An interview with Pierre Didier, president of the Social Forum of the Banlieues.
Pierre Didier, who is active in the Lyon banlieue of Vaulx-en-Velin, is president of the Social Forum of the Banlieues. He is also a member of the Movement of Immigration and the Banlieues (MIB), and DiverCités, a campaigning coalition in Lyon of feminists, anti-racists, Muslims, Catholics and atheists.
Naima Bouteldja (NB) Why did you chose Nanterre for this year’s Social Forum?
Pierre Didier (PD): Nanterre is historically a left-wing town. In the past there were many slums, transit camps here. One of the founding members of the Forum, who originally came from the slums of Nanterre, was recently elected on the town council and this has helped us in a number of ways. The council put the stadium at our disposal and it also provided some technical assistance as well as helping us financially.
NB: How is the Forum of the Banlieues organised?
PD: The organisational structure of the Forum consists of three associations, DiverCités (an anti-racist organisation in Lyon), Les Motivés (based in Toulouse) and MIB (Mouvement de l’Immigration et des Banlieues) based mainly in Paris. They work on particular local issues. But through taking on (and often disagreeing with) various agencies in French society, in particular political parties, they have acquired a strong expertise on issues related to immigration, identity and discrimination. So these three organisations decided to extend the struggle to the wider political arena to organise together.
The first stage of this organisational work has been to reveal and reinforce a network which, despite its previous lack of visibility, already existed as the network of organisations of the banlieues. The aim of the Forum is to share experiences and resources for a common struggle. This explains why the Forum is such a very diverse space. Within the Forum’s framework you firstly have people campaigning for it to remain a space for networking and convergence. But second, you also have another political current of people in favour of forming a political party or movement. The first trend accounts for the majority of the people.
NB: What were the main themes of this year’s Forum?
PD: There have been workshops organised around police violence, education, urban renewal, around cultural and artistic events including a series of workshops called ‘Cinéma de Quartiers’. There are also workshops on feminist struggles, gender issues, discrimination and Islamophobia. It was agreed, through a grassroots consultation process, that these themes formed the main issues facing the banlieues.
Our main aim is to look for areas of convergence between associations and activists as well as between movements. But we are also looking at how we can find ‘spaces’ within which we can build cooperation with left-wing organisations.
NB: There has been much debate at the Forum about how best to work with the political Left. Was this something that concerned the organisers?
PD: We invited José Bové, Olivier Besancenot (leader of the LCR – Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire) and a high-profile figure within the French Communist Party (PCF) to participate at the Forum and they all accepted the invitation. However, later, one by one, they all cancelled. Annick Coupé from the Trade Union Sud and the Mayor of Nanterre are the only public figures who came.
NB: What are the Forum’s plans for the future?
PD: First, we need to figure out which political tools we want to create: either to keep open a space where we can support each other, or whether to transform ourselves into a political movement. According to that choice, we’ll develop a strategy for how best to occupy the political arena. We must raise the issue of political representation, of political power relations and the alternatives to, in our opinion, the bankrupt politics of previous governments.
Read an IRR News Story: Unity of purpose in the French banlieues