Paris I met with three of the primary leaders of the Alliance Citoyenne, ACORN’s affiliate in France, in their church basement office in Aubervilliers, the low-and-moderate income suburb of Paris. These women were not only leaders of their local chapter, but on the national board and in one case a co-chair of the national organization. Did we talk about national politics, the upcoming presidential election, or the French upset over their submarine deal being usurped by the US and Australia? No indeed, we talked about the gentrification, urban renewal, or whatever any newly minted policy excerpt would call what is happening in Aubervilliers.
Even before finding the office, I could tell there was trouble coming for the community as I took the Metro, then RER B train, and finally the 173 bus to the Marie – Aubervilliers stop over 90 minutes from central Paris. I had visited the community many times before, but this was the first time where the last leg had been endless because of street construction. When I got off and walked across to the office, I could also see steps going down for a new Metro stop. Developers were on the march. Part of this surge is spurred by the upcoming Olympics several years from now. The swimming competition is slated for Aubervilliers. Another part, I learned quickly, is coming from a new mayor, elected last year from the conservative party after 26-years of leadership from the communist party. She’s propping the door wide open for wide scale demolition and development.
Several of the ACORN leaders were at the cutting edge of this fight. They lived in an 80-unit housing block that was a mix of unit-owners and inheritors from the original development and tenants or companies with multi-units who had bought from the original cooperative sellers. The complex was not without problems, including a four million euro estimate for needed repairs, but their fight had won over a million in public monies on upgrades already. Now they were facing what ACORN Canada has called dem-evictions which we have fought, sometimes successfully, in British Columbia particularly as well as with Hamilton ACORN. The city wants to demolish the property. The mayor even referred to the property as “ugly” somehow not fitting for her view of the future city. Trouble with a capital-T! The Olympics was being touted as a way to accelerate development in the area with the city officials promoting cheaper land than central Paris of course, and an aggressive urban removal plan in Saint Denis department which has been the refuge and now home for generations of new immigrants and workers from the Francophone world.
Our extensive conversation was quickly becoming a case study in the advantages of a global organization that can link information and campaign experiences from one country to another to meet the often-unchecked advance of monkey-see global capital. We’ll quickly have to link leaders in New Westminster and Hamilton with Aubervilliers to stop the bulldozers before they push people out of the city. We may be swimming upstream in the newly designed pool, but this race won’t be to the fastest, but to all of us who stay in the water the longest.