“Be realistic, demand the impossible” From a time when architects DID change the world.
If you were walking the streets of Paris this month 40 years ago, chances are you would be completely caught up and participating in a time that has since changed French society forever.
Then, France was on the verge of a total revolt with 12 million workers on strike, 122 factories occupied, and millions of students fighting for a radical change in the way the world was working. A spark that boldly called for revolution and dreamed of an end to capitalism appeared to come out of nowhere. Its ripples sparked further questioning and action in other parts of the world including our own little island.
Ultimately, Paris ’68 did not succeed, but that’s not to say that the spark has been fully quelled or, indeed, that it wont boldly appear again in what are still troubled times.
From this explosion of direct action, self control and organisation of space, erection of and life behind barricades, experiments in mass participative democracy and violent confrontation with the powers, new ideas formed and are still forming about how our world works, what alternatives are more desirable and what has to be done to bring these dreams about.
In Ireland the spark seemed to ignite on an already quietly kindling Derry, which directly led to a bitter and bloody 30 year confrontation. The Paris flame was later felt in Dublin’s universities where again students occupied and fought for change, if albeit to a lesser extant then their French comrades. An interesting thing to note is how art and culture played a significant part in these days of action, from the Situationists’ ideas, films, posters, actions in Paris to sometime later, the Free Derry Fleadh with a legendary 23 non stop music session with Luke Kelly and the Dubliners to Tommy Makem’s “4 green fields”.
Today in Barcelona and many other places, May ’68 is being remembered, old films footage of street riots is being shown in cinemas, political spaces are again facilitating dialogue between activists from yesterday and today. This is just a little reminder, that the spark is still alive and kicking…
From Paris ’68 to where?
Paris ‘68 It began when university students in Paris occupied the area of the Sorbonne and Nanterre universities in response to a dispute over visiting rights to a female students’ dormitory. The protests grew into a call for wider university reforms and greater personal freedoms that led to three weeks of mass demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest heavy-handed police treatment. In a show of solidarity, ten million workers, or roughly two-thirds of the French workforce, went on strike. It marked the biggest general strike in French history.
Ireland ‘68 Derry Inspired by the growing call for civil rights by Martin Luther King and the blacks in the United States, Catholics in Derry started to organise themselves peacefully for change. The city on the edge was on the border of Northern Ireland and was unjustly maintained in a state of apartheid against the catholic “Irish” nationalist community.
In March 1968, a small number of radicals in the city founded the Derry Housing Action Committee, with the intention of forcing the government of Northern Ireland to change their housing policies. They used “direct action” such as blocking roads and invading local council meetings in order to force them to house Catholic families who were on council's housing waiting list for a long time. By the summer of 1968, this group had linked up with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and was agitating for a broader programme of reform within Northern Ireland.
In May, news went out around the world what kicked off in Paris, what it could achieve… it showed the times were changing. Perhaps this gave more hope to Derry that change was possible, but also showed what levels the powers will use to quell such demands for change.
“The Troubles” On October 5 1968, a civil rights march in Derry, the Royal Ulster Constabulary "booted and bludgeoned" a crowd of teachers and clerics off the streets. In response, two thousand students from Queens University marched to City Hall to protest the brutality. These students were then rerouted and blocked by the police, an event that catalyzed the formation of the country's most dynamic student movement, People's Democracy.
On October 5, 1968, activists organised a march through the centre of Derry. However, the demonstration was banned and when the marchers defied this ban they were batoned by the RUC. The RUC's actions were televised and caused widespread anger in nationalist circles. The following day, 4000 people demonstrated in solidarity with the marchers in Guildhall Square in the centre of Derry. This march passed off peacefully, as did another demonstration attended by up to 15,000 people on November 16. However, these incidents proved to be the start of an escalating pattern of civil unrest that culminated in the events of August 1969….
Beyond ‘68, Free Derry and the battle of the bogside… On 1 January 1969,a group of students in Queen's University Belfast, called People's Democracy, organized a march from Belfast to Derry in support of civil rights. They started out with about forty young people on 1 January 1969. The march met with violent opposition from anti-civil rights counter-demonstrators at several points along the route. Finally, at Burntollet Bridge, five miles outside Derry, they were attacked by a mob of about two hundred wielding clubs, some of them studded with nails, and stones. The police, who were at the scene, failed to protect them. Dozens of marchers were taken to hospital. The remainder continued on to Derry where they were attacked once more on their way to Craigavon Bridge before they finally reached Guildhall Square, where they held a rally. Rioting broke out after the rally. Police drove rioters into the Bogside, but did not come after them.
This was officially the start of Derry's "Troubles" and around this time the internationally renowned image "You Are Now Entering Free Derry" mural was established.
Dublin '68 : the gentle revolution
You can listen to excellent half hour radio show: What if Irish Students in the 1960's had been more radical. with Guests: Margaret McCurtain and Jim Lockhart
Architect students played a main part in this call for change, primarly out of working for better housing conditions.