French Students Protest to Support Undocumented Families

On November 7, in Paris I walked right into a large student protest in support of undocumented students and their families. Hundreds of high school students were marching up a major street when I ran over to join them. They chanted, “We are all children of immigrants! 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation!” “What do we want? Papers! For who? Everyone! When? Now!”

A couple of undocumented students, Leonarda Dibrani and Khatchik Kachatryan, were recently expelled from school and deported with their families over their immigration status. In response, over the last several weeks thousands of students have shut down and walked out of dozens of schools in solidarity with undocumented students. They’re demanding an end to expulsions and deportations, and for the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, to resign. I’m visiting family here for a month, and had been hoping to document one of these protests since it’s a big issue in the local news. Fortunately, I bumped right into one of the protests, but sadly I had no battery left to take pics or video!

A multiracial group of teenagers led and participated in this militant march. They held hands to shut down major intersections for the marchers to pass. I asked one of the young folks where they were going and he said “Place de la Republique.” I asked him if the march was going to end there and he shook his head… “It’s going to begin there!” Turns out this was just one of several feeder marches. Students walked out of schools around the city and marched to a central meetup point where folks chanted and rallied for an hour before the big march kicked off.

“To those who want to expel students – how do we respond? Resistance! We can’t hear you – Resistance!” “We’re angry students and we won’t be taken advantage of!” These chants actually rhyme and sound good in French.

Probably about a thousand students marched through the streets in total. The age range seemed to be o twelve to seventeen years old, with some students looking like they were as young as 10 participating. There were no adult chaperones pulling strings. The youth here are organized, militant, and politically smart, members of student unions and civic associations. The leadership and the crowd in general was racially diverse. Women and men all led chants and songs with a dozen megaphones to rally the troops, and two trucks pulled booming sound systems. The students were serious, but also having a hell of a lot of fun. Banners, flags, and stickers suggested that politicians should be deported instead of undocumented families.

We marched for an hour and a half, taking up all lanes of a huge boulevard while hundreds of cops in riot gear followed behind, receiving occasional middle finger greetings from the angry and rebellious youth. People on the sidewalks looked on, snapped pics, and the young ones joined the march. There was a small “black bloc” presence of guys who – other organizers warned the crowd – were “just there to start shit.” Nothing got broken today and people jumped with energy all the way to the end (or what was supposed to be the end) of the march.

Then I joined hundreds of students as we ran through a giant subway station, banging on the walls, screeeaaaaming! We all jumped over the turnstiles and I waited for my train across the platform from where a large group of students waited for a train to their next stop – still chanting and screaming. As their train pulled up, they all banged on the windows screaming, startling the silent passengers inside. The doors opened. They all squeezed onto the train, jumping up and down, still screaming. “We are all children of immigrants! 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation!” “Are you tired? We’re not tired! Are you tired? We’re not tired!”

Revolution is cool here. Movements hold politicians and police accountable. Parts of the city and the country are regularly shut down by grassroots groups when they feel their human rights are being undermined. Youth power is palpable.

The students today moved on to the next stop and later challenged riot cops who tried to block them from entering another major train station.