Image: Riposte Party at Hollande Campaign Headquarter during the Hollande/ Sarkozy debate of May 2nd. Photo credit: Parti Socialiste.
"FRANCE HAS A NEW PRESIDENT." It does not look like much of a statement on paper, or on a computer screen: five little words, almost too short for a tweet. But France today is still dazed from the news, floating between disbelief, relief, and exhaustion.
I was in Paris — my native city — on May 6th. All day long we pretended to go about doing things as usual. In the Champ de Mars, dedicated dads ran after seven-year-olds swaying on their brand new two-wheel bicycles. The antiquated carousel turned round and round, creaking on its 100-year-old wheel, as ponytailed girls and boys in checkered shirts rode the elegant cavalry of hand-painted wooden horses, lost in thoughts of cotton candy and pain au chocolat. The banks of the Seine carried along their usual cargo of strollers, joggers, and passersby. By lunchtime, the lines outside the bakeries were longer than those at the poll stations.
Yet underneath the atmosphere was electric. The stormy weather — dark clouds gathering and parting again in long shadows over the cityscape — amplified the tangible tension: whispers, surreptitious phone calls, and anxious Facebook posts full of question marks and emoticons punctuated the afternoon that would decide the fate of France for the next five years.
It was more superstition than suspense: exit polls had already been leaked by the nearby Belgian media outlets; online, the #radiolondres hashtag was circumventing the French law that strictly forbids the publication of any polling numbers before 8pm on election day (or else be fined 75,000 Euros) by sharing the news in blatantly legible code ["#Sarkozy, sink different"].
We knew, but we did not dare believe it. "We've all been traumatized by April 21, 2002" — when Socialist hopeful Lionel Jospin was eliminated in the first round, arriving third after far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen — "and by the defeat of Ségolène Royal in 2007," confided 24-year-old Rémi Sabau, a "digital activist" for the Socialist Party I had interviewed the night before for the Boston Review. "So I'll believe it when I see François Hollande's face appear on the screen at 8pm."
But, in spite of this fetishist nostalgia for the ritual of the "ta-dah..." moment of televised epiphany, this time around much of the action was on the Internet rather than on TV screens. Sabau knew that better than anyone: he, with a handful of fellow activists, helped launch the digital campaign that played no small part in Hollande's success. Back in June of 2011, thirty young people were experimenting with Twitter and other social media to help secure the Socialist party primary for Hollande. They organized what became a staple of the digital informat...read more