Grenoble I had spent most of the day in meetings about organizing a domestic workers union in Morocco and expanding the Alliance to Paris, Lyon, and beyond, but there was a chance to watch a mini-action in one of the newer groups involving a meeting organized by the Mayor of Grenoble. The head organizer of Alliance Citoyenne, Solene Compingt, and I literally ran for the bus from the office across town to the school auditorium where the public meeting was being held.
Ostensibly the meeting was designed to get the neighborhoods input or reaction to a redevelopment plan on a specific social housing or public housing project that was on the block for demolition and rebuilding. The Mayor arrived as did the head of the Grenoble office of social housing. City workers were scurrying around in preparation and readiness. A PowerPoint was projected onto the wall at the bottom of the banked auditorium. People kept trickling in until there were perhaps one hundred in attendance at least a quarter of whom were from the Alliance local chapter. The organizer, Emerick Champagnon, was moving from clump to clump to talk to members after they held a short preparation meeting on the sidewalk outside before coming into the auditorium.
The PowerPoint was brief with only two or three slides, spelling out the goals, objectives, timeline and promises of the redevelopment. Quickly, the questions started flying for over an hour as various residents tried to cross the moat and throw themselves against the wall of the city’s strangely constructed fort around the project. The state was funding the project in a partnership of sorts, it was clear, but nothing was clear about what the Mayor really hoped would come from the meeting. On the city’s part there seemed no clear agenda other than to check the box off that said “public meeting,” live through it, and get to dinner by 8pm. After they gave a brief explanation of the project whenever asked a question they pushed the decision over to the state and to every exhortation from numerous speakers in the crowd they resisted any involvement in the meeting with the state by the residents, insisting that they were best able to negotiate in their various interests: a classic “no win” strategy. And, no-win for anyone. The Mayor or his aides had constructed a dead end canyon and for the organizers and members there were few options other than to keep riding around in circles in the ravine.
What to do? There was no choice but to organize the members to attend since it was a public meeting on an important issue to the group organized by what should have been a decision maker. Members would have attended individually, if there had not been a collective action to do so. The Alliance questions were organized, but as the information was presented it was impossible to fabricate democratic demands that would resonate with all of the members on the spot, so the organizer in the after meeting wrap up briefing is left trying to offer options for the frustration to be channeled to the next steps the group could take. Not sure that’s what the Mayor had in mind by organizing the meeting in the first place or stonewalling when it happened. They were a classic picture of public officials absorbing the punches in boredom as they resolutely resisted either moving to respond or making a plan to move forward. They were just marking time it seemed. I would bet the group will now leapfrog the Mayor and go straight to the state, complicating the matters even further. While the Mayor has attempted to strengthen his bargaining position, he has likely eroded it.
Solene commented to me as we walked into the night that she “hates these kinds of actions.” How could it be otherwise? A public meeting that makes a mockery of public participation while pretending to be designed for public input is a rat maze, not a merry-go-round, pleasing no one, and adding to the trials and tribulations of life and work of local group organizers everywhere.