On Monday I was demonstrating in the streets of Nice. The demo was large by Canadian standards, tiny by those of most of the world: five to eight thousand according to police. But it was also peaceful and spirited and cheered on by crowds of onlookers. Even commuter trains passing overhead slowed down to toot their support.
Oxfam marched in the well-organized Robin Hood Tax contingent, hundreds of us in green caps, many carrying homemade quivers with arrows. Brazilian batucada drummers kept the many Oxfam supporters come from all over France and surrounding countries dancing.
The message was simple: The banks are paying out millions in bonuses while nearly a billion go hungry. It’s only common sense that they should do their part to fix the mess they helped create.
The chants were simple too: Les peoples d’abord, pas la finance. And La vie, pas la bourse.
Our Robin Hood striptease was all over the media. At one point we stopped marching and about thirty of our contingent stripped down to their underwear, to the delight of the press. Mr. Gates, by the way, didn’t show.
On Monday a journalist for a French paper asked me if the Occupy Movement signifies a maturation of the anti-globalization movement born when the WTO met in Seattle in 1999. Would the demonstration and counter-summit in Nice this week mark a departure from the knee-jerk protest of decades past? A synthesis of lessons learned?
I couldn’t say for sure, but one shift for sure is that questioning the greed of the very wealthy is no longer a radical notion. It has become common sense. And the Occupy Movement is wise to stick to the broad clear message that inequality lies at the heart of our malaise.
In any case, the buoyant good cheer generated by a well-attended demonstration will carry me through the grimmer task I face the rest of the week: interesting journalists in writing about issues other than the “Greek” bailout (in quotes because it’s really the bailout of French and German banks). Because at the end of the day, that story is just another example of putting finance before people.
Mark Fried is Oxfam Canada’s policy coordinator. He is in France for the G20 summit – sometimes posing as President Obama.