Thousands of people took to streets of major cities across France on Saturday afternoon to “March for the Future” and reiterate the importance of social justice and the fight against climate change. Many believe the environment has not weighed heavily enough in the debate leading up to the first round of presidential polls on Sunday.
From Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Rennes, to Montpellier… dozens of environmental, anti-racist, feminist groups and charities came together to share their common message with the rallying cry “justice, climate, equality and peace”.
83 events were organised across France, with some 300 associations involved, including Alternatiba, Greenpeace, Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth), #NousToutes and the Abbé Pierre Foundation.
“It’s an exceptional gathering,” Lorette Philippot, spokesperson for Les Amis de la Terre told AFP.
“It’s to show that at the end of this presidential mandate, and at the beginning of a new one, all of these problems have the same cause. And even if we can’t talk about the candidates directly today, it’s an opportunity to discuss the themes which have been forgotten during the campaign”.
French law stipulates that candidates are not allowed to do any campaigning the day before the election, and there is a “media blackout” in effect.
Despite this, green candidate Yannick Jadot was spotted among marchers, while far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon also called in for a brief encounter, his staff said.
In Paris, Yellow Vest supporters could be seen walking side by side climate defenders for a turnout of over 5,000 people according to police, closer to 35,000 according to organisers.
Banners reading “Red alert for a greener future” or “let’s isolate housing, not people” could be seen in the crowd.
For 26 year-old Astrid, there’s no time to lose faced with global warming.
“This is a cry from the heart, so that they realise that we are serious about this and we don’t care about the rest. This is an emergency, it’s for our survival. Animals might be able to survive but we won’t be able to adapt,” she told France Info.
After a massive rally on 12 March, the slogan “Look Up” has emerged, drawing inspiration from the film “Don’t Look Up” directed by Adam McKay, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep among other celebrities.
The Netflix production highlights in a cruel light modern days politics and the disastrous consequences awaiting humanity in the face of unbridled climate change.
For the organisations involved, the film succeeded in “getting major issues back into the public debate”.
End of the world as we know it
In Lyon where around 2,000 people turned out, the words “don’t throw fuel on the fire”, and “they’re destroying the living, let’s destroy the powerful”, could be seen nearby the large planet symbol of Greenpeace.
“End of the world, end of the month; same struggle” reads another banner from the Europe-wide Alternatiba group, one of the main organisers behind the events.
In sunny Bordeaux, some protesters expressed their concern over the latest scientific report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 4 April.
“Regardless of what happens at the polls, it’s too late. The IPCC experts have given us three years to reverse the trend concerning carbone missions,” a spokesperson for “Il est encore temps” (There’s Still Time) and a member of environmental activist network Extinction Rebellion.
This thought is prominent in the minds of many protesters, as they face the report’s grim outlook for the planet calling for a radical change of economic structure.
“It’s very scary,” 26 year-old Julie told French media during the rally in Paris. “There have been reports for years and they haven’t been taken into account. Today the conclusion is unavoidable; it’s now or never”.
Open you eyes, look up
“Climate emergency is now undeniable; but instead of facing up to the truth and take responsibilities, political leaders and multinationals deliberately look away, or even spoil the very hope of a fair and bearable future”, organisers wrote on Facebook.
Citizens are therefore being encouraged to “open their eyes, considering the next five years as decisive to redress the balance”.
“The fact that we’re seeing many young people here gives me hope,” Chloé told France Info. “We don’t have the choice, if we do nothing we’ll hit the wall”.
“We need to change our lifestyle, and that needs to be accompanied by our politicians, it can’t only be individual actions,” adds Serge, a researcher in biology.
“When we see that taking the plane is cheaper than the train, then a political decision must be taken”.
One thing that most people in attendance agree on is that the coming years will be crucial for the environment, regardless of who gets voted into power in the election.
“We’re trying to get people to march with us, but it’s really hard,” says Nicolas, an activist for a citizen’s group.
“Lots of people have Covid, and others are recuperating after having caught Covid. There are also many supporters of political parties who are having a rest after the campaign period”.
“Today, it’s a warm-up for the post election period,” he says.