Only the speechifiers, with a p.a. system at their disposal, can make themselves heard over the deafening drumbeats and burst of song from hundred of militant throats. These are festive militants enjoying the national tradition of taking to the streets (thank god yesterday’s rain is over!) many in clownish costumes or yellow vests. But all serious in message. All generations. I can’t begin to estimate how many have turned out to march from Bastille to Republique. In any case the boulevard is packed, the parade sometimes stuck in place, a giant human traffic jam.
“We planned to meet up at Nation but there’s another demo there so the cops let us move here,” someone volunteered to me. So, yes, similar outpourings of political frust and fervor all over town. Eighty or more. You can imagine the super-jam of cursing motorists, but who is so dumb as to drive on the day before the Presidential Election?
There’s hope in the air here. A few weeks ago Macron’s election looked a foregone conclusion, the pollsters thus predicting a sky-high rate of abstention. No longer. A series of (well-timed?) negative revelations, and his refusal to campaign, or even declare until the last minute—the Ukraine war left no time, he said—have revived his image of the aloof, elitist, out of touch technocrat. His numbers plummeted. One wonders how his team managed so poorly. “We’re not any one party demonstrating today, all the parties are here, everyone who wants to get rid of Macron!” There’s real hatred in the air.
What’s at stake for France and the rest of the world? Consider these program points from his two close rivals. Marine le Pen wants to essentially cut off immigration including family reunion, and expel forever illegals living in France. (Popular points!) Dismantle all wind power and invest solely in nuclear. (Hunh?) Raise all salaries 10%, much covered by the government so as not to annoy private enterprise. Drastically lower energy taxes. Her right-wing mirror image, Luc Mélenchon, proposes 60 as the legal retirement age, freezing the gas at a low price, abandoning nuclear energy. (France depends to 70% on its nuclear facilities.)
Not that these are necessarily decisive points for the voters. Or that they are even aware of the programs. From what I heard and overhead today the real gut issue is masks. Masks and vax certificates. Masks and kids. One young woman screamed over the noise, “I work in healthcare, I know what works and what doesn’t, they sent me out of my kid’s school for not having a mask!” (She was spitting with outrage, inches from my face). Another woman told of being turned away when she ducked in to use a café’s restroom, for not producing a vax card. “And I’m fifty-eight years old!” “I come from a Communist family, but I’ll vote right-wing le Pen over Macron! So this is what it all may come down to. Not European solidarity (le Pen is anti-EU). Not the climate crisis. Mainly masks, and always the price at the pump.
But hey, this is participatory democracy, alive and breathing. Tens of thousands of people are out all around the country, devoting their saturday to peaceful demonstration, with songs, signs and laughter. At six-thirty pm in Paris the drums are still beating.
USA take note.
And now, dear readers, for the fun stuff: