Yes to liberty, no to fear

This sign hung outside of Lycée Bourdan where I work.

This sign’s message translates to, “Yes to liberty. No to fear.” It hangs outside of Lycée Bourdan where I work.

People thrust pencils and pens into the air as a fine rain fell on the crowd. Even in the darkness, “Je suis Charlie” was visible on shirts, coats, and banners.

On Thursday, a rally for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack took place in my town. A few hundred people came, which is a lot for somewhere the size of Guéret, and attendees stood for a moment of silence in front of city hall, still decorated with white Christmas lights. It was a stirring show of solidarity for the victims and for liberty.

This demonstration is one of three that have taken place in Guéret since the attacks in Paris.

The French people feel shaken, to say the least, by the events of last week. The changes are even visible in my sleepy town. My lycées don’t usually have extensive security, but when I came to one of my the schools on Friday, a guard stood outside the locked gate. “Je suis Charlie” is on cars, hung in shop windows, on bags, and plastered onto the teachers’ cubbyholes in school.

My friends and family abroad have contacted me to make sure I’m safe. (I don’t feel in danger.) I’ve seen status updates on Facebook ranging from people showing support for the victims of last week’s attacks in Paris, to Facebook friends encouraging Jewish people to vacate Europe. (Which I don’t plan on doing.)

This is one of the largest acts of terrorism to shake France in recent history, and a tense feeling permeates the air, even hours away from Paris. What was surprising to me as a new resident of France was that the protests and rallies take place beyond Paris and the larger cities. My region, which has one of the smallest populations in the country, has had a choice of rallies to attend. And almost everyone who I know has participated in at least one.

I feel that in America, demonstrations tend to have a more homogeneous crowd, depending on the rally’s subject matter. But out of all this misfortune, it is heartening to see the French people stand together, not just in the well-publicized Paris demonstrations, but also in the far-flung cities and villages across France.

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