“Bleaughhh,” exclaimed Rich, spitting out the offending liquid. “That’s disgusting!”
We were in Vichy, France, sampling the famous healing waters, and Rich was finding this one — from a sulfur-rich hot spring said to keep the digestive system in superlative shape — too vile to swallow. “My stomach is fine as it is,” he assured me. “My taste buds, however, may never recover.”
Some weeks earlier, we’d decided to take a rail trip to France as a getaway from Seville’s magnificent, maddening celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week). Right now, in the run-up to Easter, the city is mobbed with a million visitors watching dozens of massive religious processions. A simple trip to the neighborhood market must be timed with military precision to avoid getting trapped behind processional lines, possibly for hours. I frequently find myself saying things like, “Rich, you don’t mind eating your breakfast cereal without milk, do you?”
Planning our getaway, it occurred to me that it might be fun to meet up with members of the new American Resistance movement along the way. People everywhere are coming up with innovative forms of protesting the president’s agenda, and I was curious about what Resisters were doing in France.
Our itinerary didn’t include the capital, but I spoke by phone with Resister Bob Vallier in Paris. “I’m from Flint, Michigan. And yes,” he added, the grin audible in his voice, “I know Michael Moore.” Having served as the secretary of Democrats Abroad France, an affiliate of the Democratic Party, Bob quit after the November election to become one of the co-organizers of Paris Against Trump. “The Democratic Party has some restrictions; it can’t organize demonstrations, although it can march in them, and it can’t work on French political issues. I wanted to stand up against Trump and [French alt-right presidential candidate] Le Penn.”
Bob’s activist plans include staging a “die-in” on Tax Day, April 15. “We’re going to lie on the ground with signs reading things like ‘Trump’s economic agenda killed me.’ It’s a stunt; it gets attention.” We discussed the worldwide March for Science on April 22. “Even if nobody is marching in your town,” he said, “you could stage a simple standing demonstration: get a few people together, dress up as scientists, hold protest signs. People would see you; the press would see you.” Hmmm, I thought. I do have this old white lab coat I use as a smock when I paint…
After arranging interviews with Resisters in Lyon and Avignon, Rich and I walked to the Seville train station and headed north. Our first stop was Barcelona, where we found a charming hotel above a bakery. In Toulouse we spent two long days in an art-theme hotel with this on the wall.
Our next two cities, Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand, both had museums dedicated to the French Resistance, and we felt we should pay our respects. Low-budget and slightly cheesy, they still managed to tell a compelling story.
One glass case displayed a small sign saying, “Il fallait choisir: collaborer, attendre ou résistir.” (It was necessary to choose: collaborate, wait or resist.) I’d read that the decision to join the French Resistance was usually highly personal; not surprisingly, seeing your father shot in the street or a friend sent to a concentration camp tended to be a powerful motivator. For some it was a deep visceral reaction to seeing tyranny replace freedom in their beloved homeland.
Two days later we met up with Diane Sklar and her husband, Craig Becker, Resisters from New York who live in Lyon where Diane teaches at a university. “After the election, I cried for a week,” she told me. “I couldn’t believe what had happened. Then I read an article called A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump. And I said to myself, ‘I have to learn how to talk to the rest of America.’ Then I thought, ‘I want to hear how the Democratic Party is changing.’ And then I decided to become part of that change.” Diane joined the new chapter of Democrats Abroad in Lyon. The group will join in the March for Science on April 22, and Diane, Craig, and their cat,Ted, were happy to get in on the #VirtualTaxMarch launched by American Resistance Sevilla.
A survey showed the Lyon group’s greatest concern is climate change. They’re not alone. When we met in Avignon with Dennis Shibut, he grew passionate about the topic.
“I’m a physicist,” he said. “Global warming is real, and it is going to make the earth extinct if we don’t do something. I joined the Democrats because they are the only party that believes in science.” Dennis is the outgoing chair of Democrats Abroad Avignon and a staunch believer that the first step is reducing our use of oil — ideally to zero. When I told him about our #VirtualTaxMarch, he was delighted this form of protest could be carried without the expenditure of a single drop of gasoline.
What do all these forms of protest accomplish? Do I really think our #VirtualTaxMarch or Bob’s Paris die-in will make the president reveal his tax returns? Probably not. But I am hoping they’ll make it just a bit more uncomfortable for him to avoid doing the right thing. And recent protests are clearly mobilizing lots of Americans. How does that help? Once you’ve mobilized for a protest, you’re less likely to stay home on election day. Among the many unpalatable things we’ve had to swallow lately — even worse than sulfurous Vichy water — is the fact that 92 million Americans didn’t bother to vote last November. I’m betting the number of no-shows will be a lot lower in 2020.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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