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Monday, May 7, 2012

Sarkozy, Hollande and a Sunday Kind of Feeling in Paris

Last night marked the finals of the election between Sarkozy and Hollande, with Hollande winning. I have never experienced such a public political culture, with huge numbers of people turning out to vote, people in the streets all day yesterday (Sunday), and an atmosphere like New Year's Eve after last night's announcement. I suppose to some extent it could be likened to the election of Obama in terms of the change in government that Hollande’s election represents. Women and people of color seem particularly energized, not the least because Hollande enjoyed hearty support from George-Pau Langevin, a black woman member of the National Assembly elected from mainland France. Hollande and Langevin posters are everywhere, especially in this arrondissement that Langevin represents (the 20th arrondissement). However, the Obama comparison is a very loose one.

Yesterday afternoon before the results were announced I went to a huge neighborhood vide-grenier (attic sale) and festival with hundreds of people walking, pushing, and crowding around vendors of everything you could imagine. This is a fairly working-class neighborhood also with a number of artists, writers and intellectuals in residence (sort of like Greenwich Village before Greenwich Village became a “happening” place I suppose). So, the vendors were an eclectic mix of everything from elderly ladies who were selling stuff that looked as if it were from the de Gaulle era all the way to local bouquinistes (second-had book sellers—a good thing; the cost of new books is enormous.) I came to the local public nursery school (yes, preschool is public funded here) where people were crowding in a huge line.  I thought it was some great exhibit or solde (sale).  I wanted to see! (By the way, local public libraries here, including the one a few doors down from me where I do some of my work in the evenings, often have great free exhibits--it is a museum kind of town). I asked a lady coming out of the nursery school, “what's going on in there?” She said, “it’s the voting, it’s a good time now, before the line gets any longer.” (I could not imagine that; I have never seen such a line at a poll).  She was so excited and serious about it. They seem to take their civic duty pretty seriously here.  I think that the two-phase election (the first round was on April 22) is perhaps part of it, and there are laws strictly forbidding publishing exit poll data before the polls close (though outlets in other countries and on Twitter were doing it; it helps that they are on one time zone here in metropolitan France). Also, I believe that having Sunday elections truly helps turnout and engagement.  Pretty much every business is closed here Sunday except for some small food grocers and some restaurants.

It was a real Sunday kind of feeling.