Chaos in France as pupils protest

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
As student anger spread and thousands took to the streets. Miranda Jessel, 16, kept a first-hand record of how the momentum grew at her Paris lycee - and how she saw her peer group learn to strike for their rights

Monday: Arriving at school - the Lycee Chaptal - we are given a leaflet telling us to go to the demonstration instead of lessons that afternoon. After asking around to see how seriously it is being taken, most people decide to go out of solidarity. It is a bit of a disappointment. It is badly organised, without any directions.

Tuesday: After normal lessons, pupils from a nearby school burst into the lycee yelling and creating chaos. Rumours fly; some say it's time to go on strike. I join a group of around 50 people in the school yard. We go to each classroom trying to convince pupils to leave, but few agree. Run around forthe next few hours and make posters.

Plan a meeting at 2pm and thankfully about 100 people turn up. Elect representatives and make a complete list of our grievances: too many people per class, no mock orals for our baccalaureat. Grievances differ from school to school but include overcrowded classes, overloaded curricula, teacher shortages, violence and lack of security, poorly-maintained buildings and obsolete equipment.) Half an hour into the meeting, 300 pupils from a nearby school arrive and encourage us to join in the demonstration. Pupils leave their classes to follow the crowd, but many stay. Give out leaflets for the rest of the afternoon about national demonstration in two days' time. Many seem keen though some still want to go to school that morning.

Wednesday: Normal classes until pupils from another lycee interrupt to tell us there is a demonstration in an hour and to get motivated. Three of us walk out and I decide to make the banners for tomorrow's strike and demonstration. Teachers are neutrally sympathetic.

Thursday: Get to school early to hang up the banners saying the school is on strike. All the same, the majority go to class. In the afternoon we head to the Place de la Nation - but hearing there's a riot there, we separate. Later we learn there were 28,000 demonstrating. After two hours we end up near the education ministry but the police won't let us continue the planned route. Sit down for an hour protesting but nothing will get us through. Our delegates get into the ministry but are turned away.

Friday: Organise another demo for this afternoon. Walk peacefully through Paris for two hours to show we're not all the casseurs (hooligans) who destroyed the Place de la Nation; we just want our educational rights.

Saturday: Normal lessons, but we're all waiting for next week. Hopefully our demands will be taken seriously, but an important change has already occurred in the way my lycee works: now we know that students are ready to strike for their rights.

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