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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the massive strikes and demonstrations held in Paris and across France in May 1968. To this day, “May 68” is considered to be a cultural, social, and moral turning point in the history of France, and the events of that time had a resounding impact which was felt for decades afterwards.

Students in France were critical of the country’s outdated university system and dissatisfied with the lack of employment opportunities for recent graduates. Sporadic demonstrations for education reform began earlier in 1968, but on May 3rd a massive protest at the Sorbonne in Paris had to be broken up by the police, resulting in hundreds of arrests and dozens of injuries.

Following the protest, the Sorbonne was closed and classes cancelled, and students took to the streets surrounding the university (in Paris’s Latin Quarter) to continue their demonstrations. On May 6th, the Union National des Étudiants de France (UNEF) organized a march of more than 20,000 students, teachers, and their supporters. Protesters created barricades against the police charging with their batons, paving stones were hurled, and tear gas administered. According to estimates, over 500 protesters were arrested and 350 protesters and police injured.

On the night of May 10th, students set up barricades in the Latin Quarter and rioted, ending with close to 400 people in the hospital, more than half of which were police officers. Students called for radical changes to take place, and union leaders started planning strikes in support. In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Prime Minister Pompidou announced that the Sorbonne would reopen on May 13th.

Instead, on the 13th, students occupied the Sorbonne, turning it into a commune. Students and workers protested together in the streets, organized by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) and the Fource Ouvriére (CGT-FO), with estimates counting over a million marchers that day. Over the next several days things escalated dramatically. Strikes spread to other universities in France as well as labor unions, and by the end of the month a massive widespread strike had extended to factories and industries across France, shutting down newspaper distribution, air transport, and two major railroads. Millions of workers were on strike, up to 22% of the population of France at the time, and the country seemed to be on the brink of revolution.

On the night of May 24th, the worst fighting occurred. Students temporarily seized the Paris Stock Exchange, raised a communist flag, and tried to set it on fire. One policeman died during the riots. Over the next few days, Prime Minister Pompidou attempted to negotiate with union leaders but failed to end the strike. The most radical students called for revolution with a meeting of the UNEF on May 27th which gathered 30,000 to 50,000 people at Stade Sebastien Charlety. They wanted the government overthrown, but their radical demands lost the support of the union leaders.

On May 30th, President de Gaulle announced that he was dissolving the National Assembly and would be holding elections. His appeal for a return to law and order gained the support of the middle class, and the labor strikes were abandoned. Student protests continued until June 12, when protests were banned. Two days later, the students were evicted from the Sorbonne. Elections were held over two rounds at the end of June, and the Gaullists won a commanding majority. Concessions were made to the protesters, including higher wages and improved working conditions for laborers, and an education reform bill was passed to help modernize the French university system.

F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory two items dating from this period of upheaval and important change in Paris.

(Paris ’68)Collection of Leaflets Related to the 1968 Unrest in Paris. Group of approximately 200 original leaflets regarding the events of May 1968 in Paris, all originating from the “Press Office” located at the Sorbonne, dated from May and June 1968, most issued by the Comite d’Action Ouvriers Etudiants, primarily typed documents in French, some printed, including notices to their comrades and fellow students, memos, declarations, calls to action, notes on press conferences, and others, a few with cartoons or other drawings, some with ink or marker notations, overall excellent. Various sizes, mostly 4to. Sheets loose as issued, housed in an archival box. Paris 1968. (48892)

Action. Nos. 1 through 47 (7 May 1968- 3 June 1969) (all published). A complete run of 49 issues (including 2 unnumbered issues between nos. 38 and 39) of this panoramic documentation of the 1968 uprisings (issues ranging from 2 to 8 pp.), which covered events in the tumultuous year both in France and internationally with emphasis on happenings in Paris, including a wide range of articles, essays, reviews, etc., accompanied by a plethora of illustrations, including drawings, cartoons, caricatures, photographs, posters, etc. Nos. 4-20 and 23-41 large folio; nos. 1-3, 21-22, and 42-47 folio. Wrpps., all covers illustrated. Paris 1968-1969. (47080)

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The 1960s were a tumultuous time in history, both in the United States and around the world. The 1960s saw the Bay of Pigs, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., important strides in the Civil Rights Movement including the Greensboro sit-in and the Selma-to-Montgomery march, student protests and demonstrations, second-wave feminism, and the Vietnam War.

The Black Panther Party (originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) came into existence during those years of political protest and change, being founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton on October 15, 1966. The left-wing organization’s goals were the right to self-defense, better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans in the United States. They were greatly influenced by Malcolm X, and believed that violence or the threat of violence might be needed to help bring about change. Later they added a focus on community social programs including feeding impoverished children and opening community health clinics. However, their earliest activity was often tied up in violence.

Their core practice at the time was armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the activity and behavior of the Oakland Police Department and challenge police brutality. Party members would listen to police calls on a short-wave radio, rush to the scene of the arrest with law books in hand, and inform the person being arrested of their constitutional rights. They carried loaded weapons during these patrols which they displayed publicly, but were careful to not interfere with any arrests.

In 1967, the California legislature passed the Mulford Act, named for one of its authors Don Mulford, which repealed a law allowing the carrying in public of loaded firearms. The bill was written as a response to the Panthers’ armed patrols, which were later called “copwatching”. The media even dubbed it “the Panther Bill”. As a response, on May 2, 1967, the Panthers marched, bearing arms, upon the State Capitol to protest the bill. They carried loaded rifles and shotguns and entered the Capitol to read aloud Executive Mandate Number 1, which was in opposition to the Mulford Act. They tried to enter the Assembly Chamber but were forced out, and so read the mandate out on the lawn. The legislature’s response was to pass the bill, and the protest and media coverage helped catapult the Black Panther Party into the national spotlight and led to a huge growth in membership numbers. F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory a group of original press photographs taken during this 1967 protest.

Group of Black Panther Press Photographs. Eleven original press photographs documenting the 1967 Sacramento Black Panther Party armed protest against the Mulford Act and the ensuing court case, taken by Walter Zeboski, a former Associated Press photographer, with photographs showing members of the Black Panther Party on the steps of the California State Capitol, protesting inside the Capitol with guns raised, and on trial for felony charges stemming from the armed protest, six with original typed captions, one with hand-written notation to margin. Most sheets 8-1/8 x 11-3/4 in. Original loose photographs, housed in contemporary sheet protectors, some accompanied by original film negatives. N.p. (Sacramento, California) 1967.

Some of the figures identified in the photographs are Assemblyman Don Mulford, who sponsored the bill; Assemblyman Willie L. Brown, Jr.; Beverly Axelrod, a Sacramento attorney representing the Panthers; and Mark Comfort, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale, Black Panther Party members on trial. (48837)

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