Generation Mélenchon | Madeleine Schwartz

Nathalie Cullell lives in a small French village of eight hundred inhabitants called La Cabanasse in the Pyrenees, near the Spanish border. For some time now, she has noticed that public services are disappearing one after the other. Schools are closed, as are post offices. His neighbors travel further to work. A cancer patient requiring chemotherapy, she says, now has to drive an hour and a half to the nearest large town, Perpignan.

In 2018, Cullell joined his local yellow vests movement. A news report from the time shows her standing by the side of the road, beating a barrel like a drum. “We feel that the government is not only not listening to us but actively hostile to those who sustain the region,” she said. In the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday, Cullell will be one of 380 candidates for the National Assembly as a member of NUPES (New Union Popular Ecological and Social), a left-wing alliance seeking to win a majority currently detained. by La République En Marche by Emmanuel Macron and his allies.

The French left has been in disarray since deeply unpopular former President Francois Hollande left the presidency in 2017. NUPES is an attempt to revive it by uniting candidates from various left-wing parties under one banner. Some of these candidates have no political experience: a baker who attracted media attention when he went on a hunger strike to protect his undocumented employee became a candidate for the Greens; a housekeeper who led a twenty-two-month strike can now overthrow Macron’s former sports minister in a neighborhood near Paris. Cullell is one of these newcomers. A French teacher in high school during the day, she hopes to strengthen the teaching of Greek and Latin in college, as well as Catalan. “I’m not looking for a political career,” she said. “I love my work.” But she says budget cuts are pushing the French school system towards privatization.

NUPES is less a new left than a new way of organizing leftist movements in France after the collapse of the Socialist Party under Hollande’s leadership. (In this year’s presidential elections, the socialist candidate won less than 2% of the vote.) His main platforms – among them a higher minimum wage and a lower retirement age – are for some voters a comeback. of the old socialist policy. But they also have a populist flavor. The group also called for constitutional reforms such as more citizens’ referendums that would reduce the power of the French president. This alliance has so far proved successful. In the first round of legislative elections, held on June 12, NUPES found itself head-to-head with Macron’s party.

The parties that make up the alliance have coalesced around Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a controversial flaw in the Socialist Party at the head of the La France Insoumise party. His party is joined in the alliance by the Greens, Socialists and Communists. Known for his far-left stances and hot temper, Mélenchon’s political views changed, particularly on France’s foreign policy. He made statements that were seen as pro-Putin – supporting Russian bombings in Syria; referring to Ukraine as “struggling to be a country” – until February. More recently, he said he hoped to work with President Macron to support Ukraine. But it’s unclear exactly how that will mesh with his longstanding anti-NATO stance.

Much of Mélenchon’s success may have had to do with how he positioned himself against Macron, who, in an apparent desire to appease the country’s right, pushed for more security measures and anti-terrorism laws. -“separatism” targeting French Muslims, including a radical law. adopted in the summer of 2021. Mélenchon has spoken out against such policies on the grounds that they stigmatize minorities. While much of French political rhetoric has focused on social issues, Mélenchon has also remained focused on the economy, particularly appealing to voters in an era of rising costs. This leads some to speak of the “Mélenchon generation”, young voters energized by the candidate, especially in neighborhoods that could have previously voted for more traditional left-wing parties.

Mélenchon’s relatively high results in the presidential election last April, which put him just behind Marine Le Pen in qualifying for the second round, showed his ability to bring together a wide range of people on the left, according to Olivier Rouquan, political scientist . But how NUPES would govern is an open question. The electoral compromise is “fragile”, considers Rouquan. Disagreements abound, down to how to pronounce the name of the new union. (Some say NUPES as “oops,” others prefer NUP-ES.) These differences can be particularly divisive when it comes to the European Union. La France Insoumise is historically Eurosceptic, unlike the very pro-Europe Socialist Party. The current NUPES platform says it is “ready to break some rules” in the EU while working to transform them. What form this alliance will take after the elections, whether in victory or defeat, is unclear.

And the actual number of people voting left has gone down. Nearly 11 million voters turned out for the representatives of left-wing parties in the presidential election. But the combined ticket brought in almost half in the first round of the legislative elections. Yet NUPES was active in its campaigns, going door to door to try to get the vote. “There is really a desire on the part of Mélenchon and his entourage not to simply add up the votes, but really to try to create new identities, to succeed in aggregating left-wing votes but also to seduce non- voters,” says Laura Chazel. , who studies left-wing populism at Sciences Po Grenoble. That may give the alliance an advantage over Macron’s party, which started its campaign late and kept its distance from voters.

On Tuesday, I traveled to Asnières-sur-Seine, a town northwest of Paris, to join a group of NUPES activists who were soliciting their candidate, a Green Party teacher named Francesca Pasquini. She will face a center-right local elected official and member of Macron’s party in the second round. In front of the Aldi, I met Yeelen Ravier, a sports journalist who is also elected from La France Insoumise as mayor of the city. She carried a black bag covered with Mélenchon stickers and flyers, which she distributed in packets to nearly a dozen volunteers. For Ravier, Asnières is “two towns in one”. There’s a lively neighborhood around City Hall, full of shops and wealthy locals who tend to vote for the right. Then there are the neighborhoods made up only of social housing, with just a bakery and a “poor quality supermarket”.

Mustapha Gharbi, a recent law school graduate who also campaigned for NUPES, told me the results of Macron’s “destruction of public service” could be seen in the lack of hospital beds. In the region. He had recently gone to the hospital for renal colic, but there were no more beds in the emergency room – he had to sit in a section devoted to drug treatment. “Emmanuel Macron and his government tried to deceive France a little and really make it lose its compass by playing the politics of at the same time, the politics of appeal to the right and to the left,” he said. To the French, he told me, it was now clear that Macron was a right-wing politician.

Absenteeism is high in Asnières (about forty-five percent of the inhabitants were absent from the first round of the legislative election), but lower than the national average. “People were disappointed” when Mélenchon didn’t make the presidential run-off, Ravier said. The NUPES activists had chosen to go to the neighborhoods with the lowest turnout in the first round, going up and down the stairs of a long building. Outside, Ravier tried to encourage a boy to vote. “It’s really easy, just go to the nearest school.” A teenager in a green tracksuit pushes his friend: “You will vote, Omar! We will go with you! One man told campaigners he would have loved to vote for Mélenchon, but he was not “Franco-French” – he did not have citizenship.

Ravier thinks the energy of the new alliance may come, in part, from fear of the far right and its standard bearers, like presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. During the presidential election, she says, “we met a lot of people when canvassing who said ‘we are too afraid of Zemmour, we vote Mélenchon'”. never in the National Assembly. Indeed, the Cullell district in southern France is one of sixty-three in which the left-wing alliance will face off against the far-right. NUPES, she said, is trying to offer “a positive message because you have to wonder about the spectacular progress” of the National Rally, which she says won fifty percent more votes in her region than in the previous election. “We will be concerned with solving their problems,” she says, rather than “bearing hatred and stigmatization of the other”.

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