Today is le 14 juillet, the date on which France celebrates its liberation from a tyrannical (or at least breathtakingly clueless and inept) monarchy.
“Bastille Day” was a significant turning point in France’s history, bien sûr. But what many people don’t know is that it was also the birthday of a most curious French pastime: protesting.
I’ve often marveled at the French penchant for protesting. Joining the European Union? Protest. Tax reforms? Protest. Change in retirement age? Protest, protest, PROTEST!!!
Here’s one protest I accidentally joined last September.
But it wasn’t until last night that I thought about the origins of this cultural habit. It’s deeply rooted in history, as it turns out.
On July 14, 1789, an angry mob stormed the dreaded Bastille with two simple, almost comical demands: “Surrender the fortress. And give us your weapons.”
Two of the assailants were invited in for a chat. But the negotiations dragged on and the mob grew restless. By 5:30 p.m., the mob had rushed the fortress and liberated its prisoners (seven inmates, in all: four counterfeiters, two madmen, and an arrogant young aristocrat who had been sent there by his father).
Anyway … the peasants’ successful siege taught the French some important lessons. First, don’t keep a mob waiting. And second, never underestimate the power of a few committed people working toward a common goal.
As my friends in France gather tonight to watch the fireworks, I hope they’ll remember that second lesson. A few committed people—working together—really can overcome seemingly impossible odds.
Vive la France. Et vive la révolution!