Finding Warmth in a Dark Place: a Glimpse of #Nuitdebout
Finding Warmth in a Dark Place: a Glimpse of #Nuitdebout
By Manuela Zechner / roarmag.org

Last weekend, Nuit Debout’s international working group organized two days of assemblies and action planning on the Place de la République in Paris. Some hundred people came from all over Europe and beyond to get to know this new movement in one of the heartlands of the European crisis.

No one expected to be quite so moved, I think. The cycle of square occupations that started in 2010 seemed far away, and entering Place de la République at first felt like an awkward déjà vu. People sitting on the concrete of a big urban center debating; the kind of very open democratic process that sometimes makes debates multiply issues and run into strange personal forays; an overwhelming amount of commissions and initiatives; and placards, signs, flyers and slogans everywhere.

Even those of us who came from the South felt like we just arrived from a cold, placid place compared to what was going on at Place de la République. The first effect was to be overwhelmed, having missed the structures we got used to as activists of a generation that grew up with the politics of the Occupy movement, the Arab revolutions and 15-M.

The 2016 we came from was a dark place where many hopes had been shattered and many struggles had taken on a tougher dimension, whether because of mounting racism in the North or because of the tough challenges of entering into institutions in places like Greece and Spain.

26316667763_0b4f41f7b3_o

To encounter a place so alive was thus a shock at first. As always, it takes time to arrive in a radically different scenario. You have to tune in and listen, not just hypothesize. Bit by bit, as the sun came out more in the Paris sky, we entered into the flow of the square: the conversations, the congregations, the digressions, the logistics, the waiting, the radical openness of it all.

Every collective movement has its complex rhythms, just as any language and place does: its singular ways of flowing. To understand and engage with collective assemblages such as a temporarily occupied square or an assembly, it takes time to watch and listen into the flows in and out, the processes, dynamics and tensions within.

Nuit Debout geezers

Watching the square fill up on Saturday is what did it for me. The morning was calm, sunny — nothing but a few of us from abroad gathering to discuss by a small tent, some passersby stopping for a bit. Yet we knew that the particular flow of Nuit Debout consists in afternoon, evening and nightly gatherings, which temporarily take the space without camping there.

Then the clock struck 6pm and silently, almost imperceptibly at first, bodies began to flow in and gently fill the vast Place de la République. Tents went up, people helping each other and chatting, and tables with radio equipment, coffee and tea, flyers and books, lots of small sound systems around which people started to gather in circles.

Before I knew it, the square was pulsating with political debates and encounters, a vast array of thematic and practical endeavors, hundreds of people sitting, standing, watching, moving around or passing by. Their faces open, listening, interested and exposed. When you move in an open space of anonymous sociality, in a space radically open to conversation between strangers, your body takes on a certain posture and attitude, of intense attention and relaxed friendliness at the same time. My body had forgotten.

My body had forgotten a lot of things; sitting on the dirty concrete of a public square, for example. Our bodies — I daresay not just mine — were reactivated with a certain memory, of relationality and affect. It’s those embodied memories that are the most powerful for creating collective ways of being together, forms of subjectivity that come to last because they build on shared new habits in space.

26314676074_8e33d86011_z

We all still had traces of those memories and habits with us, from the various movements of the previous cycle, but we had also forgotten a lot. Being able to get to recharge on the energies of a square full of people in buzzing encounter, I felt in a strange place between past and present sometimes, slowly overcome by this wild happiness of finding back a precious collective way of being.

The appearance of messiness gave way to seeing a lot of collective intelligence, listening, respect and humor. Observing a collective breaking out of loneliness, alienation and fear, in this tough city and its super tough current moment. Little leaps of faith, small efforts of patience, minor gestures of generosity all the time. For those of us who came from abroad, it was quite something to witness hundreds and thousands of people break through such deep darkness to find each other in the streets and squares, to fill the dead silence with hundreds of singular manifestations of being together and needing to connect and talk.

Paris had been so dark, so tough and stuck. I remember it well from regular visits: the harshness and alienation of people rushing through the tunnels of the metro, the brutal separation of the white center from its post-colonial banlieues, the repression of the forms of expression emerging from the suburbs, the fake discourse on the veil, now also the simmering fear of extremist attacks, the mourning and deeply uncomfortable celebrations of national togetherness, the hushed sense of resilience and the racist policing flourishing in the current state of exception…

The state of exception as state of silence, as dead point of collectivity, degree zero of solidarity, brutal alienation — and then the importance of France historically and politically, for struggles and also within the European Union. The breaking open of all that, in humble gestures of walking into a square, setting up tents, kitchens, a radio and TV station, play area, music sessions, protests, assemblies, people just lying on the ground talking, all of it “debout”, with one common sense and objective, namely to break out of this deadly silence and survive collectively.

26315369154_e74ffd7f3b_o

The labor reform was a perfect trigger, yet Nuit Debout reaches miles and miles beyond this single issue and objective. It appears to have grown into a full-flung movement of collective production of space, meaning, being. Beyond the morbid formulas of citizenship, it re-produces the city in a new way, deeply transforming relations within.

