For protestors in France the issue at the Marseilles nanotechnology debate (one in a countrywide series) on January 19, 2010 was democracy. From the article by Kate McAlpine in Chemistry World (republished here on Nanowerk),
Protestors have caused the public to be banned from four debates on nanotechnology taking place across France. After Grenoble in December, and Rennes and Lyon in January, Marseilles saw the local debate organised by the Special Commission for Public Debate (CPDP) shut down by protestors on Tuesday. They clapped, whistled, shouted, threw paper balls, and raised banners with slogans such as ‘Nano, it’s not green, it’s totalitarian’.
Although earlier debates had seen these protests questioning the legitimacy of the debates, organisers attempted discussion for more than thirty minutes before retreating to a private room to webcast the debate and interact with the public through the page’s forum.
I gather there’s been quite a bit of chaos associated with these debates. From a Jan.16, 2010 article by Martin Enserink on the ScienceInsider website,
“Good evening, everybody.” That’s all Jean Bergougnoux, chair of the panel in charge of France’s national debate on nanotechnology, got to say last night at a meeting in Lyon. Immediately after his opening words, some 100 people started clapping, shouting, whistling, and unfurling banners, despite Bergougnoux’s protests that the protesters were “antidemocratic.” A chaotic hour later, the event was canceled. The same thing had happened at a similar debate in Grenoble in December; at another one in Rennes last week, the audience was forced to leave and the discussion was webcast.
The Special Commission for the Public Debate on Nanotechnology in France is attempting to hold a series of debates over four months. For those who can read French, the commission’s website is here.
As far as I can gather, the issue from the protestors’ perspective is that the debates are a government sham and all of the important decisions regarding nanotechnology have been made. This is a position I can sympathize with as I have been in situations where we are purportedly having a discussion but in fact I’m being informed about a decision that’salready been made.
I recently attended a municipal open house for a local development which is being vigorously promoted by the city urban planners and interested stakeholders [not including community members]). This seems to be public consultation as a public relations effort. I have to say it is maddening when the individuals who are instrumental in final decision-making are not listening to you and overriding your concerns with fulsome and vague responses.
However, I do have another question, how do the protestors in France know that all of the decisions have been made? Is this a genuine protest or the actions of a bunch of rabble rousers? I have also had occasion to observe rabble rousers who clearly have no interest in the issue but are present to make trouble.
Years ago I attended a special event put on by Du Maurier company, a purveyor of tobacco products and supporter of the arts. This was to be the last year that the company was giving arts grants and the event was an invitation-only preview of the final year’s projects. There were anti-cigarette smoking protestors outside the venue screaming at passers-by and people entering the venue. I was so rattled I walked by the entrance. When I retraced my steps the lead rabble rouser noticed and I could see that he was enjoying the fact that he’d frightened me. For some folks protesting is a form of power, something I’d understood intellectually but this was my first experience of being on the receiving end. The other thing that struck me about this protest is that it served no purpose. The company was withdrawing its support for the arts which was what the anti-cigarette smoking community had campaigned for.
What I’m saying is that democracy is a messy business. From McAlpine’s article,
In the web forum for Tuesday’s webcast one contributor, Paul Cuivre of Paris, wrote that although many decisions had doubtless been made already, a public debate is still worthwhile. ‘When I see the attitude of some immature individuals [.] who succeeded at perturbing the debate this evening, I ask myself questions about the future of participative democracy in France.’
I do think it’s important to keep trying and debating/discussing/participating and that over time more good decisions get made than bad ones.
I may or may not be posting tomorrow and Thursday but I should definitely be back on Friday.