Revolution Now: Keep Robespierre’s Memory Alive!

Since launching this site in 2009, and more recently agreeing to co-host a session on the Popular Culture of Revolution for ASECS 2012, I am increasingly convinced that pop culture is where the action is. The scholarly action and the political action. I have seen an astounding improvement in classroom dynamics when allusions to films, advertising, and “real-life” scenarios are brought to bear on historical topics. The articles on the Marie-Antoinette pager, Coppola’s film, and the Dolce & Gabbana “Hot Baroque” line systematically draw more hits than any other on this site. (The wildly popular Bastille Day quiz was a rare opportunity to make Revolution relevant to the non-initiate.) In a society where people consult their phones more frequently than their fellows, and where the president requests citizens to “twitter” their representatives instead of joining hands in traditional protest action, is it any wonder that we are increasingly drawn to ponder the instantaneous cyber-effects of cultural action?
One curious by-product of this situation is the call launched by the group known as Friends of Robespierre to demand that a museum be constructed in honor of the Incorruptible in his one-time home in Arras.
Headed by Alain Cousin (webmaster of the group; not to be confused with Alain Cousin, Deputy of the Manche district), this group is surprisingly effective. To date, more than 500 internautes have signed on (including yours truly). This has considerably grown the paper petition campaign which wielded 473 signatures so far.
To join forces with the Friends of Robespierre and demand a museum in his honor, or to learn more about this group’s activities, click here.
To be continued!

Running on Hope

“Running on Empty” (1988) is a must-see for anyone pondering what it means to be political. Director Sydney Lumet treads a fine line in this story of antiwar activists who, despite their fugitive status because of an inadvertent crime committed in a napalm lab in 1971, remain committed to leading lives that matter. Although the film shows them uprooting their two adolescent boys from school and friends, and focuses on the story of the 18-year old son in particular to convey a message about the difficulty of letting go, this family unit is also strong, intact, and joyful. The parents are devoted to their children at the same time as they are devoted to the cause of democratic political activism. With each new move, the father in particular tries to keep on empowering the people he touches with a message of political activism. A poignant scene towards the end shows him forced to leave his small restaurant, wistful about the relationship established with his employees and the efforts he’d made to ensure that they earned a living wage in decent work conditions. In the scene featured here, the mother meets with her father after a long absence, admits how hard her life has been, and asks him for help. Running on empty? I think they’re also running on hope. As the emotionally tortured father (Judd Hirsch) reminds the guilt-stricken mother (Christine Lahti), “we are trying to make a difference.” Clearly, it’s hard to balance family and political action, and this couple takes the challenge to extremes. But it is rare to find an honest representation of that challenge in our popular culture. Kudos to Lumet for this brave portrait of radical activists who suffer the consequences of walking the talk.

Will activism save the trees of Les Halles?

On a recent trip to Paris, we returned to one of our favorite greenspaces, the garden of Les Halles, and were pleased to see that the trees which appeared endangered of succumbing to urban renewal in June 2009 (see photos) are still there. But their days are numbered. If Mayor Delanoë moves forward on plans for a new Forum des Halles, the trees will fall to make room for “improvements.” It will be interesting to see if the local activists can make the city planners realize what seems obvious to we ordinary people: these trees, this cool and living space, matter. They matter right now, every day. They matter to all of us who wander through, live nearby, or seek shelter in the shade. One need only visit the area on any sunny day to witness its significance for the population. What will it take for Paris to live up to an authentically environmental politics, and provide reliable, mature, and widespread greenspaces for its millions of inhabitants, as do London and New York? We applaud the participants of last weekend’s “vide grenier” in Les Halles, and second their efforts to save this garden. À bas les nouveaux bûcherons de Paris.


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