My body remembered again that it can just sit down whenever it feels like it. Dirty concrete becomes so delicious when you can put your ass down on it with others. People looking around, everybody taking this situation in, thinking, smiling, sharing ideas and doubts. A very generous and dignified space, quite diverse and beautiful. Of course the task of linking to the constitutive outsides and insides, the banlieues and non-white communities, is huge and far from being accomplished. It is indeed the greatest task I would say, greater than stopping the labor reform.

Nuit Debout chair

If these links can be created — and they are being sought and made, through calls and actions of #BanlieuesDebout, through efforts to decentralize parts of the movement, to bring the issues that matter beyond the white center to the square — then this movement will turn into a tiger, with unstoppable force. It’s that very challenge and possibility of social composition beyond the divide-and-rule of the state, of actually building another kind of society in the heart of Europe, that is the most dizzying prospect of a movement like Nuit Debout.

One step at a time, with each step felt and embodied, inhabited and collectively processed. In this sense, Nuit Debout is unlike the struggles of the 2011 cycle: it doesn’t merely respond to austerity and neoliberal reform but also to the deep political crisis that Europe faces today, one that can only be resolved by finding other ways of relating in our cities.

26886606036_4136d02885_o

So we drifted around the square for three days. Not knowing what to expect, I think I wasn’t the only one to carry with me a vague sense of apprehension at first, not so much at the space but at yet again participating in the loose activism of international meetings, wondering what other forms of organizing across places we might invent.

Yet somehow this journey worked, more than many a trip to an international gathering. It left us strongly affected because we could witness and learn, as well as give strength and solidarity through our presence, at a moment of great creativity and also vulnerability. We were drawn by the prospect of finding each other in a vibrant space of composition and relating, of finding back things across our bodies and voices, more than by the prospect of a virtuosic debate on the future of Europe, or by a concrete network-building project. Somehow it worked.

Nuit Debout woman

We made unusual encounters, found unexpected constellations, got collective strength not just from being in the midst of a powerful laboratory of social subjectivation and inhabiting, but also from being in it together with people from our cities and other places. Nuit Debout seems far from self-referential to me in that sense, given the warmth of their welcome and the sense of being far more than a “French” movement — anything but that, even.

On Sunday, tents and assemblies started even earlier, and the sense of liveliness was intense in the unexpected sunshine. There was a big assembly in which feedback from the international meeting was transported. Translation was always impeccably careful and patient. Facilitation, too, was impressive, with a lot of listening and clever methods for decision-making and taking turns. For the voting on some of the movement’s organizational structures, multi-color cards were handed out, and I had a sense of great collective intelligence being at work.

26315291274_0d28feaa18_o

Around the main assembly, a dozen or so smaller ones. The housing commission impressed me: a circle of about fifty people, with lots of migrant women, punchy stickers worn by people (my favorite was a woman who put the anti-eviction sticker on her hijab; best reply ever to that damned French veil debate), talking of international struggles and planning actions. There was a quiet but very powerful pulse there that reminded me of the anti-eviction movement in Spain and housing struggles like Kotti und Co in Berlin, radically diverse laboratories of social composition and collective reproduction.

Radio Debout

On the other side of the square, the tent of Radio Debout, a highly energized tent with tables of equipment and small snacks, with many hosts, interviewees and observers clustered around them. They broadcast live, switching between interviews and assembly debates, and chant their jingle live every so often, with everyone around — hilarious brief sonic interruptions in the main assembly’s acoustic landscape. Also TV Debout circulates on the square and has a little studio talking to people, visitors. And there’s a pay-as-you-like kitchen, a very sophisticated game and play area, lots of jams and performances, and much more.

One of the decisions taken at the international and regular assemblies was to go for a day of action on May 15, calling for participation in cities across the world. Many of those who left Paris to return to other cities and countries are quite inspired to build continuity for this moment, to see how they can let themselves be affected in their own cities and struggles. We’ll be watching Paris for sure, now that we finally fell in love in that city — without romanticism but with a lot of gut feeling.


Manuela Zechner is a researcher and cultural worker. Her interests and passions lie in migration and social movements, facilitation and micro-politics, and translating across contexts.

All photos in this article are by Sergio Espín.

4.0 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 30,136 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 14,646 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,373 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 13,182 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 8,937 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 8,864 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 7,669 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Forest Man
16 min · 5,665 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 5,643 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 4,977 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 4,884 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 4,031 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 3,002 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 2,782 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
American Cartel: How America's Two Major Parties Helped Destroy Democracy
Frank Castro · 2,713 views today · Cartel: An association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 2,475 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,812 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
A Woman Who Makes This Statement Today Needs Revolutionary Courage
Sabine Lichtenfels · 1,738 views today · I want to live in a community with men and women, with children, animals and plants so that I am not continually forced to hide my actual being from the others. Perception and...
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 1,652 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
“You Can Have Your Weak Nominee If You Wish” – the Sanders Endorsement Backfires on Hillary Clinton, Empowers Sanders in One Masterstroke
Saib Bilaval · 1,452 views today · Ultimately, what the Sanders endorsement has proved is what the candidate was arguing from the beginning – that it was not Sanders and his campaign that was holding Hillary...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Finding Warmth in a Dark Place: a Glimpse of #Nuitdebout