Development Issues

Critical Thinking about the World’s Development

Be young and shut up? Youth Uprisings: from 1968 to 2005

Be young and shut up?

Youth Uprisings: from 1968 to 2005


The Hague, 09/Nov/2005 | By Rui Mesquita Cordeiro |

Thirty seven years after French student riots in Paris (May 1968), new riots take place in France. 

May 1968 represented a great historic point for social movements in Europe and the whole world. Youth, as students, started an insurrection in France that quickly gained force and for little did not take revolutionary proportions. It started with protest for “the closure and the threatened expulsion of several students”[1] at the University of Paris at Nanterre. This generated students’ strikes through universities and schools, and soon it became also a worker’s strikes, all over France, stopping from half to two-thirds of French workforce at the time. 

They were calling attention for something wrong happening in the world: personal frustration, wars, unemployment, poverty, inequality and others (see what was shown in slogans and graffiti by the end of this document)

Peaceful students’ and worker’s strikes soon became violent, after state (through police) intervention in occupied university and workplaces, under de Gaulle orders. But instead of controlling the riots, state intervention helped to sensitise others to join protests and strikes. 

Art played a very import role in 1968 riots. It was a youthful way to protest against what was wrong. Many posters, like the ones used in this paper, represent the artistic and peaceful youth movement. 

The movement gave space to discussion about development and freedom. Around the same historical moment, others new player movements were also taking place. John Friedman[2] (1992: 1) talks about “the new social movements of ecology, peace and women” and the “Paris student uprising of May 1968” as part of the origins of Alternative Development thinking.

 History seems to be ironic. Or so are human beings.

 After 37 years, the same problems are still in place: personal frustration, wars, unemployment, poverty, inequality. Not only in France, but worldwide. After two young French died on 27 October 2005, new youth riots starts over Paris and France. The deaths happened after a police chase or a “tragic misunderstanding”[3], according to French authorities.

The dead young men were French citizens, but sons of immigrants. They used to live in the suburbs of Paris, and as many immigrants and decedents, excluded from the same social life that is common for “pure” French citizens.

That was enough to reveal again the youth voice that was hidden under the curtains of our world social structure. And new youth riots started again, over days and weeks in France!

And like in 1968, this time it was only started by youth. It is not only this suburban youth which is suffering of exclusion, but also their families and adults neighbours. Quickly it is becoming a riot in partnership among youth and other excluded, basically muslins and immigrants.

Mr. de Villepin, French Prime Minister, has copied Mr. de Gaulle in 1968, and asked police intervention, what again only stimulated further protests. I wonder whether french authorities remember or not their own history. As a direct result of police intervention, youth protests quickly are spreading over Paris and in many other cities in France, where immigrant population suffers of similar problems. Even other rich countries in Western Europe started to fear that similar youth riots could also take place there, given the social problems.

All over the world, similar social and economical problems generate youth restlessness and further action. But it is only in times of crises, when youth tries to use some hard power instead of their usual soft power, that media and governments pay attention to youth action, manifestation and initiatives. And the worse is that it’s always labelling youth as bad persons, productive less, vagabonds and anarchists (in the wrong meaning of this word).

There are lots of youth organisations, all over the world, addressing and stressing many different issues in society. They use their soft power all the time to fight inequalities. And like in 1968 they are also using art to deliver their message. Have you ever heard the real Hip-Hop expression?

When is the adult world stopping to really listen the youth? There is an inter-generational conflict installed since a long time ago. We just close our eyes to it!

Youth can bring very good answers. Actually they bring answers! Take a look on the websites below and be surprised with the quantity and quality of grassroots work youth is leading all over the world. Some of these websites have the same intention of the 1968 posters. Be aware that the great majority of the current youth organisations do not maintain website on the internet. This is just a simple and small sample of the whole greater picture.

Latin America: 

North America: 




Youth is not shutting up! Youth is speaking up! And it is bringing alternative forms of development and hope for society. But it seems that the adult world is not interested and consequently not partnering with youth to (re)build the present.

A tension is installed and from time to time it just blows up! That’s what is happening again in France, an explosive mixture of social injustice and intergenerational tension.

Both riots did not happen because youth is violent, but because the world is unfair. Much more violent were/are politicians and their greed. They created wars and the current unequal social structure we have.

And how about the future? How many riots like these we still need to wait in the future? The turbulence in France will pass, but what about injustice? Will it too?

Youth uprisings of 1968 changed French and western societies in many ways: culturally, sexually, intellectually and even politically.

Will this new youth upraise of 2005 change society again somehow? Will we realise that the biggest challenge and problem we face today in our planet is inequality? This is what youth is claming now! Will we listen to them?

I believe we (as society) have two paths to follow: listen youth through their soft power or through their hard power. Which one we choose, will give us very different consequences.


Slogans and graffiti one could see on French streets and posters in May 1968[4]:


L’ennui est contre-révolutionnaire.

Boredom is counterrevolutionary.

Pas de replâtrage, la structure est pourrie.

