"Experience teaches us that silence terrifies people the most."-Bob Dylan
PARIS, FRANCE-The woman in a rose-colored nylon jacket rushed up to Bruce Colburn last Wednesday as he walked down Boulevard Saint Michel in the busy Latin Quarter.
"You're American?" she asked Colburn.
Yes, he answered.
With every ounce of negative emotion she could muster, Ms. Nylon Jacket let loose.
"Traitor!" she yelled at Colburn. "You don't know what this man has done.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," she seethed as a companion of hers standing on a nearby sidewalk launched into his own tirade against Colburn and a crowd of 40 or so people marching behind a banner that read "Americans against the Bush war." The "s" in Bush had been replaced by a dollar sign. The small group of Americans brought up the rear of a massive anti-war demonstration that closed streets, interrupted bus service and tied up rush hour traffic until well past 9 p.m.
As of last week, a poll showed that 80 percent of French citizens opposed a war with Iraq and this week, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac told President Bush that France would veto a U.N. resolution to authorize war against Iraq.
On Wednesday, March 5, what had started out as a 6 p.m. student-organized demonstration near the Latin Quarter's Jardin du Luxembourg erupted into a full-blown march, 10,000 strong. "People get enthusiastic and want to start moving," explained Colburn's companion, also American, who hesitated a moment before identifying herself as "Mary Smith."
Both Colburn and "Smith," who relocated to Paris from the U.S. for employment, said they had found out about the protest on state radio. Both were eager to know what the anti-war movement in the U.S. was like and said they were impressed to have heard from Southern California relatives about rallies in San Diego. "Especially since it's a military town," said Smith.
A 20-something student who spoke in tentative English said local members of the communist party and the Federation Syndicate Unitaire, a coalition of labor unions, were the nexus of the rally ("100 percent to the left" read one sign). In her arm the student carried a bundle of the local communist party's newspaper, La Rouge. The papers, however, weren't for free-as one might assume communism would dictate. A price of one euro (about 85 cents) was printed at the bottom of the front page.
"There is confusion in France because of the position of Russia. Maybe we veto," she said, adding that she believed France would likely join Russia in opposing the U.S. That same week, a French official told the media that France vetoing the U.N. resolution "would be firing a bullet in the back of Americans."
"Veto Francais, por la vie" (French veto, for life), read a sign carried by one of her cohorts. Meanwhile, a woman in a van and a guy in a pickup truck, both with powerful P.A. systems, tried to lead protestors in a unified chant that translated roughly to, "Bush, Blair, you need to stop this war." They soon realized it wasn't easy to get thousands of people to yell in unison. Hence, the man drummed up his own chorus that accused the American and British leaders of being colonialists.
The strongest message in the march was perhaps its biggest irony-a proliferation of signs pointing to U.S. oil interests as the motivating factor for Bush's push for war. That their president's stance has been swayed by France's own oil interests seemed lost on the protestors. "No blood for oil," read one anti-Bush sign.
Both Colburn and Smith noted that the massive march was being carried out without permits. Police presence was scant amid the protestors, though three busloads of officers trailed behind. By all appearances, the marchers respected their freedom to demonstrate, and a cadre of street-cleaning vehicles immediately followed the crowd, vacuuming up flyers, brushing gutters and neatly erasing any trace of 10,000 angry people.