Free speech in France – today and yesterday


Peter Turnley’s photo, freedom for all generations in Paris


Please watch this amazing (and quick) video! There is not much more that I can add to the emotional video recording by photographer Peter Turnley, whose images of Paris – coincidentally – were on view last month at the Leica Gallery in downtown San Francisco. Turnley, who has had 43 covers on Newsweek from around the world, has lived half his adult life in Paris and attended the recent demonstration of Parisians and world leaders of over a million people (four million worldwide).

Like Turnley and so many others, I was thrilled to see the French spirit, the national character and values which I witnessed in May 1968, alive in this tremendous outpouring of support for mutual respect and free speech. Amazing to realize that the young lycée (high school) and college students who protested during the “May Revolution” are today the elders of France, the World War II bumper crop now in their 60s! I see those faces mixed in with a current young generation of all ethnicities, all French, in Turnley’s photos, and am reassured that they understand we can never take individual freedom and “free speech” for granted. America and France stand together for those values.

Stones FrontCoverBelow is a scene from my novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones (Sand Hill Review Press). This scene and my own two photos depict the huge, peaceful manifestation (demonstration) during the 1968 May Revolution. This event was the first revolution following World War II in a democratic, capitalist state. Free speech was a central issue, because it began when the students were prevented from assembling and speaking on the issue of the Vietnam War – and at the time, the government of Charles DeGaulle controlled all major media in France. In this scene, Janet Magill, a nineteen-year-old American girl studying in France and participating in the street protests, stands with her Czech boyfriend Teo (Czech was a Communist dictatorship in those days!) and observes the marchers.

blog_Paris68-march_farshotManifestation, I realized, was an apt word in English as well. The event was a physical manifestation that ten million French people had stayed home from work, en grève—on strike: all forms of power, water, transportation and communications would be affected. Factories and mills were quiet, tourists stranded, garbage rotting in the streets. Even entertainers were on strike. Television and radio would carry only the news. From radio reports, we knew that even greater numbers were marching over from the Right Bank, then down Boul’ blog_Paris68-Workers PowerMich’. On Port-Royal, the tremendous,controlled throng formed a torrential tributary heading toward the corner of Montparnasse to meet up with others and further expand the stream. I was mesmerized by the scale of the march, often dozens abreast, and they just kept coming. I marveled at the control, given the numbers. A half million? A million or more? All of Paris? All of France? And such an odd alliance: workers, intellectuals, housewives with their children, men in business suits. All types and ages, many carrying colorful banners or flags, all there to support a gang of college student protesters…”

“What’s wrong, Teo?” I asked. He moved up to slip between Elizabeth and me. “Not a thing,” he said, staring into the crowd of marchers. “It’s … it’s powerful. They are so orderly and controlled. Yet so many of them, free in expressing their various opinions. Something quite beautiful, don’t you agree? Merveilleux.”

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