The snowball of occupation of squares rolled on to France in March 2016 in #NuitDebout, on our feet in the night. The original trigger was President Hollande’s proposed labor law that would make it easier to fire workers, even though the unemployment rate was 10%. A petition against the law gathered over a million signatures, a video was created called On Vaut Mieux Que Ca (“we’re worth more than that”), and a general strike was called. Instead of general strike it was called Reve [dream] General in a play on the word grève (strike). High school students blockaded their schools as part of the strike and planned another one. A collective of young activists called for a demonstration on March 9, “L’appel du 9 Mars,” which attracted around 500,000 protesters in the Place de la Republique on March 31 with a night-time sit-in despite the pouring rain. Slogans were, “The youth are in the streets. Your law is gone,” “Generation Revolution,” and “Youth in pain, elders in misery, that is not the society we want.”
Activists decided to occupy the square overnight, with the familiar direct democracy’s general assemblies starting at 6:00PM with hand signals, working groups such as gardening and poetry, free food, a medical tent, live music, a choir, films, and other prefigurative creations seen in photos on their Facebook page.[i] They kept coming back each night. NuitDebout is compared to the Spanish indignados with “similar magic in the air and a felling like anything is possible,” but with stronger support from unions.[ii] As in other occupations, issues expanded to their disappointment with Socialist President Hollande, the state of emergency security measures after terrorist bombing in Paris, climate change, unemployment, and migrant evictions. A law student named Cecile, 22, explained her motive for participating, “To me, politics feels broken. This movement appeals in terms of citizen action. I come here after class and I intend to keep coming back. I hope it lasts.”[iii] The French activists aimed for international unity, calling for a “Convergence of Struggles” on May 7 and 8, called #GlobalDebout. Preparation occurred for the International Day of Action on May 15.
[ii] Sam Cossar-Gilbert, “#NuitDebout: A movement is Growing in France’s Squares,’ ROAR Magazine, April 6, 2016.
[iii] “Nuit Debout Protesters Occupy French Cities in Revolutionary Call for Change,” The Guardian, April 8, 2016. Includes photos.