There are no words. That is the cliché. But, there have to be words. That is what yesterday’s attack was about. Silencing our words. Now is the time to cry out. Those who believe in the freedom of expression must shout that we will not be silenced. Mosques across France are calling out for prayers of peace.
There are so many words about yesterday’s events and the world we have created. But today I want to bring you with me to the Place de la République last night, where 35,000 Parisians gathered to show their profound respect for those assassinated and their beliefs.
Getting out of the metro, the quais were disturbingly deserted. I had been expecting a crowd. There was just the regular scene of commuters. Until I got to the exit, where armored CRS officers were directing everyone to use the exit at the other end of the station. That is where the crowd began. A person jam at the sortie, up the stairs and spilling on to the Place.
It had been very cold earlier in the day, but by evening the weather felt almost mild. The sky was an elegant dove grey with amber lights radiating form the buildings in gentle arcs. At 18h37 the place was packed but not quite a sardine tin. I started in the near a kiosk where five people were on chairs, each holding a human sized poster of a black and white portrait of the four victims who had been identified, the fifth person in the middle with a CharlieHedbo sign.
Weaving through the crowd, I made my way to the statue in of the Republique. There was a reason we were meeting here and not the Champs de Mars or the Hôtel de Ville, or an other large space in the city. We were not honoring war, or government, we were there in support of republican ideals, the ideals founded in ancient Greece, the French Republic established after the revolution.
It was a muted crowded, gathered for a minute of silence. As 19h approached, it was like having cotton in one’s ears, with only muffled conversations wafting by. Then there was silence. At 19h01 posters were unfurled from the statue and the crowd broke out into applause before shouting “Liberté d’expression”. These were quiet shouts. An oxymoron, and hard to describe, but most people had come to grieve and mourn and show the terrorist we were not terrified.
There were women with tears streaming down their faces, a young group holding electric panels spelling out “Not Afraid”. While we could not shout, there was a collective need to share a gesture. A group had brought paper lanterns that they lit and released, golden warmth soaring up to the heavens. People started pulling out their pens, holding them in the air, shouting in silence, “We are all Charlie”.
Today there is a call to light a candle in our windows for Charlie Hebdo. There is another gathering at the Place de la République, this time being held by the Mayor of Paris. And just now there was a moment of silence. I am writing this from my local café. The owner turned the lights off and the TV on to news station broadcasting the chimes of Notre Dame, ringing for the full 60 seconds as the chef stopped cooking and we all stood, honoring the words of Charbo, “I’d rather die standing then live on my knees.”