Sunday, October 19, 2008

just seen on the boulevard

19 October

So this afternoon was the big teachers' demonstration. Tens of thousands of teachers from all over France marched around, then through, the Latin Quarter, passing less than 100 yards from my front door, chanting, singing, waving signs and banners. Teachers are facing massive lay-offs, budget cuts, and worse, and their high degree of union organization can pull off a good old-fashioned labor protest--color-coordinated delegations, graphically brilliant banners, songs that everyone can sing, and does--of a sort one seldom sees anywhere these days.

Two or three guys from the NPA staked out a corner at the top of the Boulevard Port-Royal, where the march would slow to make the turn onto Saint-Michel, and hung their brand-new banner with the party logo: a bull-horn. Stacks of leaflets appeared, supporting the teachers and inviting them to join the NPA, and I joined a squadron of 10, then 25 or 30 militant(e)s, handing them out to marchers and passers-by. Hard, but high-energy work. It took about an hour for the whole cortège to pass. At some point in the middle I looked up, and there was Olivier Besancenot, doing what I was doing, handing out leaflets. Except that he was also talking with some of the party stalwarts, greeting well-wishers, planting bises on friendly cheeks, and looking after his good-natured but sleepy son, who looked to be 3 or 4. It all seemed oddly down-to-earth, oddly real somehow. As though he really does like to spend Sunday afternoons going to demos, taking care of his kids, talking politics with his pals. It's hard to think what other national-level political leader would turn up unstaged in just this way.

Cynical reader, stop: I know what you're going to say.  Plenty of other political types on the soi-disant French left are saying so, and I've even heard whispers from NPAers. People like me who feel this about OB are dupes and suckers and victims of the most blatant media-savvy manipulation. Perhaps, but I don't think so, not in this case. I think OB is actually trying, as the German Greens did years ago, to rethink the role of the politician, trying to undermine certain myths of the leader. He may fail. His skillful and unambivalent use of mass media already looks like a slippery slope to some of his friends. If the party grows according to plan, and he remains its public face, he will surely find it hard to maintain this low-key posture. But for now, OK, I think Besancenot is for real, and refreshingly so, and I don't care who knows it. 



At October 19, 2008 at 5:12 PM , Blogger David said...

I agree with you.
One may or may not agree with Besancenot (personally, I'm constantly debating with myself whether I agree or not with his ideas), but he's one of the few remaining honest politicians around.

Of course, he sees a "power vacuum" on the Left (thanks to the end of the PC and the shameful state of the PS) and seizes the opportunity, no doubt about that. But that doesn't make him a cynical careerist like pretty much everybody else around, Left or Right.


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