When Jay and I, with our friends Mary and Stu, joined 100,000 Bay Area protestors yesterday at Civic Center, I was struck by how similar the rally and Women’s March were to events I witnessed in Paris nearly 49 years ago. There will be many renditions of yesterday on Facebook today, but I felt mine would draw a unique – and hopeful – comparison.
Our friends wanted to know, naturally, why I compared them. Was it merely that I have written The Berkeley Girl, a novel about 1968 in Berkeley and Paris? Was it my memories crowding in, even as the crowd yesterday thickened to enlightening proportions?!?
Immediately, I realized that it was the bouquet of flowers placed in the hands of the female figure in Civic Center’s1894 Pioneer Monument that triggered the memories. And the boy clinging to the lamppost to get a better view also inspired my comparison! Those visual images touched something small inside me, then like Proust’s taste of madeleine dipped in tea, the images opened up the whole experience of exciting and terrifying sights, sounds, smells and heart-pounding ideals from that Paris protest long ago.
There are many points of comparison:
Paris, 1968: A million citizen march headed toward the Place Denfert Rochereau with its central bronze of the Lion of Belfort. Poignant images, whether from that particular march or others in Paris or in cities and towns all around France, are lodged in my memory in association with small boys clinging to lampposts for a better view and colorful bouquets popping up in the intractable hands of timeless bronze.
San Francisco, 2017: As in Paris, a tremendous turnout of every generation and persuasion of people. And a totally peaceful day, with smiles and expressions of consideration and kindness mixed with lips set in grim determination. Weary arms raising placards, communities of people sharing the burden of banners.
The diversity of issues/causes: I remember being struck in Paris by the various causes expounded on the placards and banners. Everyone was out for their own particular issue. In America then, protests were mostly about two issues, anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights. Today, we stand to lose in so many ways it boggles the mind. Small signs, placards and giant posters were raised, even in the rain, on these issues:
Nuclear armament and peace, environment and climate change, Women’s rights and Planned Parenthood, healthcare, and freedom, justice and safety for women, blacks, LGBT, Muslims, the Disabled, immigrants, and LGBT. And of course, the implication that Putin had anything to do with the election, or even merely that our new president admires him. And dignity and civility in public life.
The similarity of the target: Charles DeGaulle was a fascist, controlling the media and every aspect of life in 1968 France, despite being duly elected as its President. Charles DeGaulle ruled by fear of the “boogie-man” of French Communism (an actual, legal party in France) and distain for labor, youth and the Algerian population. He represented and respected only corporations and the wealthy.
Bullseye: And here is the hope part. Charles DeGaulle was re-elected in June, 1968, but less than a year later, in April 1969, DeGaulle resigned, and a special election was held in France.
Yesterday’s worldwide marches protested the political outcome of our recent election and expressed fear for our future loss of freedom, peace, justice and dignity. I was proud to be a Californian by birth, a San Franciscan by adoption, and a friend to all those around the nation and the world who would stand up to preserve the social justice that we have worked for all those 49 years and more to achieve.