A far, far better thing

July 14, 2007 by barbara

by barbara

C’est quatorze juillet – Fête Nationale de France. There. I have just depleted my meager store of French.

July Fourteenth. France’s National Holiday, commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which was retrospectively understood to have launched the French Revolution.

“Storm the Bastille!” Some of us say that from time to time. It’s linked to a growing belief that Americans need to show up. We need to gather together to demonstrate that we are unwilling to tolerate BushCo for even one more day. So, yeah, storm the Bastille. Click to read on, mes amis!

I decided that before I go any farther with this, I'd best reacquaint myself with that pivotal time in France’s history. I checked several sources, including this, and this, and this, and this, and yes, even this. There’s a lot of stuff about the French Revolution out there.

Some people think that their Revolution was about economics. Wealth and power were granted to the nobles and the clergy, bypassing the middle class (aka the bourgeoisie). This did not make the bourgeoisie happy, to say the least. No one cared a fig about the lower class. And everyone, except the privileged few, was hungry.

A different school of thought holds that the root cause of the Revolution was political. Louis XVI had defended France militarily but the people “resented the rising and unequal taxes, the persecution of religious minorities, and government interference in their private lives. These resentments, coupled with an inefficient government and an antiquated legal system made the government seem increasingly illegitimate to the French people.”

But wait! There’s more. “...the monarchy almost always spent more each year than it collected in taxes; consequently it was forced to borrow....Debt grew in part because France participated in a series of costly wars....”

From another source we learn that "inefficient taxation and costly foreign wars" had plunged France into debt. Louis summoned a council of nobles, who couldn't find a solution. So for the first time since 1614, the Estates-General (the main representative body of the French people) was called. "Within days of meeting, the Estates-General was clamouring for reforms and criticising the monarchy and its policies."

Finally, just a few weeks before 7/14, Louis caved and promised to introduce reforms to the financial system and other dicey areas of government. The people were skeptical. And believing that Louis would attack them, they went looking for ways to arm themselves.

The people who lived near the Bastille had assorted levels of education and wealth. They were “workers” and artisans. The journalists and lawyers among them “most aggressively took up the political cause of ‘the people.’”

In the three day run-up to July 14, there were protests about high bread prices. Louis’ troops were sent to monitor the situation. Finally, in search of guns and ammunition, a mob (everyone?) stormed the Bastille fortress on July 14. They didn’t find much there. There was a four-hour battle that culminated in the beheading of the Bastille’s commander. The mob freed the prisoners – seven in all. Reportedly “two madmen, a profligate, and four forgers.” Sometime later, mobs tore down the Bastille. For the balance of the summer of ’89, there were uprisings in most of France’s major cities.

And there you have Storm the Bastille Lite. That violent day was followed by a decade of, shall we say, adjustment. Think Robespierre, the execution of Louis' wife Marie Antoinette, the Reign of Terror, and Women Who Knit. The French had endured the indignities of monarch abuse for so long a time, it took them a while to get things right.

Fade to the United States of America, Y2007. I have to tell you that I am longing for an enormous throng of Americans to surge the White House, Congress, fill the Mall and also the streets of towns and cities far from Washington D.C.

I’m not advocating violence. But I am advocating for Americans to gather in protest of all things BushCo. It is time. Actually, it's beyond time. I think the last significantly large "peace march" in my hometown was in 2002 -- a few days after Paul Wellstone's plane went down.

So what do we do? We rise up from our computer chairs, our sofas, our assembly lines, our tractors. Maybe we just close down the country for a day or two. We carry signs. We speak our disgust. As the saying goes, we speak truth to power, even as power cowers in dark places. Hell, we can sing “Kumbayah” together if that helps.

However it plays out, I do believe we’ve come to the place where a huge presence of disgusted American citizens is called for. It's time for us to demonstrate to BushCo and to Congress that we’re fed up and rising. Big talk, eh? Where are the logistics folks?

Not gonna preach on this any more. Well, not today anyway.


