By Randall Erickson / Special to the OB Rag
PARIS. Recent events have caused me to add a preamble to this dispatch. These concern the very idea of democracy. The Greek prime minister announced that he would call for a referendum on the agreement he reached with the members of the Euro Zone on the management of the Greek debt and austerity program. This was too much for the powerful financiers and their stock markets which immediately plunged. So they have already voted against the democracy of the people. Can’t let the people decide on their own futures, you need the capitalist oligarchy and technocracy to do that.
Greece has been a center of massive protests and I guess they need to be taught a lesson. However, this isn’t the first time that the people’s choice has been attacked. A few years ago, France had a referendum on a European treaty called «The European Constitution». 55% of the French voted against it–a clear majority for the no’s. In the next presidential election, the far right Nicolas Sarkozy was elected. He used his majority in the parliament and the Senate to change the constitution so the people wouldn’t decide, but the parliament would. So, it voted to ratify the treaty which had been renamed «The Treaty of Lisbon», but was the same thing. So much for the will of the people. One way or another the powers that be are determined to get the «right» result.
The Occupy Movement is quite active in the United States now. The first such movement comes from Spain when on May 15th thousands of protesters against austerity economic policies occupied the center of Madrid. They took the name «indignados». In France, they are the «indignés»–the indignants. «Occupy» has a bad connotation in some countries, particulary France. The movement spread with vigor to Greece and Italy.
Recently as you know there has been occupy movements in cities around the world. Once again Greece and Italy have been in the forefront of the protests. You have probably read about the attacks on banks in Italy. In France there has so far been little mobilization on the subject, though there have been organized demonstrations by unions and employees against goverment austerity programs. The main protest at the moment is against the meeting of the G-20 which is being held in Cannes. So far it has been modest with only around 10,000 participating who are called «altermondialistes». [Note: I don’t remember the English word for that, which means roughly alternative globalization]
The origin of the name «indignés» is said to be from a book written by the French Resistant, politician, and intellectual who participated in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Stéphane Hessel who wrote a book titled «Indignez-Vous»(literally, Be Indignant, but translated as «Time for Outrage!»). Hessel is 94 years old, but I have seen him on television and he seems younger, and he certainly has all his faculties. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stéphane_Hessel)
For years there has been another form of «occupation» in France and Germany. Each time there is a transfer of nuclear material from the French treatment center at La Hague, French and German activists occupy the railroads that are used to transfer the material between the two countries.
In France for years there have been occupations of streets and buildings by associations that support homeless people, people with decrepit lodgings, and illegal immigrants. The French generally use a less perjorative term than that or the even more pejorative, illegal aliens, the «sans papiers»(without papers) for those immigrants who don’t have official papers for staying and working in France.
They have set up tent towns in various areas of Paris and have occupied both unused public and private buildings and churches, squatting if you like. The police have at times intervened violently to dislodge them. The stock market building in the center of Paris has been unused for years and doesn’t have the symbolic meaning as in New York. All the trading has been transferred to anonymous buildings around the city and is done electronically.
In London, some Christian groups are supporting the movement there. «Christian groups have drawn up plans to protect protesters by forming a ring of prayer around the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, should an attempt be made to forcibly remove them.
As the storm of controversy over the handling of the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration deepened on Saturday, Christian activists said it was their duty to stand up for peaceful protest in the absence of support from St Paul’s. One Christian protester, Tanya Paton, said: “We represent peace, unity and love. A ring of prayer is a wonderful symbol.”
With senior officials at St Paul’s apparently intent on seeking an injunction to break up the protest, the director of the influential religious thinktank Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, said the cathedral’s handling of the protest had been a “car crash” and predicted more high-profile resignations from the Church of England.» The Guardian.
I don’t know how many Christians are participating in the U.S., but I doubt that there are many evangelical Republicans.