look, i get that people like writing about les amis as a contemporary radical activist group, but i’ve seen a lot of stuff that… doesn’t really reflect the reality of protest in virtually every country in the world, and certainly in basically every western democracy. at a protest today enjolras would have to beg the local institutions of power for permission to march up a public street, and he would be held responsible for any diversion from the plan he submitted. if his friends and followers were kettled and terrorised by riot police, he’d be told in no uncertain terms that this was his fault. les amis would have to hole up in someone’s flat beforehand and duct-tape and stuff cardboard inside of their jackets, in advance preparation for the inevitable police violence to come. they’d have to write the phone numbers of lawyers on their arms in magic marker and combeferre would have to check that everyone knows not to tell the police a single thing, to always ask for a lawyer, and then shut up.
enjolras would have to give his speeches with bahorel and feuilly standing on either side of him with their arms folded and their faces set, would have to march with jehan and courferyac pushing forward as his vanguard. les amis would have to surround enjolras like a tidal wave, in case the police got any bright ideas about cutting off the serpent’s head in order to make the body flail and panic and die. if and when the violence started – violence enjolras probably would not have wanted, because violence is used to re-write the history of contemporary resistance all of the time – courferyac and graintaire would have to pay in bruises to distract the cop bearing down on combeferre so it would be definite that someone would be left in the morning to post bail. joly would have to bring medical supplies in his bag with the full expectation of using them, because kettles can go on for hours and you never guarantee that even someone bleeding enough to lose their life will be allowed to leave.
when the cops come for enjolras, he’d kneel and put his hands behind his head and not say a thing, not when they kicked at the backs of his ankles or slammed him against a cop car or pulled his head back by his hair to hiss his rights into his ear. he’s a leader, and he’d know the value of a slit through his eyebrow in the press tomorrow. he’d know that this beating was coming whatever he did, but bruises in the dock in the morning make his argument for him. courferyac would, again, be the one dragged out of the crowd with his lip split and grantaire gripping tight around his wrist in vain, so combeferre could try and desperately usher away teenagers from riot shields, so joly could try and stem the bleeding of a thirteen year old girl’s head-wound, so bahorel could help jehan carry feuilly away without putting too much pressure on the point where his ribs had cracked. no one would hit a cop. if you hit a cop, a cop can do whatever they like to you, and every single member of les amis would have seen that happen with their own eyes.
the reality remains that there is virtually no such thing as a peaceful protest, because it is to the advantage of those in power to ensure that there’s not. the reality remains that there is nothing glamorous about a riot, and that enjolras would be taking his friends’ lives in his hands with reckless abandon if he thought there was. in a sense he’d be happy if he was the only person arrested, that combeferre would have to come for him in the cold light of morning and pick him up from the police station steps and drive him to the hospital, dirt under enjolras’s fingernails and blood crusted in his hair.
he’d have spent a night cold and maybe alone and maybe sitting in an interrogation room for hours staring at bare walls and having cops yell questions in his face that he couldn’t risk answering. he’d be exhausted and sore and on the verge of total-shut down. every single protest he led, he’d have to know that this would be how it could end for him– if not something much worse. protest is dangerous. riots aren’t fun. les amis would be covered in battle scars. they would spend weeks showered in bruises and knowing that they would have more to come. in the 21st century, protesters still build barricades. in fact, they do so relatively regularly. it’s just a thought, but you might want to think about why.