Last week Paris was filled with horror pain anxiety fear suffering fury wonder despair and maybe, by the weekend, some hope. After the shock waves of the terrorists attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo , Paris was on high alert for days, suffered another attack killing more innocents and then a spirit galvanized many, many of the citizens of Paris, no, all of France, and many around the world to stand together in a march of solidarity to safeguard the freedoms we treasure. For the French these are embodied in three words: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality
It was an awesome experience seeing such an abundance of will determined to stand up to terrorists.
Jan 11. . . Today over a million and a half people in Paris marched from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation and to the Bastille. A sea of humanity filled the spoke streets of the Place: Voltaire, Temple and Beaumarchais, Magenta and Avenue de la Republique to a slowly surging mass. People were gathering to pay tribute to the 17 victims of last week’s attack, to demonstrate the profound importance of Liberty to us ALL and hail the freedoms we cherish, especially speech, in the aftermath of the days of terrorism here. The people wanted to tell the world who thinks otherwise about the value of liberty, that we will fight for these freedoms, freedom of the press, freedom to communicate ideas. It was an amazingly huge and completely peaceful demonstration by the many cultures present here in Paris, all of whom were represented in the throngs. The Jewish and Muslim communities in France are the largest in Europe – they were both well represented. Blacks, Chinese, white Europeans . . . The many disparate groups in France who may tolerate but are not always tolerant. All subways were free today so everyone had a chance to go to the March for free. Even so, many people walked from wherever they lived in Paris but we were happy we took the metro from the Bastille to Bonsergent then walked just a short way to the beginning of the march.
Everyone was there, old, young and children. Walking in solidarity together, using wheel chairs, prams, and canes – whatever made it possible to participate in the Unity March. (Everyone, except Marine la Pen and her comrades, was represented there.) Chanting slogans, singing the Marseillaise and the national anthem, raised the crowd’s collective spirits. Bill and I stood still in front of and beside the Marianne statue in the Place de la Republique. She was surrounded by hope – Marianne, a symbol of the French Republique with those virtues of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity engraved below her feet. This day her base was a pedestal for dozens of flag waving citizens who lead the crowd in song and chants.
While waiting for the 50 international leaders who started the official March at 3:26, the crowd never stopped the upbeat spirit of the day. The world leaders — including French President François Hollande, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain . . . With such an illustrious group standing together, outside, in one place together, where a terrorist act could have wiped them all out, the dangers seemed obvious…what a frightening thought. But it all went without a hitch.
The police had to have been everywhere but they were practically invisible. A helicopter or two was constantly circling. Otherwise there was peace, and almost no bothersome smoking! For the French that is saying alot! And we saw no one being rowdy at all. The day with sprinkles and sunshine, bright blue skies and swirling winds that kept the national flags at attention, was a real family affair.
By 5:30 a terrific brass band had marchers dancing back to the Bastille which looked as it always does during a demonstration . . . I love the spirit captured there on the faces, in the voices, in the outstretched arms of the individuals who climbed up the base of the July Column. At one point a stream of at least a dozen police vans, filled with police in full gear, slowly inched through the crowd. I was in the first row of marchers and could look at these brave men’s faces smiling widely at the enthusiastic appreciation the crowd expressed for them as they went. The crowd sustained their clapping, singing and shouting “thank you! Bravo! And viva la France” until they were out of sight, lost in the street crowded with “Je Suis Charlie” . . . “Je suis Ahmed” …“Je suis Juif”. The French don’t seem to view their police with the same deference or respect that we seem to do most of the time in the US, so to see and here this was especially powerful.
I don’t know how long the crowds remained around the Places de La Republique, Nation and la Bastille. I could hear the joyful noises as I walk down the dock and got on the boat. If the spirit that was present throughout Paris, all over France and in other counties too can be channeled into positive changes, those victims of terror will have left a positive, lasting invaluable legacy for the people of the world. We can only hope. . . the day brought tears to my eyes, a sense of pride and the knowledge that we have strength because of our freedoms.