#NuitDebout is the movement that has taken to the streets of Paris and countless other French cities to protest against François Hollande’s government Labor Reform (Loi Travail). Starting on March 31, they have been occupying Place de la République in Paris every night, and now the movement is spreading to other French and European cities, encompassing broader grievances and demanding social and political change. Their name and slogan, #NuitDebout, roughly translates to “standing up at night,” and has been variously rendered as “Up All Night,” “Night Rising,” or “Night on Our Feet.”
Following a wave of strikes throughout the month of March, the movement took off on March 31, when a few people, mostly students and labor activists, decided to occupy Place de la République, which had become a symbolic space of collective grieving after the 2015 terrorist attacks. Two weeks in and going strong, the nighttime square occupation is self-organizing into assemblées populaires (popular assemblies) and into a variety of different working committees. The movement also developed a radio and a TV/livestream, as well as social media profiles.
The gatherings have been largely peaceful, but on Thursday, April 14, the police clashed with a group of protestors, prompting the French authorities to promise they will “crack down” on violent demonstrators.
On April 16, Nuit Debout launched an international call for mobilization in English, French, and Italian (via a Facebook event) for people to assemble in République on May 7-8 and for a #globaldebout event on May 15 (a date that is symbolically linked to the Indignados movement).
International media have been slow to pick up news about the movement, so here are 5 things that might be interesting for scholars of social movements, even for those who don’t speak (much) French.
1) Nuit Debout has very active profiles on social media,especially @NuitDebout, tweeting in French; support and solidarity with the movement have aggregated around #nuitdebout. As of April 15, the movement has also started tweeting in English from @GlobalDebout.
2) The movement has explicitly drawn on French revolutionary heritage. In what is possibly the most direct homage to the French Revolution, the movement has created its own calendar, renaming days following March 31 (#31mars) as March 32 (#32mars), March 33 (#33mars), and so on. But the historical references go further. There is also a “fake” twitter account of Karl Marx, under the handle @Karl_Marx_1848, which has been retweeting a lot of news related to the movement. Although I cannot attest to its relationship with the movement, I find interesting that its Twitter bio reads: “Socialism, it’s me! It’s you! It’s us! 1789, 1793, 1848, 1871 Paris Commune, 1917, 1936, 1968, 2016? #32mars.” Although it is yet to see whether #NuitDebout will live up to its promises, in this blurb the movement is placed at the end of a long list of revolutionary moments, including the French Revolution, the Terror, the 1848 uprisings, the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the 1936 French strike wave and election of the Popular Front, and the protests of 1968. And 1968 indeed seems to be one of the most important references that activists and media have used to describe the movement.
3) The movement has been very active on social media, created a website and the radio and TV stations mentioned before, which livestream from Place de la République. Activists are also putting a great degree of work into a wiki, which functions as a coordination space, but also as an archive for the movement. A committee is dedicated, for instance, to taking minutes of the assemblées populaires and publishing them on the wiki. There is also a chat.
Interestingly, the wiki also hosts a list of recommended software for use by the movement, as well as detailed discussions – among the “digital committee” (commission numérique) – on how best to use digital technologies to help the movement sustain itself. The material is all in French, but there is a useful page listing media coverage, including material in English.
4) On April 14, the French President, François Hollande, held a televised town hall meeting called “Dialogues Citoyens,” which many argue was an attempt to regain credibility amidst this wave of protest. Nuit Debout activists attempted to hijack the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #MoiDebout, which was used by many to say what they would do if they were president. For instance, the official account of the movement, @NuitDebout, tweeted: “#MoiDebout, I would respond to terror through democracy, through openness and tolerance.” Others tweeted “I would ban tax havens,” “I would do leftist politics,” or “I wouldn’t sign the TAFTA.”
— Nuit Debout (@nuitdebout) April 14, 2016
5) To get a general overview of #NuitDebout, here are a few good articles in English:
- French ‘occupy’ protests in Paris ‘a pain in the neck’
- Could the #NuitDebout movement become France’s Indignados?
- France vows crackdown on any violence at La Nuit Debout protests
- France vows crackdown after rolling protest clashes
- In Paris, a Protest Movement Awakens
- Nuit debout protests are confirmation that France’s political system is broken
- The ‘Nuit debout’ protests could spawn a Podemos for France – but that’s not what demonstrators want
- @dwnews – France rocked by #NuitDebout protests
- #NuitDebout: a movement is growing in France’s squares
- The Spirit of Occupy Lives on in France’s Emerging Direct Democracy Movement
- « Nuit Debout » : citizens are back in the squares in Paris
Elisabetta Ferrari, Ph.D. Student, University of Pennsylvania