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French Diary: A Book or the Street

When I decided to study for a semester in France, I was determined to avoid anything American in search of full cultural immersion. For this reason, I chose to live with a French family while I studied at the language institute on the campus of the University of Paul Valéry, a French public university. Yet I hadn’t expected my experience to be so authentic that I would be directly affected by radical shifts taking place in contemporary French politics and society.
It began on the 12th of November, when a group of students at my university voted to “strike”. In French political language, a strike, or grêve, is a sort of general protest whose bargaining power may not necessarily be aimed at those directly affected. For the students, this meant barricading the doors of every building on campus with piles of desks and chairs and spraying revolutionary slogans on walls calling for resistance, protest, and combat. The reason: a law passed this August outlining reforms giving French universities increased autonomy in the hope of improving their finances. Yet, because of the general egalitarian spirit–at times slipping towards communism–that continues to live in France, a loud minority still exists whose primary concern is equality at the expense of quality.
Not long after the student protest, the campus was shut down administratively and was blocked off. I missed a few days of class until the language institute was able to relocate us to a temporary building off-campus where we’re finishing the school year.
What is particularly vexing about the situation is that a minority of students, because of their methods and organization, have been able to cripple an entire campus. Not to mention the absurd idea that students can go on strike. There has finally been some organization of students against the strike, but fear of a violent confrontation keeps them timid. I was frustrated that the students affected by the injustice seemed complacent, even fatalistic. The strikers’ rhetoric was absurd, yet for some reason, they seemed powerless before it. What the affected student’s lacked in motivation, the striker’s more than made up for in passion and emotion. Their greatest weapon was their outrage, directed at, as far as I could tell, anyone who disagreed with them.
Popular movements are an integral part of any free organization, but they must be backed by more than feelings, they must be just and coherent, backed by reason and morality. All great leaders of change have understood this. I’ve always been hesitant of street demonstrations as a mob mentality can too quickly spiral into further injustice. These sorts of movements should be the last resort, as was recently the case in Burma, or a few years ago in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Instead, for citizen’s of functioning democracies, I believe the library is a better place than the street. It’s easy to complain, it’s much more difficult to develop real solutions. So for my revolution: to the books citizens!

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