Monday, October 1, 2012

The Times They Were A'Changin'

"We are all Undesirables"

Across the doorway of the old village house in Le Sautel a crudely hung clothesline was strung. Suspended from it by tiny plastic clothespins were several boldly-colored graphic posters on flimsy paper. They each displayed an image and slogan in French. The first in line stated "Mai '68".  It was crayola red.  In the center of the clothesline a handwritten sign advertised the posters were 50 centimes each. 
 "I participate, you participate, he participates, we participate, you participate, they profit"

"To work now is to work with a pistol in your back"

In mid-May 1968, I was only weeks away from graduating high school.  I was 17.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated just the month earlier outside his motel room in Memphis Tennessee.  It was the day after his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address.  In a few weeks, Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy, Jr. would be assassinated.  Every day, American troops were being killed in Vietnam.  In late August in Chicago, I would witness National Guard soldiers bearing weapons with fixed bayonets in Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention.  The times they were a'changin'.

 "When the parents vote, the children suffer"

"PRESS--Do Not Swallow"

I stared at the "Mai '68" poster and knew there must be a story behind it.  I made my way behind the table of other items for sale at the vide grenier to have a closer look.  Laying on the stone wall, I discovered a cardboard folder containing additional posters with a rock sitting on top to keep the wind from blowing them away.  As I sifted through the folder, I began to realize that these posters were not for entertainment.  Their message was not subtle, nor polite.  But my rudimentary translations do not include street slang or colloquial expressions.  I knew I was missing the point because I did not know the context.

 "Free Information"

"Be Young and Shut Up"

A gentleman about my age was sitting under the posters in front of the doorway.  I asked him what was "Mai '68".  In a very accented reply, he was obviously shocked when he replied "You do not remember Mai '68?"  I scrambled for an answer, offering something about the Vietnam War.  He pointed to his partner, a woman about my age, who attempted to enlighten me about the May1968 Paris protest riots. 

 "Order Reigns"

"Fascist Vermin---Civic Action"

I do not in any way attempt to encapsulate the scope and breadth of the 1968 Paris riots in this blog.  There are numerous internet links you can source out if you are so interested.  But the 10 posters that I purchased at the vide grenier that day are reproductions from that time.  It is important to realize, however, that during the course of these protests, more than 10 million (10,000,000) French workers were on strike.  That was approximately 22% of the entire work force. They brought the French government to a standstill.  Charles de Gaulle feared for his safety and fled to Germany. The protest initially began at a Paris university.  A group of artists, the Atelier Populaire, then occupied the Ecole des Beaux Arts and took over the printing studios. The result of their movement between workers and artists were a series of street art posters which were credited anonymously and not individually.

"Return to Normal"

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