France has long been known as the country that strikes. At my school alone, there has been 3 strikes and a 4th happening on Thursday. In French, we call this a grève or a manifestation. Many of my teachers have been apologizing for all of what’s going on but I am taking it all in and reflecting on my place as an American living abroad.
The most recent page in France’s strike history has been happening right before our eyes, although many American news channels are not covering it. Everyday on social media, there is a new picture of notable sites in Paris being burned with angry protestors in the background. This movement known as Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Jackets or Yellow Vests) has gone from a mostly non-violent protest into an ongoing series of violent riots. As of December 1st, 140 people have been arrested and 100 people have been injured. The protests have also spread to nearby countries like Belgium. I recently saw a tweet that said “You had the Arab Spring now welcome to the European Winter.”
The movement started back in mid-November on social media as a response to rising fuel prices and has now morphed into the protestation of other social inequalities in France. They have been setting cars on fire and looting shops making these some of the worst riots Paris has seen since the May 1968 protests. The protests have been mainly happening in Paris but they have also spread to other regions of France, including my town of Belfort to a much lesser extent than what is going on in Paris.
As of now, Emmanuel Macron has suspended raising the fuel tax but what happens after that? The Gilet Jaunes are steadily adding onto their list of demands and many are set on seeing a real change in the French government. There have been talks of Civil War, the current president stepping down from his office, and an overthrow of the elites in power. As with most movements, political leaders from opposing parties have seen this as an opportunity to gain favor in future elections. What I find to be interesting is that Gilet Jaunes have gained support from both the Far-Right in France as well as the Far-Left.
So what are my thoughts as an American living in France during this time? This is a question that I have gotten from both my students and teachers. I usually answer in the same way by saying I can’t really comment because I don’t know the ins and outs of living under the French bureaucracy (aside from the all paperwork and immigration visits I had to go through to validate my visa).
As a recent Political Science and French graduate, I do feel extra lucky to be experiencing such a pivotal moment in the French political sphere while being cognizant of my place as a visitor. It has been interesting to read articles about what’s going on while also seeing it in action, even in my smaller town of Belfort.
Have you seen the Gilet Jaunes on the news wherever you are? Are you studying abroad during France right now or planning to come for the spring semester? Let me know in the comments!
“They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities — but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.” – Barrack Obama
“This could be one of the great Trojan horses.” – Donald Trump
Aside from Atlanta being a city full of immigrants and refugees, we’re all still really mad that he said our beloved home is “in horrible shape and falling apart.” On Sunday January 29th, hundreds of people gathered at the airport to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban. Not only is it completely unconstitutional, it targets millions upon millions of innocent people.
Working with refugees over the summer really put everything into perspective for me. These are actual people with families, friends, and entire lives that they had to leave behind. We tend to think of refugees as people who have never known anything other than war. While this is unfortunately true for most children coming out of the region, most adults had careers and families before they were displaced. Refugee is their status but it’s not their livelihood; they are more than their circumstances.
Some people, like Donald Trump, stereotype refugees as having some type of secret plan to be a “Trojan horse” for terrorism. What these people fail to realize is, these people are escaping the very same terrorism that we’re so afraid of. The difference is, all of the action is going on in their backyards and continues to destroy their lives on a daily basis. I encourage all of you to make an effort to get to know someone from a different country. You never know what you can learn from them and how a short conversation can create a world of difference in your life!
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I’ve found that going to school in Alabama definitely has it perks, especially when it comes to visiting historical sights. I’m guilty of placing Atlanta at the center of the Civil Rights Movement but so much happened in Birmingham and really Alabama in general. This past Sunday (also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday), I had the privilege of attending a church service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. For those unfamiliar with the history of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in 1963 the KKK bombed the building and killed 4 little girls attending Sunday school and injured around 22 others. Today, the church stands as a National Historical Landmark and continues to have weekly services.
Being in this church reminded me just how important the role of the Church as a meeting place and Christianity itself was during the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a well educated activist, he also attended Crozer Theological Seminary to become a minister. We all know about his speeches and his marches but I think we often times forget that he did this with a Christian conscience. Does that mean that all of his beliefs came straight out of the Bible? Of course not. He studied numerous philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Locke and was influenced by the writings of Marx and the teachings of Ghandi. But he did all of this with his faith in mind. He said himself that “the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
The most important thing to take away here is that social justice and Christianity go hand in hand. We see this not just from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life but also by looking at how Jesus lived his life. He didn’t just come to preach a message of salvation, he came to help those who weren’t being helped by their governments and religious leaders. Too often today, social justice is equated with a liberal way of thinking and looked down upon in conservative circles. These same circles that look down on social justice also claim to be Christian. But Christianity is more than just going to church and living your own personal life according to what you deem to be a moral standard. God explicitly tells us we have to care about other people. As if “Love one another as I have loved you” didn’t make it clear enough:
Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
This verse was mentioned at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration service at 16th Street and it just so happens to be one of my favorite. It’s one of those verses that doesn’t need a bunch of dictionaries and interpretations to understand. God doesn’t just WANT us to act just justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, but he requires it! This doesn’t mean we all have to be out in the streets protesting and shutting down highways (because it’s not for everyone) but it does mean we have an obligation to speak up against hate speech and injustices around the world and care for those who have been overlooked or targeted by society and help in anyway we can, just like Jesus did back in his day.