With just under a week to go to the first round of the French presidential election, the leading figure on the (alternative) left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was heading into town. I was keen to find out for myself what was behind the astonishing surge in popular support (18-20% in the polls), placing him within sight of making it through to the second round, and who knows , perhaps, an unbelievable shot at the top job itself !
This veteran of the political scene, had skillfully managed his campaign: combining a pro-environmental, anti-capitalist & anti establishment message ( à la Bernie Saunders), while using the marketing tools of modern social media, including via his personal You Tube channel.
In fact, he wasn’t really going to be in person in Nantes tonight, he was actually in Dijon, but the wonders of 21st century communications enabled him to be simultaneously present across 5 different towns, via video link-up and the innovative use of hologram technology.
Having managed to sneak past security with my small camera, (they confiscated my battery, but I had a spare in my pocket !) , I joined the throng of 7000 supporters and sympathisers, taking in the fervour of the occasion. His oratorical skills were evident, hardly ever relying on his notes. Despite the slightly surreal aspect of watching this projected hologram talking-image, his presence felt very real within this vast arena, more commonly used for rock concerts. The audience was held captive throughout the one and a half hours, and his message of both defiance and hope reached a tangible climax, with an hommage to Victor Hugo and a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise.
Dismissed by many in the press as a dangerous rabble-rousing demagogue, I came away with a more favourable impression. I wasn’t going to be able to vote myself in the coming election, but at least I had been able to witness first-hand (in a manner of speaking), the flavour of the issues that played across the current social & political landscape. The meeting had brought together young and old, male & female, white and black, and was a clear indication that when there is a leader that can rally and motivate those that feel unaccounted for, there a lot of people ready to listen, and willing to take centre stage.