No replastering, the structure is rotten.

Nous ne voulons pas d’un monde où la certitude de ne pas mourir de faim s’échange contre le risque de mourir d’ennui.

We want nothing of a world in which the certainty of not dying from hunger comes in exchange for the risk of dying from boredom.

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié ne font que se creuser un tombeau.

Those who make revolutions by halves do but dig themselves a grave.

On ne revendiquera rien, on ne demandera rien. On prendra, on occupera.

We will claim nothing, we will ask for nothing. We will take, we will occupy.

Plebiscite : qu’on dise oui qu’on dise non il fait de nous des cons.

Plebiscite: Whether we say yes or no, it makes chumps of us.

Depuis 1936 j’ai lutté pour les augmentations de salaire. Mon père avant moi a lutté pour les augmentations de salaire. Maintenant j’ai une télé, un frigo, une VW. Et cependant j’ai vécu toujours la vie d’un con. Ne négociez pas avec les patrons. Abolissez-les.

Since 1936 I have fought for wage increases. My father before me fought for wage increases. Now I have a TV, a fridge, a Volkswagen. Yet my whole life I’ve been a chump. Don’t negotiate with the bosses. Abolish them.

Le patron a besoin de toi, tu n’as pas besoin de lui.

The boss needs you, you don’t need him.

Travailleur: Tu as 25 ans mais ton syndicat est de l’autre siècle.

Worker: You are 25, but your union is from the last century.

Veuillez laisser le Parti communiste aussi net en en sortant que vous voudriez le trouver en y entrant.

Please leave the Communist Party as clean on leaving as you would like to find it on entering.

Je suis marxiste tendance Groucho.

I am a Marxist of the Groucho tendency.

Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible.

Be realistic, ask for the impossible.


On achète ton bonheur. Vole-le.

Your happiness is being bought. Steal it.

Sous les pavés, la plage !

Beneath the cobblestones, the beach!

Ni Dieu ni maître !

Neither God nor master!

Godard : le plus con des suisses pro-chinois !

Godard: the biggest of all the pro-Chinese Swiss assholes!

Soyons cruels !

Let us be cruel!

Comment penser librement à l’ombre d’une chapelle ?

How can one think freely in the shadow of a chapel?

À bas la charogne stalinienne ! À bas les groupuscules récupérateurs !

Down with the Stalinist carcass! Down with the recuperator cells!

Vivre sans temps mort – jouir sans entraves

Live without dead time [ie. work-time] – enjoy without chains.

Il est interdit d’interdire.

It is forbidden to forbid.

Dans une société qui a aboli toute aventure, la seule aventure qui reste est celle d’abolir la société.

In a society that has abolished all adventures, the only adventure left is to abolish society.

Et cependant tout le monde veut respirer et personne ne peut respirer et beaucoup disent ” nous respirerons plus tard. ” Et la plupart ne meurent pas car ils sont déjà morts.

Meanwhile everyone wants to breathe and nobody can breathe and many say, “We will breathe later.” And most of them don’t die because they are already dead.

L’émancipation de l’homme sera totale ou ne sera pas.

The liberation of humanity will be total or it will not be.

La révolution est incroyable parce que vraie.

The revolution is incredible because it’s real.

Je suis venu. J’ai vu. J’ai cru.

I came. I saw. I believed.

Cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi !

Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!

Il est douloureux de subir les chefs, il est encore plus bête de les choisir.

It’s painful to submit to our bosses; it’s even stupider to pick them.

Un seul week-end non révolutionnaire est infiniment plus sanglant qu’un mois de révolution permanente.

A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of permanent revolution.

Le bonheur est une idée neuve.

Happiness is a new idea.

La culture est l’inversion de la vie.

Culture is the inversion of life.

La poésie est dans la rue.

Poetry is in the street.

L’art est mort, ne consommez pas son cadavre.

Art is dead, don’t consume its corpse.

L’alcool tue. Prenez du L.S.D.

Alcohol kills. Take LSD.

Debout les damnés de l’Université.

Arise, wretched of the University.

Même si Dieu existait il faudrait le supprimer.

Even if God existed he would have to be suppressed.

SEXE : C’est bien, a dit Mao, mais pas trop souvent.

SEX: It’s okay, says Mao, but not too often.

Je t’aime! Oh! dites-le avec des pavés!

I love you! Oh, say it with cobblestones!

Camarades, l’amour se fait aussi en Sc. Po, pas seulement aux champs.

Comrades, people are making love in the classrooms, not just in the fields.

Mort aux vaches!

Death to the cows (police)!



  Note:  All pictures were taken from Mark Vallen’s “Art for a Change” website:


[1] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Events of May. | 09 November 2005

[2] Friedman, John. Empowerment: The Politics of Alternative Development. Cambridge MA: Blackwell, 1992.

[3] BBC News. The deaths that set Clichy ablaze. | 06 November 2005

[4] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Slogans and graffiti from May 1968. | 09 November 2005

9 November, 2005 - Posted by | Governance, Youth

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