Voting for Hope in France

A public gathering of Macron supporters at the Paris-Bercy stadium on April 17. | KELLY COGSWELL

A public gathering of Macron supporters at the Paris-Bercy stadium on April 17. |KELLY COGSWELL

The first round of France’s presidential election is over, and it’s down to the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the candidate of the extreme right, Marine Le Pen. I think Macron will win. God, I hope so.

In many ways, he was the most progressive in the pack, emphasizing education, human rights, social mobility, economic justice (achieved through reform rather than revolution), and the democratic process. It is to his credit that he was, and is, the candidate most hated by Putin, partly because nine of the other 10 candidates wanted to leave Europe, not stay and push for reform.

My girlfriend’s been campaigning for Macron for weeks, going door to door in our modest Paris neighborhood, leafleting at metro stops, and in the outdoor food markets.


Here, in the 11th arrondissement, situated between Place de la Nation and Belleville, she saw a clear racial divide among voters. Young white lefties mostly stumped for the left-wing populist, Jean-Luc Melenchon, but almost everyone with roots in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, West Africa, happily took Macron’s fliers and stopped to chat, even grabbing my girlfriend’s arm, assuring her at length that God was on their side. “Don’t worry, we’ll win.”

One supporter was impressed that, on a trip to Algeria, Macron called French colonialism a crime against humanity. More importantly, he refused to recant, hedge, or soften his words, even though there was a total uproar afterwards that set back his campaign.

Another liked his plans to improve schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, but also offer retraining for the unemployed and continued education for everyone in this new world where technology and information advance rapidly.

Others Macron voters support his plans to modernize a fossilized economy and create jobs in this country with 9.6 percent unemployment, making it easier for them to start new businesses, from small law firms to nail salons. They are tired of being offered handouts instead of jobs, palliative care instead of access to social mobility, which begins quite literally with public transportation. Out in the Paris banlieues, the suburban ghettoes, it’s a lengthy and expensive process to get to jobs in the city, assuming you can find one. They applaud when Macron calls it “house arrest”.

Like him, they see plenty to criticize in Europe, but they also embrace it. They understand a Frexit would be an economic disaster for France — and probably the end of the European Union. They know that retreats into nationalism are never good for anyone, particularly for minorities. Immigrant-bashing is Britain’s new pastime, like in Trump’s white nationalist US.

They are glad that Macron is young and hopeful, but pragmatic. Many, like my girlfriend, have seen what happens when authoritarian populists come to power and are quite certain that utopias of the left and of the right, like coalmines and salvation by old-time manufacturing, are pipe dreams that belong to the last century.

Unlike the white French, few of those with immigrant roots consider Macron tainted by the three and a half years he spent in an investment bank. One immigrant I know considers the experience a plus. If you want to reform an economy, it helps to have real world experience on how one operates and to accept that globalization is as much of a fact as mechanization. It’s how you handle it that counts.

Women’s rights and gender parity in his movement En Marche are an important part of Macron’s platform. He’s also recovered his footing on LGBTQ issues even though he initially stumbled trying to reach out to right-wing voters that had opposed marriage equality.

An excited member of Youth for Macron in line at the Paris-Bercy stadium. | KELLY COGSWELL

An excited member of Youth for Macron in line at the Paris-Bercy stadium. | KELLY COGSWELL

Last Monday, we went to a big public meeting, and Macron’s supporters represented — as they claim — the face of France, including an enthusiastic range of ages, races, genders, ethnicities, and accents. Big screens broadcast images of the crowd, and when it showed two dykes who were surprised to see themselves there, they suddenly smiled, turned to each other, and kissed, and the crowd went wild with cheers and applause. A few minutes later, it was two men kissing, also to great applause.

When Macron finally spoke, I found myself agreeing with nearly everything he said, especially his insistence on complexity and his use of the phrase “en même temps” — at the same time. He was comfortable expressing pride in the ideas of the Enlightenment, while at the same time acknowledging that France hadn’t achieved them. That France had to modernize the economy and create job growth, but at the same time continue to protect the vulnerable. That he had to engage with countries like Russia, but still denounce the abuse of human rights, including the concentration camps in Chechnya where they are torturing gay men. When he mentioned those, the horror was visible on his face.

If I could vote for him, I would, not just to thwart Marine Le Pen, but because I believe in his platform. Whether or not he can pull it off is another story. He’d have to get a majority in the legislature and unify a fractured country. He may not even get past the final round vote on May 7. One obstacle: a substantial minority of the extreme left prepared to sacrifice people of color and immigrants — among many, many others — as they self-righteously proclaim, “Anybody but Macron.”

Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.