, I was in Paris, studying French and art and looking forward to celebrating my twenty-first birthday in the City of Light. Then the talk invaded our boarding house, where several high school and college students from the French provinces and other countries gathered around a huge oak dining room table to discuss their role, if any, in the Events of May. My French language was still limited, but I understood enough to realize that such a discussion could never have taken place in the America I had left behind. American adults in the 1960s were largely dismissive of student politics.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti of San Francisco’s City Lights Books and beat poet fame wrote Love in the Days of Rage, a master work of fiction describing the 1968 Parisian “Events of May.” His American protaganist/observer was a 30-year-old American woman. I wondered how different the Revolution would have looked if she had been eighteen instead of thirty? And what if her boyfriend had been a twenty-one and a hopeful idealist instead of a seasoned, hardened, 30-something anarchist? Like Ferlinghetti, James Jones, the author of the quintessential World War II novel, From Here to Eternity, tried his hand at the May Revolution. But again, Jones’ narrator and protagonist in The Merry Month of May was far beyond his student years—a cynical, jaded, 49-year-old intellectual.
My novel on the subject, A Time to Cast Away Stones (available June 1) is written from the viewpoint of the generation that started and exemplified the May Revolution. If the view is from youth, I reasoned, there are years ahead and hope and belief that a better world will come to pass, and that what they do will be worthwhile. I have spent my adult life as a mother, teacher and university administrator, first at San Diego State and later at Stanford. Thanks to these close connections, my sympathy has surpassed my cynicism on issue after issue.
The Occupy Movement has proved to be far more sustainable, scalable, and effective than the May Revolution. If you are sick of Occupy, but think that anyway, it’s going away, watch the energy still there at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF1B3l2lu1s&feature=youtu.be. Focus on the many generations of faces and the signs: “20% of American children live in poverty, changes needed” and “All of our grievances are connected.”
I am blessed with the hope of youth—now transmitted to a felicitous mix of generations—that the Occupy Movement weaves a powerful narrative into the fabric of American history.
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.