This week, San Francisco, my city of birth, broke my heart, and Paris, my adopted home for most of the past seven years, saved it.
San Francisco is the heart of the American protest movements of the last 40 years. I was already marching there at five years old, my mom towing me along to demonstrate against the Vietnam War.
This week, in their different responses to China’s usurpation of the Olympic torch and spirit to try to mask its repression in Tibet and at home, the (gay) mayor of Paris, and his colleagues from across the political spectrum, gave the (politically straight) mayor of San Francisco a schooling in the meaning of liberty.
“I remain attached to the values of human rights and the true values of the Olympics, which cannot be separated from human rights,” Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said to explain Monday’s demonstrations against the Chinese possession of the torch, highlighted by mountain-climbers from Reporters without Borders scaling, sans rope, the Eiffel tower to implant a banner with a black background, the words “Peking 2008,” and the Olympic rings made up of handcuffs. (The remarks were reported by France 2 television, which also carried the harrowing first-hand footage of its cameraman being beaten into submission by police, his cries that he was press ignored.)
Meanwhile, legislators draped a banner calling for “Respect of Human Rights in China” over the Assembly’s ornate facade and broke out in “The Marseilles” when the torch passed. “Now we’ve done something so that no one can go to the Games and say I didn’t know,” said a senator from the governing right-wing UMP party.
Indeed, when the torch was finally snuffed out and hustled onto a bus, it was a Chinese official that did the snuffing — apparently he could not take the heat of liberty. (In China yesterday, Tibet’s Chinese-appointed governor warned that anyone disrupting the torch’s path through Tibet would be dealt with without mercy.)
In San Francisco, by contrast, reports today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Newsom outdid the Chinese by pulling a slight of hand on the thousands of his constituents and fellow citizens all set to exercise their rights of free speech. The supposed torch was shuffled into a pier building at the planned starting point of the torch run while, a mile or so away, the real torch started on a new route. In other words, the route was changed at the last minute.
Only Aaron Peskin, president of the city’s board of supervisors, saved my hometown’s civic pride, telling the Chronicle, “Gavin Newsom runs San Francisco the way the premiere of China runs his country — secrecy, lies, misinformation, lack of transparency and manipulating the populace. He did it so China can report they had a great torch run.”
A few years ago, Paris had its own, embarrassing run for the Olympics, plastering “Paris Loves the Games” and “Paris, Ville Candidate” advertising all over the city — even draped across the Eiffel tower — in its efforts to win the 2012 games. I say embarrassing because, well, Paris doesn’t need the Games to make it glamorous. On Monday, Paris finally liberated itself from the malaise that followed its not securing the games and got its groove back. The city that capitalized Liberation in 1944 gave a lesson on the subject to my hometown — and the world.
President Bush has just announced he will not boycott the Games opening ceremonies. Let’s hope President Sarkozy will take a lesson in courage from the Paris mayor and give a lesson in liberty to the world.