[ 19. May 2010 ]

Paris No Borders Action: personal account

liberte de circuler

Here's a personal account of the day of action for freedom of movement which took place in Paris on Saturday, 15th of May 2010.


The Lead up

The strategy of the the authorities for 15th was to paint us as a bunch of troublemakers who were intent on making things kick off, one of the reasons an agreement had been reached to have zero communication with the mainstream press.

By early Friday evening, the Gare du Nord was absolutely crawling with cops. Water canons were on standby. They had left notes on car windscreens telling people not to park in the area, and warned local shopkeepers.

They had also been and 'had a chat' with the migrants we had invited to the demo, telling them that they would be arrested if they participated and they told No Borders activists that if they stepped out of line on Saturday they would make trouble at the benefit gig the following evening.

In fact the authorities have been so determined to clampdown on dissent in Paris of late that when 110 protestors were nicked following the last big demo (an anti-prison demo in march), it transpired that the arrestees had been surrounded by 50 undercover cops.

The situation is obviously pretty dire, as one French woman would come up to me on the demo ad tell me how brave we were, and that she was really glad were were speaking out about the repression of sans-papiers in France, as "it desperately needs to be done" ...

Day of Action

Possibly as a consequence of recent events, a lot of more mainstream migrants' rights groups stayed well away, and we numbered only a couple of hundred.

The flipside was that we were able to - very publicly - express, in unadulterated form, the anti-authoritarian politics of the No Borders movement.

On the day itself, the police had surrounded the Gare, metro stations, and nearby streets, and there were police on the water for the part of the demo where we were to go along the canal. Coppers were wondering round armed with large 'flash-ball' guns. One Paris activist commented that they hadn't seen such a deployment of force since the anti-CPE protests in 2006. A small group of us met up beforehand, and realized we were surrounded by quite literally dozens of not-so-undercover police.

The demo was lively and everyone was well fired up. We occupied busy streets, stopped at various locations of significance, such as Square Villemin, a park where Afghan migrants who were sleeping rough were evicted in August, and where they have been unable to seek shelter since. We stopped at the bridge and communicated messages of solidarity for the many Afghans who were observing the demo, who had effectively been barred from participating by the authorities. Lots of other onlookers were listening to our speeches and taking leaflets.

As we approached the Gare du Nord, we could see that access was blocked by the police. We went for it anyway, but were stopped in our tracks before reaching the station. Flares were let off and it started to look like the cops were going kettle us & charge, so we made a quick exit and continued the demo along the pre-agreed route.

The day finished with music and vegan food at the Place de la Rotonde, which some migrants did come to. I chatted to Afghans I knew from Calais, who after enduring five months of police harassment and violence there had come to Paris for a 'break'. They were to head back North the next day...

Other actions

A number of affinity group actions had to be put on hold perhaps for obvious reasons, although around 15 members of a non-violent group did manage to get into the Gare du Nord in the morning. They gained access to the Eurostar platform armed with a couple of hundred paper planes inscribed with messages denouncing migration controls, and sent these flying into the crowd below whilst shouting various messages about elitist immigration policies. Surprisingly, no-one was arrested.

Meanwhile, a simultaneous (impromptu) demo took place at the French consulate in Berlin, which resulted in several of the building's windows being put through.

Its a shame numbers in Paris weren't higher - not just of French activists but internationals too. However, overall, the day was well worth it and needing doing. The security costs must have been enormous, and we succeeded in letting the authorities know that there's a price to pay for the continued repression in Calais, as well as rendering more visible the persecution of migrants in France.

Article published first by noborderer on 17. May 2010 @ ::