April 3, 2014, 12:55 p.m.

Let's (Not) Talk About Elections

Here in Paris, the week started off with socialist French President François Hollande decision that naming former Interior Minister Manuel Valls his new Prime Minister and dismissing Jean-Marc Ayrault’s former government was an adequate reaction to the outcomes of local elections held this month. Having lived abroad, I've experienced it can difficult to convey what a certain politician has come to represent inside a political nation and what his being Prime Minister may symbolise or imply to who isn’t intimately familiar with that nation. So I can’t really delve into that here...

But this might be for the best, because there are aspects of the French political scene at the moment which are much easier for outsiders to empathise with,  and much nicer to report about - for one, they don’t involve frustrated voters, supposedly disengaged non-voters, scared nationalists and power-oriented strategies, which are given a central position in many depictions of french political scene and very effectively end up depressing everyone listening. On the ground, and, really, everywhere around, you find lively initiatives and alliances which the dominant narratives erase.

Let’s start there: today, while mainstream media goes on and on with their enduring analysis of voter’s disengagement and the rise of extreme-right, and interpret local election’s results solely as a feedback on national (economic) politics, blogs and independent media channels call attention to the numerous citizen-led lists and initiatives around the elections. Citizens write about their experience of time and energy-intensive engagement in campaigns they knew they would lose, but in the course of which they learned so much about engagement, democracy, local communities, collective action…

In Paris 18th arrondissement, a group of non-citizens residents spent all of their Sundays since February to demand the right to vote in local elections for non-European citizens. They almost managed to have their list approved, and when it inevitably wasn’t, they occupied the square in front of the town hall on the two election Sundays to organise a parallel election there.

On the International Day for Women’s rights last month, a collective from Paris and the suburbs had called for an “8 March of all Wo*men”, an invitation to which many responded: around 3000 people cruised through Paris’ last (partly) popular districts of the 20th, 19th and 18th arrondissements on that sunny Saturday afternoon. The collective managed for individuals to gather and demonstrate together whose interests are constantly depicted as opposed by mainstream discourses. Yes, you can be a queer collective and support Muslim feminists whose choice it is to wear a headscarf. You can also be a migrant Muslim man and demonstrate with women’s rights groups on March 8th.

Someone asked me while I enthusiastically reported on this demonstration if those alliances were really sustainable – if they would not be too time-consuming and ineffective in promoting each group’s specific agenda. This is a good question.

While you can’t blame anyone for fighting primarily their own battle (as it is after all unlikely that someone else will take that on for them), it still feels like networks and alliances can currently be mobilised in France, as well as in Europe.  How? Why? What for? I think these are questions we’ll be asking during our trip. Or at least I'll ask them, and see what I get!

We North-Western caravan members will be in Paris on May 1st, and already look forward to this other important demonstration and to meeting people and collectives there!

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