In the wake of the Paris Attacks Green School’s Green Generation was reeling. The eleven of us had just woken up from a night of workshopping Noble Material, the play that we planned to perform at the COY11, when we heard the news. Over the next few days we spent hours reading the news in an attempt to grasp the extent of what had happened, we reconsidered the risk of attending the COP21 and COY11, and we were each contacted numerous times by concerned friends and family. Our collective search for insight and information led us to an online chat for student journalists around the world.The platform provided by this organization connected GS Green Generation with students on the ground in Paris who acted as a primary source on topics like heightened security, the role that social media played in spreading the news of the attacks, and the general public’s current perception of Muslims and refugees in Paris.
When I spoke with the students on Saturday, it had not yet been confirmed that our school board would still grant GS Green Generation permission to travel to Paris for the conferences. Risk assessments were being conducted, lawyers were being contacted, and paperwork was being reviewed. Green School’s Green Generation plunged into a very turbulent weekend of panic and confusion. Very little was certain so my aim was to better understand the state that Paris was in as a result of November 11th. We got to talk about the media’s representation of the attacks, what they were like in person, the security enhancements that came about as a result, social media, and our shared appreciation of Naomi Klein’s new book turned movie, This Changes Everything.
First, we asked about where the students from Paris had been at the time that the attacks took place.
“I was actually in Frankfurt, Germany… I was in bed when it happened; I was sleeping. And I wake up the next morning with messages from all my friends, a bunch of my family members, ‘Are you okay? Are you alive? So that was very very scary for me to wake up to. Like, all these messages from people I haven’t talked to in years, wondering if I’m alright. It’s hard to be in that position, like, your family and all your friends are back home in Paris…”
“Right when the attacks happened, we were at Gare de Lyon, just getting off a train from Switzerland… We had no idea what was going on until about an hour later when we had already decided that we might go out and try to get something to eat. We were on the metro at around, maybe twenty minutes after the attacks were happening, and we actually interestingly enough saw a woman on the phone and she was in tears. We had no idea why. We thought it was for personal issues but we found out later when we were already out on the street, kind of close Trocadéro when his mom called him and told him about the attacks.”
“I was reading a book when my father told me that there were some attacks that took place in Paris at that time. So, at first I was a little scared. We all searched on the TVs and we were reading the news and it was already all over the news and each and every channel we were looking at. There were different channels from different countries and every channel was talking about the attacks in Paris and how they were severe.”
Social media played an incredibly important role in the night’s events. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat helped keep people informed on what was happening and that their friends were okay.
“Facebook was a really useful tool… They had a utility on Facebook where you could mark yourself as safe and everybody was doing that so you knew that your friends were safe.”
“Twitter was definitely the way to keep up to date for me.”
As with many events like the Paris Attacks, a unique hashtag emerged. This is what one student from Paris had to say about #porteouverte or #opendoor.
“The open doors thing was pretty interesting… That was where there were people all over Facebook, all over Twitter, where they would tag where their location is and they would say I have two open rooms, or three beds if anybody is in the area and needs a place to stay for the night. It’s different because with people living in Paris – you know I’m new to Paris- and I get a vibe of like, a uh, ‘I’m too cool for everybody on the streets’ and so just to see that all of these people are opening up their doors to strangers living in this area just because they’re Parisians, just because they have this connection of having to deal with this, they are able to unite in this way. It’s unique, especially for a city like this.”
This statement was particularly interesting. Parisians were obviously adapting well to an extreme change in circumstance but what about security? Were people having trouble getting around? Were there many checkpoints? Was the heightened security impacting their day to day lives? Responses were varied.
“My brother actually flew in this morning for his Thanksgiving break. He got in this morning and he said it was no different and he actually said that they hardly checked his ID. Security is really good but you’re probably not going to have trouble.”
“We were coming in from Frankfurt, Germany and so yes, we stopped at the border and a few policemen, I think it was two policemen, just did a small little sweep. They didn’t do anything, they just walked around, like looked around and then went off. I mean, sure maybe they were looking for someone that’s not a bunch of fifteen-year-old girls but personally, it wasn’t very thorough…”
“I went to Disneyland Paris with my friends today and it took us an hour and a half just to get into through the doors because everyone was being patted down, their bags were being checked. It’s really really high security. There are people even on horses, like so many people on horses that I’ve seen walking around. There are police everywhere. I live really close to the Champs-Élysées – I have to walk past there to get to a lot of the places I need to walk to. Usually on the weekends. There are police officers absolutely everywhere.”
A fellow GS Green Generation representative asked about the media’s representation of the attacks and whether or not they are being portrayed accurately by the international media. These responses were reassuring.
“The feeling I get of it is that some sources are exaggerating the danger that there is in Paris and the kind of tension of the situation. I would personally hypothesize that it is for ratings but that is just words out of my mouth, I don’t have any evidence to back that up. I get the overall feeling that some media sources are overemphasizing the police raids and the people on the loose and the kind of aftermath of the attacks and all of the scandalous things. I mean, life goes on in Paris.”
“I don’t think they’re exaggerating anything at all. People are very concerned. People are still scared. People are actually really calm. I’m actually surprised by how resilient the Parisians are. They’re not letting it stop them. Even the day after it happened on Saturday, I stayed inside most of the day. I was still in shock but my mom went out and she said people were getting around with their everyday lives. Nothing was happening. People are trying to remain calm.”
We are now in Doha waiting for the flight that will take us to Paris where we will hopefully get to meet with some of the students who answered all of our questions in this chat. This chance to get in touch with students who had been in or near Paris during the time that the attacks took place was the perfect reality check. Green School’s Green Generation is incredibly grateful to Global Student Square for making this opportunity available to us!