Since Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park, the occupation of public space has imposed itself as the Left’s globally favoured mode of confrontation with the standing political order. The most recent example – the ‘Nuit Debout’ (‘Up All Night’) movement in France – captured public attention at the end of March in the midst of a new tranche of government austerity reforms, showing a stamina through the following weeks that surprised most observers. During long nightly assemblies, the country’s public squares become democratic agoras where people air their grievances with the political system. Nurses, theatre workers, taxi drivers, railway and postal employees, sans papiers, fast-food employees, pilots and airline workers, immigrants, university and high-school students and union leaders are just a small sample of the people who have come to speak at Nuit Debout meetings throughout France in April and May. These serve as the launch pad for various actions – occupations of theatres, cinemas, banks and supermarkets, protests against business leaders, delegations sent to support striking railway workers, leafleting sorties outside factories – and hear reports from ‘commissions’ discussing everything from the protest vote, art and libraries to France’s colonial legacy in Africa. As a rallying point for different Left currents, Nuit Debout offers a fresh opportunity to measure the potential, and the limits, of contemporary challenges to official politics.
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