Observations from the G20 protest in Nice
文/Jessie Lin @ ATTAC France
My experience in Nice can be described as a crawl in the dark from the very first second that I found out I was going. I was sent there along with a few fellow colleagues to partake in a week’s events including workshops, discussions, demonstrations, and of course the grand protest against the G20 meeting. I really had no idea what to expect as I had only arrived in France just a week prior. In fact, I didn’t even know that I was going until the day of my arrival!
I kept asking around the office what I would be doing once I got there, but everyone was vague about the details. “Just go there, don’t worry, go to the events, you’ll be fine.” I was told. On Monday morning I boarded the train at Gare de Lyon for the five and half hour ride down to Nice. As the train made its way into city, the sunny skies of the French Riviera, also known as the Cote d’Azur welcomed us.
The G20 meeting actually took place in the famous vacation beach town of Cannes, also known for its annual film festivals. Since the city was to be completely blocked off, the activists chose Nice, which is about one hour away by train, as a base. On the train ride from Paris we have noticed several policemen on board. We also saw many walking around the different train stations once we got into the Cote d’Azur region. With the head of states from 20 countries gathering at one place, security had to be tightened.
After checking into the hotel, we went to the activists’ gathering place, “The Ancien Abbattoir,” which was a bit outside the city center. At first I thought I was going to walk into an organized setting with a meeting that would follow. What I entered was a warehouse, with stands set up on the outside selling drinks. I decided to check out the activities inside the building. Upon walking in, I saw people sleeping on the ground, a few tables set up with fliers, some groups discussions taking place, and people making posters. It was pretty much a mish-mash of everything. It seemed like everyone was chilling and relaxing the day before the big event.
The grand protest was to take place the next day at 3pm. The morning of the protest we returned to the Abbattoir. From there on I pretty much followed one of my fellow coworkers around. More people had arrived that morning, many with decorated bikes, cars, and trucks. There were a few Spanish speaking groups as well as Anglophones, but not as many as I thought there would be. Some of the activists’ creativities really started to show that morning. People were excited and the atmosphere really pumped up the mood for the afternoon protest. My organization, ATTAC had rented a small truck, with which we hung flags and decorations. After loading some books, pamphlets, t-shirts, etc. we went to the gathering square at around noon. I rode on the back of the truck, which was an adventure in itself. Some pedestrians gave us nasty stares while others waved. I saw a bunch of policemen dressed in heavy armor and decided to take a picture. They yelled at me and said “pas de photos!!” meaning no pictures. But honestly, I have never seen police officers in heavy armor like that, in person at least.
When we arrived at the square, it was still pretty empty. People started soon settling in one by one. The signs, props, and posters that I saw were all really clever. There was one poster that said, “G20, j’ai faim.” Since G20 in French is pronounced very similar to j’ai faim, meaning I’m hungry. The whole scene started to get really overwhelming as the square starts to fill up with people. The formation of the protest was starting to unravel.
From talking to some of the old ATTAC activists, I was informed that it is really hard to mobilize in the city of Nice. First of all, Nice is a famous beach town located in Southeast France. Even though it is the biggest city in the French Riviera, it is mostly a vacation city. The population has a high percentage of retirees, therefore, is considered a more conservative region. The citizens of Nice weren’t exactly excited about a bunch of protestors intruding into their city. Secondly, Nice is not in a very convenient location. It is a five and a half hour ride from Paris. For the others, it’s even a longer ride, whether it’s by train or car.
The march was about to start, and I was starting to feel anxious. There were a lot of people, and I was afraid that I would lose the few people that I knew there. Luckily for me though, the ATTAC truck was in the lead of the protest, so one of our organizers told me to walk by the truck while it moves in order to prevent it from running into people. Phew！
A few interesting observations from the protest, it was more organized than I thought. The chants were all in sync, the formation of the crowd and the route we followed all ran smoothly. The route was already pre-planned, so anywhere else was blocked off by the police. There were no real confrontations with the police. Yes, many protestors did mock the militant-like policemen, but nothing got out of control. No tear gas was used, like I had imagined. We passed by a few banks along the way, and there were police guarding it, in case people try to break in. Then people started shouting how the police and the government only protect the bank and the rich while the common citizens are neglected. What’s ironic about this is that probably all of the people participating in the protest hold one or more bank accounts.
The march passed through mostly the not so nice areas of the city. But people came out to watch, as well as waved at us. There were also kids trying to jump on our trucks.
We finally reached the ending spot again at the Abbattoirs at about 6pm. After 3 hours of shouting and walking, everyone should’ve been tired, yet we were all full of energy, waiting for the concert to start soon! We quickly unloaded the rented truck and put everything away. There were food stands set up, selling only “bio” or organic food. How appropriate for the setting right? Beer, organic wine, and juice were also on sale. Needless to say, people were buying them none stop, there was even a system set up where on one side you buy the drink tickets and other side you pick up your drinks!
It was well deserved evening with great music, great food, and great fun after an eventful day and before the start of some serious workshop and talks.
Just a side note to add in the end; as I read the morning paper the next day, there was a huge gap in the estimation of protestors. According to the police, there were 5,000 protestors; for the organizers, there were 12,000. So the actual number is somewhere in between there!