Dear Diary:  The "decroissance" march - Magny-Cours, Sunday July 3, 2005

Bob Thomson, Paris, July 5, 2005

On Saturday night July 2 and Sunday July 3, I had the opportunity to join the French "March for Degrowth" during the last leg of their journey from Lyon on June 7 to Magny-Cours in Burgundy on July 3, site of the French Formula 1 Grand Prix motor race, one of the ultimate symbols of waste in our hyper-industrialized society.

The degrowth march was launched by Francois Schneider, a French economist, who walked 1500 km across France from east to west and west to east in 2004, with his donkey Jujube, taking the time to talk about degrowth with citizens in dozens of towns and villages. I walked with José Bové and Serge Latouche, a Parisien Professor of Economics, and heard the short but punchy welcome of Albert Jacquard, the famous and aging French geneticist, with the sound of Formula One cars screaming around the track a short 2 kilometers away. Jacquard denounced the folly of driving at high speed in circles to get back to (or behind) where we started.

We followed (metaphorically at least) in the steps of Ghandi's 1930 Salt March for Indian independance from Engand, Martin Luther King's 1963 "I have a Dream" civil rights march on Washington, Commandante Marcos' 2001 Zapatista march for indigenous rights in Mexico and countless other demonstrations across the years, including perhaps even Christ's periginations through Galilee.

Romanticism aside, the thousand or so marchers represented a growing awareness in France and around the world, that we have to stop our wasteful industrialized consumption or face certain disaster within a few decades. Ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, with a suprising (at least to me) third or more of us over 40, we celebrated a diversity of world views centered on voluntary simplicity, our condemnation of waste and our fear for the near future.  We marched with our own means of survival - food, cutlery, water, camping equipment, maps,  - and without organizational or institutional symbols. Not having a tent, I slept under the stars with hundreds of others who showed their diversity by partying all night or crashing at 10 pm. The closest thing I saw to intolerance all weekend was for the guy who paraded around the site at 4 am with his flute, a full hour before the wake-up call. A very far cry from my daily bicycle commute in Paris, where Fraternité is dead and Liberté rules the streets in an egocentric, frenetic dance of the automobile, with absolutely no respect for anything but size and speed.

In addition to lying under the stars, at one point several dozens of us lay on the ground in a large field to spell out "STOP F1!" for the helicopters hovering over the race-track. There was lots of singing, chanting and sharing of stories. One group, the Church of Sacred Consumption, led us in satirical prayers to the gods of modernity and consumption. They were hilarious. On Saturday night, a group sat in a circle around José Bové and talked for hours about degrowth, French agriculture and a myriad of topics of concern to all. Since I'm reading Nino Ricci's Testament, it reminded me of a democratic version of the Sermon on the Mount.

While there was very little press coverage (two lines in Liberation and a bit of TV time I hear), it was great to spend 24 hours with 1000 like-minded people, to meet and talk to the leaders and the participants in the decroissance movement, to walk along canals and through the French country-side, to sleep under the stars and to feel part of something that is important and at the same time both very personal and very political.

For those of you interested in following the French decroissance movement, I'm including a few internet links below, as well as my page of photos of the march.                 

Serge Latouche, Would the West actually be happier with less? The World Downscaled
Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2003

Why Less Should Be So Much More: Degrowth Economics
Serge Latouche, Le Monde diplomatique, December 2004

Serge Latouche, "How do we learn to want less?", le Monde Diplomatique, January 2006

James Lovelock, "We are past the point of no return", Independent review, 16 January 2006

Bob's photos of the Degrowth March

Other photos of the march

Bob's Degrowth bibliography page