By October 25, 2019 No Comments

Emilie Rappeneau


Stéphane Rappeneau – Climate change protest 21/09/2019, Paris.

Imagine my annoyance when one of my Sciences Po teachers, whose main thesis focuses on social movements, announced that he had never marched before and did not intend to.

Whether this was meant as a joke or not remains debatable, but nevertheless, it made me question the reasons for which one should choose to spend hours trampling crowded streets, subjected to the whims of the weather, of the police, and of other protesters – especially when the political change deriving from such actions seems minimal. A simple cost-benefit analysis would easily confirm that cramps due to intensive sign-holding are not worth much more than a cute Instagram picture (#climatechange).

But then Macron decided to weigh in on the subject and my hesitation vanished.

“Marching every Friday to say that the planet is burning, that’s nice, but it’s not the problem. 

“We have to enter some form of collective action. I would rather that every Friday we organized large operations of cleaning rivers or Corsica’s beaches. […] They should go protest in Poland! Somebody come help me move those I can’t force to evolve!” His confessions to Le Parisien while boarding his presidential jet to head to the New York summit for climate change sat oddly with me [1].

So it’s settled then: citizens should not aim to participate directly in political decisions, but only lower themselves to the menial and laborious aspects of it, the only tasks they are fit for. Or at the very least, they should take their complaints somewhere else – the versed  “it’s not the worst here” argument.

But if not you or me, then who else? Who else could possibly speak up about the problems that we are facing? We must force ourselves to imagine what would happen if everybody acted as Macron wanted: would there be anyone in the streets, acting as a check against the maneuvers of the powerful few whose interests inevitably clash against ours?  

Children near the Luxembourg station crying because of tear gas

Activism can be boring, cumbersome and futile, but the simple fact remains that the 1% will not face the consequences of their actions unless bodies inconvenience the established power through the performative act of marching, if but a little. In the words of American philosopher Judith Butler, “Bodies assemble precisely to show that they are bodies, and to let it be known politically what it means to persist as a body in this world, and what requirements must be met for bodies to survive, and what conditions make a bodily life, which is the only life we have, finally livable [2].”

Of course, I do not mean to paint such a clear-cut picture. Other factors must be taken into consideration; after all, protesting doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Fania Noël, a founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement in France, touched upon the topic in an interview with the Washington Post [3]. She described the mostly white protesters of Nuit Debout, a 2016 French social movement initiated by Insoumis deputee François Ruffin that stemmed from a refusal of the El Khomri law harming employees’ rights: “Even if they were criticized, they were still taken seriously — they’re still political subjects. We’re viewed as a band of barbarians, like colonial subjects, except this time of the interior.”

Thus, something to keep in mind while protesting is the fact that one’s skin color acts as a protective barrier, a shield against the brunt of police brutality, a privileged one is randomly entitled to and has a duty to use responsibly and ethically.

If you are one of those privileged few, you have no excuse. Use your body to protect the ones of others, made vulnerable by the very system that grants you such privileges.

And when in doubt, when the opportunity to contribute even a drop of water to a cause you wholeheartedly support comes around, remember this verse of the Mask of Anarchy, a British political poem written in 1819 by Percy Shelley which was recited by female garment workers in New York in the early XXTH century:

“Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake you chains to earth, like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many; they are few!” [4]



[1] DJAMSHIDI Ava. “Climat, Gilets jaunes, jeunesse… les confidences de Macron en route pour l’ONU” Le Parisien, 23 Sept. 2019. www.leparisien.fr/politique/climat-gilets-jaunes-les-confidences-de-macron-en-route-pour-le-sommet-de-l-onu-23-09-2019-8157684.php. Accessed 13 Oct. 2019.

[2] BUTLER Judith. Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, 2017. Chap 5.

[3] MCAULEY James. “Black Lives Matter movement comes to France. But will it translate?” The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2016. www.washingtonpost.com/world/black-lives-matter-movement-comes-to-france-but-will-it-translate/2016/08/07/7606567e-58cd-11e6-8b48-0cb344221131_story.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2019.

[4] ZINN Howard. A people’s history of the United States. 1980. 1999 edition, HarperCollins Publishers.

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