Posted in


susan | July 14, 2007 - 9:46am

Actually, there was a pretty significant march down Hennepin Avenue, from Uptown to the Catholic Basilica in February, 2003, in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. As you'll recall, millions of people marched world-wide against the invasion and didn't King George say something like "I don't give a rat about world opinion."?
Anyway, during that march I was with some of my old pals who had voted for Nader in 2000, telling me at the time that the choice between Gore and Bush was just tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum. (Need I point out that we got Tweedle Dumb?) Now they were chanting, "One,two,three, four, We don't want your bloody war." and I was chanting along side of them, "One, two, three, four, Should have voted for Al Gore."
The march squeezed the traffic on Hennepin into two very slow-moving lanes, and my other vivid memory is of the faces in the stopped cars who were peering out at us as if we were that mob storming the bastille. Their eyes were full of fear, maybe disgust and annoyance at the delay we were causing them.
Now, I'm 100% on the side of those of us who marched and think we ought to be marching again, but on that day in February I remember thinking that the folks who were standing on car roofs, banging on pie tins and wearing pink fright wigs and feather boas or dressing as the grim reaper were probably not helpful in getting people to see things our way.
Well, on the other hand, what's banging on a pie tin compared to bombing the bee-jeezus out of Iraq? What got so many people to see things that way?

Well, the language of lies, I suppose. Here's part of King George's speech in March, 2003, announcing the invasion.
Caution, take a few anti-nausea tabs before reading.

"I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.

May God bless our country and all who defend her."


barbara aka babs (not verified) | July 14, 2007 - 10:01am

All of this reminds me that storming the Bastille also means turning up the heat re: impeachment. Follow this C&L link to a great clip. It's part of a Bill Moyers round-table discussion about impeachment.

As for pie tins and fright wigs, I would submit that it is time to make noise. Silence is assent, as they say. And our relative silence is killing people.


susan | July 14, 2007 - 11:17pm

Well, okay, make noise, but sometimes it's the silent ones who get heard.

If you look at footage of the civil rights marches in the '60's, what's striking is the dignity and discipline of the marchers. (Along with their courage, of course.) There was singing, but for the most part the sit-ins and marches were not noisy or unruly, and that was intentional. Yes, they didn't want to give the cops any justification for arresting them, but they also knew that being orderly and respectful would carry more sway with the American people. Being silent doesn't mean being passive.

On the other hand, I loved some of what the protestors did during the Republican convention in NYC in 2004, people carrying coffins, lying down in them and so on.

So maybe there are different sorts of marches for different purposes. Disrupting a Bush appearance? The more noise the better. Riling up a whole convention? Say in St. Paul in 2008 when the Repubs convene? To quote the chief, bring it on.

But maybe when we want to be counted, when we want to make the most profound statement against, oh say, a reckless invasion destined to take hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a quiet, somber, bang-the-drum-slowly march packs more of a wallop.

The quietest but most affecting war protest I've seen is Eyes Wide Open -- An Exhibition on the Human Cost of the Iraq War, put on by the American Friends Service Committee. The exhibit
"features a pair of boots honoring each U.S. military casualty, a field of shoes and a Wall of Remembrance to memorialize the Iraqis killed in the conflict, and a multimedia display exploring the history, cost and consequences of the war."

The boots are laid out in tidy long criss-crossing rows, like tombstones at Arlington Cemetery. When it was in St. Paul, volunteers read the names, ranks, home towns and ages of the dead American soldiers, each name preceded by a soft gong. All day long the names and the gong rang out over the field of empty boots, as people silently walked up and down the rows, kneeling to read the name tags or other information attached to the boots, or walking the spiral maze made of piles of shoes, all sizes and colors including children's sandals, representing Iraqis killed since the invasion.
Frankly the pink fright wigs and pie tins didn't have the same impact on me. But truth is, not sure anything we do has any impact on the Decider.


barbara aka babs (not verified) | July 15, 2007 - 10:36pm

Yeah, but you are you and the country as a whole is . . . ummmm, not you, more's the pity.

I subscribed to the school of protest subtlety for most of my life. Worked for years in the "peace movement," post Vietnam. Gentleness and tolerance.

My decision to march against war and for Wellstone was radical for me. I. Didn't. Do. Noisy. Stuff.

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the subtle and the sublime is not going to cut it in this country any more. I believe it's time to be seen and heard.

Surely somewhere between the Vietnam Memorial and pink fright wigs is genuine protest. Sound, not noise. Vision along with the visual.

We are in a constitutional crisis and generally speaking, we're sitting on our duffs waiting for someone to do something about it.

Who is someone???


susan | July 15, 2007 - 11:50pm

Us. I'm back to noisy. I was just on a little temporary politeness trip. Make noise, kick ass. Sorry.