Nuit Debout: Winning Thru Occupation

Occupy, the Indignados (2011), and Nuit Debout (2016) have had a lasting impact on society. These movements all occupied urban space to create communities that empowered people, revitalized youth organizing and political discourse, fed people, and challenged the established economic authorities on issues of inequality and corporate corruption. They also all failed to ignite broad political action addressing inequality and fighting climate change. They started conversations and created platforms for media in the public interest, as opposed to the corporate interests satisfied by well-funded media. The rebellious media associated with them can build support and a smarter infrastructure for the next iteration of the urban occupation.

When protest chanters call for justice, to be delivered now, their cry is often followed by a plan. The callers will say, “If we don’t get it”, to be followed by “Shut It Down!”. It can have a chilling or empowering effect, depending on your relationship to the chant, threat or battlecry. The powerful quiver when the call to shut things down is a credible threat. 

Nuit Debout, Community Organizing

Climate Justice activists in Orgeon shut down an oil train.

Many Americans in rural areas protect wilderness, hinder industrial fossil fuel projects, and oppose corporate greed using nonviolent direct action. The coterie of Americans willing to engage in risky acts of civil disobedience for social and environmental justice is always recruiting. They have many needs and vacancies to fill as pipelines and other fossil fuel projects benefit from the, now-literally, Exxon-led US State Department, and as a special relationship blooms between the Trump Administration, Policemen’s Unions, and open white supremacists. 

Urban and suburban action-focused people can join these efforts but it requires a time-commitment, the longer the better because resistance camps and (strategically done) direct action are labor intensive. 

The Nuit Debout strategy for influencing politicians is more accessible to people in cities whether it is leveraged in solidarity with other campaigns or to push a local issue. The strategy, according to a French retired delivery driver quoted in The Guardian, was “at the next big street protest, we simply wouldn’t go home.” The big street protest happened on Mar 31, 2016. The labor reforms they opposed were ultimately pushed through the legislature two months later, but the formation of Nuit Debout has amplified the voices of discontent expressed through the Occupy Movement in the US..

The newly-elected Socialist government of President Hollande had initiated policy to make the French labor force more flexible, a neoliberal term that means financially insecure. Protests of the government’s policies and strikes happened around the country throughout that March. The Parisian cohort of the protests unleashed the Nuit Debout strategy on Mar 31 after a protest whose attendance estimates differ between hundreds-of-thousands and a million marchers.

Nuit Debout, Community Organizing

Place de la République, the Parisian Nuit Debout camp on May 15, 2016.

The marches ended and a group occupied the Place de la République where Frédéric Lordon, an economist, spoke. There were debates and general assemblies similar to those from the Occupy Movement. The protesters stayed all night, and then continued to return. Over the next month the occupations spread to over 300 cities worldwide. The Nuit Debout strongholds set up kitchens, libraries, and shelter spaces. The intention of the strategy was to deter the anti-labor reforms and protest the government in general.

nuit debout, community organizing, indignados, Spain

Indignado March, Spain

On the evening of day 14 of the occupation President Hollande announced his intention to continue to push the labor-flexibility policy. A segment of the Nuit Debout protesters attempted to march to the President’s residence before the police redirected them. They vandalized banks, commercial premises, and vehicles. The riot cost the mostly peaceful movement French public support, according to a polling agency’s reports. The movement polled favorably with 60% of the French public before, and 49% days after the property damage was done. A majority of the protesters disapproved of the property damage and the violence toward the police.

They were allowed to stay in the Plaza as long as they were not hindering other people’s use of the area. The sentiment of the protests was still felt, and spread around the world. The Nuit Debout website lists hundreds of cells across Europe which activated after the French demanded to keep their labor rights. The website’s blog and Twitter handle are still regularly updated, and the Global Debout community remains active.

The millions of people activated by these mobilizations against austerity measures and corporate corruption need to focus on an overlooked aspect of their structures. The protest camps provide an institutional setting to deliver services to the urban poor and homeless.

nuit debout, community organizing

Nuit Debout library and radio station. Photo credit: Richard Bartlett/Medium

Libraries, first aid services, food, and shelter were produced in these Movement’s spaces. The #NODAPL camps even had schools. The benefits of these basic services that protest participants considered an important part of their strongholds are not shared by people at all levels of society. The Occupy Movement’s humanitarian response to Hurricane Sandy provides an example of the potential of a mobilized social web of individuals, with  a crowdfunded infrastructure for providing people with the social services and protections that our governments are failing to give them.

In the heart of the Nuit Debout protests a French Mayor said that the protester should either clear the square, or police it themselves. That question should be taken more seriously. Our movements can govern, and the sooner we start practicing governance the better because Capitalism is coming to an end. The pretext of government working in the public interest will die with it. If we hope to create the better world that we discuss we’ll need to be prepared to coordinate trash pick-up as well as Constitution redrafting. It isn’t all glory but it is important for building legitimacy. These movements provide a platform to not just win a leveling of the social order, but to govern in a changing society..

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