Student demonstrations in Paris – an eyewitness report

It all started in mid-October, as 15-year-old Kosovar Leonarda was arrested during her school trip because she was an illegal immigrant. Some days later, Khatchik, an 18-year-old Armenian boy, was sent back to his country for the same reason. The same morning, students tried to block their schools in protest.

I remember how it began in our school: it was a Wednesday morning, and I went to school at eleven. In front of the doors were gathered a few large green bins. Not taking notice of that slightly unusual detail, I walked past them and went straight to class. In the staircase I saw different signs saying « For Khatchik and Leonarda, General Assembly at 1 pm ».

flore1At the time I didn’t pay attention to the news and thus knew nothing of these cases, but I soon learned all about them. At the meeting, a sit-in was planned for the next morning.Having heard of how violently Leonarda and Khatchik had been sent back to their countries, I felt it was my duty, and especially as a student supporting my comrades, to fight for their cause. I went to the sit-in at 7:30 and helped motivate students to sit with us. Our school was one of the most involved in the whole affair: many students went to the demonstrations. We had banners, we wore « war paint », we screamed slogans at the top of our lungs… We were quite impressive when we arrived on the large Place de la Nation and occupied the square. From all directions (the Place de la Nation is the crossroads of several main streets) came running hundreds of students from different schools: what an amazing scene it was! We all started to walk down the Fbg St-Antoine towards Bastille.

Everything seemed quite romantic: thousands of teenagers uniting to fight for the rights of their friends. But something felt wrong. Themedia thought we were ridiculous, and though sometimes they were just trying to insult us, they were right. First of all, students kept saying « sitting » instead of « sit-in » (I guess the French are just really bad at languages). Second and worst of all, a large part of these supposedly « angry teenagers » were just using this whole thing as an excuse to skip class. Those were the ones that were the most vehement about the demonstrations, screaming things such as « Valls démission », when I’m sure they didn’t even know who Valls is (he is the Home Secretary) and whether or not he was truly responsible for these expulsions. It got even worse on Friday, when Hélène Boucher (my school) organized a « blocus »: students stopped other students from going to class. It started raising questions among us, as many of us thought that it was ridiculous to fight against violence with violence. And then at last, we lost all credibility when only few of us showed up for the demonstrations during the holidays, although many were back in the streets after the holidays. They tried a “blocus” again in early November, but we were all mostly fed up with these chaotic protests, and it ended up in a sort of fight in front of school: I had to fight my way through the crowd to get inside!

 

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But after this peak of violence, the administration intervened, putting a full stop to these absurd demonstrations. The really involved students went to the marches, not caring if it was on a school day or on the weekend; and others went to school as usual. We regained the credibility we had lost, asking for specific changes in immigration laws, and not just reciting sentences given by adults trying to benefit from our naiveté.

Flore, 17, Paris

 

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