.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

a PC festival

I was a student in Paris. It was 1989.

I went to the "activities coordinator" of my school and asked if she knew of anything relating to left politics.

She looked at me with a quizzical smile. "You might try SOS Racism in the 11th Arrondisment...or, if you like, you could try the festival this weekend held by the Parti Communiste." I couldn't tell from her bemused expression if that meant the festival would be full of cool people like her...or, um....not.

I went to both.

SOS Racisme was impressive. It was interesting to see how anti-racist politics was different in France than in New York. The two cities...and our two countries...are really worlds apart, with very different histories, activism and realities. Racism, of course, is concrete and real in both places...just with different flavors. As the link tells...SOS Racisme drew on France's Republican traditions...and its politics of human rights. At the time, opposition to Jean-Marie Le Pen was front and center...as was a debate about whether Muslim school girls should have the right to choose to wear the chadoor.

My time in France wasn't enough to learn the intricacies of it. But I found you could always catch up on the politics of the day by listening in on the discussions that would happen on the square in front of the Centre Pompidou. Circles of men, most from Africa, whether North or South, would form around two or three debaters. If the debate was hot and heavy, thirty to forty people could end up listening in in a tightly closed circle. Blogging, of course, is the internet update of this democratic tradition.

The communist festival was eye-opening. It was held in a park in the northern suburbs. The first thing I saw walking down the center corridor of booths was a huge red banner with five blonde women in skimpy clothing beneath it.

It was a booth for Marlboro cigarettes. Down other alleys were the everpresent ads for cognac and aperitifs. Not exactly a DSA meetup.

I didn't know it at the time...but that was probably one of the last communist festivals of its type..with booths from all over Eastern Europe..and from Communist Parties from all over the world. For an American kid who'd spent a couple years reading and learning from the New York left it was eye opening.

It had nothing to do with politics as I knew it. It was as if a time capsule, or an alternative reality capsule, had been transplanted into Paris. To be frank, I didn't know much about the ins and outs of left politics in France. Nothing at the festival helped me much in that regard, nor did anything much I learned in school.

Needless to say, the bemused smile from the activities coordinator had been meant to tip me off to the fact that no one like her was going to be there.

Of course, looming behind the festival were the vast HLMs of Paris's suburban ghettos.

Politics and history are everywhere. We choose what to look at.