The Storming of the Champs Elysees

We’re pedalling into the Parisian night to the Bike Train rendezvous at Porte de Maillot, anarchically regrouping at the head of Avenue de Grande Armee and reuniting with our Pied Piper beats. There’s music pumping, whistles tooting, and cries of “Justice Climatique”, as we take over 2 of the 4 lanes, and the joy of defiance fills the air (much to the bemusement of the Parisian pedestrians and motorists).

The Arc de Triomphe is a blur, but we all somehow come through it together unscathed and hit the shopper thronged Champs Elysees with its twinkling Christmas lights.

Paul Powlesland pic of ADT

Paul Powlesland’s pic

The policeman winks, smiles and waves me on. “We’ve done it”, I think, “they’re letting us through”. Five seconds later, Darth Vader’s henchmen are marching out robotically, blocking our passage. Le Grande Armee of glitterfaced, hi-vis cycling climate activists stop and raise their arms in unison. It’s all a little too surreal and sci-fi for words!

I have a strong urge and a moment of opportunity to bolt. I choose not to. The raising of the arms is a powerful symbolic moment. Although it could be construed as a gesture of surrender, it feels more like an ideological stand not only for climate justice, but also for peace.

We’re herded into the belly of the beast and kettled by padded action men with guns. It’s a waiting game, and the elders hover tentatively on the perimeters whilst the young people dance.

The kettle boils for about 30 minutes, but the 2.44 minutes of Bob Marley’s One Love is all I really recollect with any clarity. Never underestimate the emotional power of music. Like a shifting polar ice shelf, my fears and anxieties melt away, and I cease to give a shit about what what these dystopic beings do to me. It’s probably worth it! And with his lightsaber of love, Bob’s using the force on the Dark Side too; the padded shoulders are lowering, the shiny leather boots are tapping, and a few smiles crack across the face of authority.

Negotiations are afoot, and suddenly we’re off again on the understanding that we use only 1 traffic lane, have a police escort and disband soon after Place de la Concorde. It’s a victory of sorts. Under the State of Emergency, the authorities have compromised but still managed to stamp a degree of control over our protest. In reality, they had little alternative as arresting 100 peaceful cyclists would have been not only time consuming but could potentially have ignited a very ugly weekend. The 2 activists who ran with us trying to warn us of the police presence ahead fared less well and were subject to manhandling and body searches. One, of Algerian descent, was found in possession of a stinkbomb which was promptly activated into his shoe.

Oblivious to this, we’re off, noisy and jubilant; cycling, chanting, whistling and smiling our way to Place de la Concorde with our police escort corking the road for us. We dismount for a celebratory gathering in the middle of this huge traffic island. The banners are out, and there’s dancing, hugging, chanting, and euphoria in abundance. We know another world is possible. Even in this city besieged by terror and repression, we can feel her.

On the last leg, cycling to the hostel, I hit what marathon runners call “the wall”. The adrenaline is all gone. I can’t speak. I’m in Central Paris but my brain is unable to process any external information. I retreat into myself and focus solely on the physicalities of keeping my legs moving until we reach sanctuary. “After all, tomorrow is another day”.


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