|Occupation of the Sorbonne|
In his fine biography of the year 1968 (online as pdf here) Mark Kurlansky explains that to the people involved in the events that almost brought down France in May '68 the violence, captured by the enigmatic famous pictures easily found through a online image search, was not so significant. The thing that created a sense of the new freedom to be had was the sudden eruption of all sorts of people talking to all other sorts of people.
Eleanor Bakhtadze, who had been a student at Nanterre in 1968, said, "Paris was wonderful then. Everyone was talking." Ask anyone in Paris with fond memories of the spring of 1968, and that is what they will say: People talked. They talked at the barricades, they talked in the metro; when they occupied the Odeon theater it became the site of a round-the-clock orgy of French verbiage. Someone would stand up and start discussing the true nature of revolution or the merits of Bakuninism and how anarchism applied to Che Guevara. Others would refute the thesis at length. Students on the street found themselves in conversation with teachers and professors for the first time. Workers and students talked to one another. For the first time in this rigid, formal, nineteenth-century society, everyone was talking to everyone. "Talk to your neighbor" were words written on the walls. Radith Geismar, then the wife of Alain, said, "The real sense of '68 was a tremendous sense of liberation, of freedom, of people talking, talking on the street, in the universities, in theaters. It was much more than throwing stones. That was just a moment. A whole system of order and authority and tradition was swept aside. Much of the freedom of today began in '68."
To draw the connection with the first proper global protest movement since that time: it is often mentioned that a part of the excitement of Occupy is that it gets people talking: people living at camps discuss the day (and the night away), amongst themselves, and with the public. And this is nothing something you can say about the anti-globalism of the 1990ties which was largely a depressing come-together by people who distrusted each other and whose show was always stolen by the ominous black block of grimly hooded silence.
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