The First Great Global Uprising

For a few weeks, millions of people broke from their daily routines and … lived.

A Brief History of Revolution

In May 1968, the Situationist-inspired Paris riots set off “a chain reaction of refusal” against consumer capitalism. First students, then workers, then professors, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and a piecemeal league of artists, anarchists and Enragés took to the streets, erected barricades, fought with police, occupied offices, factories, dockyards, railway depots, theaters and university campuses, sang songs, issued manifestos, sprayed slogans like live without dead time and down with the spectacular-commodity culture all over their city and challenged the established order of their time in the most visceral way. The breadth of the dissent was remarkable. “Art students demanded the realization of art; music students called for ‘wild and ephemeral music’; footballers kicked out managers with the slogan ‘football to the football players’; gravediggers occupied cemeteries; doctors, nurses, and the interns at a psychiatric hospital organized in solidarity with the inmates.” For a few weeks, millions of people who had worked their whole lives in offices and factories broke from their daily routines and … lived.

It was “the largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of an advanced industrial country, and the first wildcat general strike in history,” and it spread rapidly, first around Paris and France and then around the world. At the height of the uprising in Paris’s Latin Quarter, 50,000 people marched in Bonn, and 3,000 took to the streets in Rome. Three days later, students revolted at the University of Milan. The next day, students staged a sit-in at the University of Miami. Then skirmishes erupted in Madrid, Berkeley, New York City, Frankfurt and Santiago. The wave reached London, Vancouver, Dakar, Munich, Vienna and Buenos Aires, then Tokyo, Osaka, Zurich, Rio, Bangkok, Düsseldorf, Mexico City, Saigon, La Paz, Chicago, Venice, Montreal and Auckland. For a few heady weeks a tantalizing question hung in the air: What if the whole world turned into the Latin Quarter? Could this be the beginning of the first global revolution?

Kalle Lasn, Culture Jam


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