Monday, January 12, 2015

Paris 2015 - Je Suis Charlie

The holiday lights are still twinkling in the streets of Paris, but our first four days in the city have been somber indeed. On the morning of our departure, we awoke to the news that gunmen had killed 12 people, including two police officers, in an attack on the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose offices are located not far from our apartment. The next day a policewoman was killed in a related attack and the day after that, four people were killed in a hostage-taking situation in a kosher supermarket.

There are many issues brought to the fore by these attacks: freedom of the press versus civility and respect for others; anti-semitism; backlash against immigrants; and a government's ability to protect its citizens from extremists bent on terrorism. Different people, in France and around the world, have divergent opinions on how this latter can be achieved.  

On Sunday, however, a crowd of almost 4 million people, along with 40 world leaders took to the streets of France to demonstrate the values that unite them rather than those that divide them. In Paris alone, the crowd was estimated at 1.7 million people. JR and I and a group of our friends were among them. 

As we set out for the Place de la République, the starting point of the march, we knew immediately that the turnout was huge. All the streets leading to République from every direction were blocked with people. We joined the throngs on one of the many broad boulevards that lead to the square, but could see nothing of it from our vantage point.  What we could see were thousands and thousands of people, many holding signs that read: Je suis Charlie. The slogan, "I am Charlie," has become a symbol of solidarity in France. Two women in front of us carried a sign that that seemed to speak for all.  It read: "We are Charlie; We are Police; We are Jewish; We are women; We are Muslim; We are French; We are human; We are not afraid." 

 We stood for a while without moving until some marchers near the square realized that it was blocked. From behind us like a wave came the command passed from person to person to turn around and march in the other direction. "A La Bastille, "some people cried. Smiling, the crowd turned and began moving in the most orderly fashion toward the Place de la Bastille.  There the press of people trying to make their way to the many small streets that encircle the square was almost suffocating.  But, with an orderliness that marked the whole day, there was no pushing, shoving or harsh words. 

We lost track of a couple of our friends, but eventually, we spilled into a side street and marched onward to the Place de la Nation, the ending point of the rally.  Police helicopters flew overhead and 2,200 police and military personnel were stationed on the streets and rooftops. When a group of vans loaded with Police Nationale passed by, marchers up and down the route clapped and cheered for them. Our friend Claude, a veteran of many a Paris street protest said: "This has got to be the first time in history that the cops have been applauded by the demonstrators!"

It took us almost four hours to cover just three or four kilometers, but finally we reached the Place de la Nation. As we turned to make our way home, there were still uncountable thousands marching toward the square. Night had fallen, but the lights of Paris and the courage of its people illuminated the city. 

To see more photos, click here.

A bientôt,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Thank you. You walked for all of us here. Thia

  2. Grazie Geraldine.Yesterday I was with CAI at 5 Terre, but I had my pencil visible on my shirt. We discussed a lot but we did agree that we would like to be in Paris, Place de la Republique.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this amazing experience. What solidarity! My perspective is from what I read in the NYT and hear on NPR. Angie

  4. Have been wondering if you were in Paris and okay. Glad to hear you are well and writing. Sometimes the violence, tribalism, and intolerance makes my head hurt. It seems to me that the world is big enough for more than one "truth" but that there are a few absolutes as well. First do no harm is one of them.

  5. Paul forwarded your newsletter. Beverly has been wondering how you both were.

  6. We did not know if you were in Paris yet, but our hearts were with you and all the people who marched on Monday. Thank you for being our feet on the ground as the people of France showed their solidarity after such horrific violence. Karen


Thanks for your comments.