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(antifascist demonstration,
night of the 21st April, 2002)

In April 2002 I attended a conference called "Numer", dealing with multimedia, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Three days of lectures by a broad panel of academics and artists coming mostly from Europe and North America. It bore a whole range of sensitivities, some speakers preaching the marketplace, others barricaded within their conceptual ivory towers…

The last day was the 21st April, the day of the first round of the French presidential elections. I had voted by proxy. As the participants left the hall in the evening, I asked someone if they had heard the results, and so I was told that the racist National Front's Le Pen had come second and would be running against Jacques Chirac, ousting Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, from the running. I realised along with many, many others that I would have to vote for Chirac. A leaden silence had fallen over Paris, the usually animated square in front of the Pompidou Centre was locked in a hush. On television, the Socialists were devastated, while the right wing were trying to keep a straight face, knowing that Chirac was guaranteed victory, but in such controversial circumstances…

Feeling wretched and devoid of appetite, I decided to go to the Place de la Bastille, where the big demonstration celebrating Mitterand's victory in the presidential elections of 1981 had been held 21 years previously. I figured that it would be deserted apart from whizzing cars, and that by photographing that desertion, I might express the feeling of foreboding and abandon brought upon by these events. Instead I discovered the nucleus of a demonstration on the Opera steps, more and more people streaming in as they were called on their cell-phones. The rallying cry of everyone was "1er, 2ème, 3ème génération, nous sommes tous enfants d'immigrés" ("1st, 2nd, 3rd generation, we are all children of immigrants"), a long-standing slogan from French anti-rascist demonstrations.

So I joined it, and as I documented photographically with the discussions of "Numer" in mind, I asked, how does one translate this spontaneous outpouring of dismay, defiance and human outreaching into a web existence? The answer would be the creation of a virtual demonstration. At some point after midnight I called home and asked them to register the domain name “enfants-dimmigres.org”.

It took less than a week for the team at Magelis (the multimedia company I was running at the time) to set the site up. "Enfants d'Immigrés" functioned parallel to the enormous demonstrations taking place throughout France during the two weeks between the two rounds. These culminated in a million and a half demonstrators on the 1st May. During the week or so that the virtual demonstration was online before the second round, nearly 900 people registered to "march" in it. The site conveyed our appeal in favour of "an open and generous France".

The only obligatory information that people had to provide were their first name and their location. Optional information included: their full name, age, profession, origins, and the text of their (virtual) placard. They could also display a photograph of themselves, or an animated computer graphics illustration, or an avatar from a series of silhouettes.

While the first demonstrators were from France, and in particular Toulouse, where we were located, within a short time people from elsewhere in Europe, and the rest of the world joined in. There were several from Chile, and one person from Bali! The most "exotic" was a Japanese-Brazilian living in Cairo. A common placard was "No Pasaran", a Republican rallying cry from the Spanish Civil War - in this area of south-west France there is a large population of descendants of refugees from Franco.

For us it became quite mesmerising and particularly warming to go online and watch this multitude passing by, each with her or his identity, origins, and message. The feeling of "togetherness" was most tangible, despite the disembodied nature of internet. This feeling was communicative, it transpired in the very friendly emails that we received from participants.

We had a short time to spread the word. We started with our various professional and personal mailing lists. There were a large number of web sites going online about the elections, petitions, or calls for action ("la pince à linge" was a call for voters to vote for Chirac with laundry pegs on their noses. They had to call it off, as the Constitutional Council declared this anticonstitutional), or collections of placards that graphic artists made for people to print out and use in the real demonstrations. The press gave a fair amount of attention to such initiatives. Thus "Enfants d'Immigrés" was mentioned in Libération and L'Express.fr; we were part of a group interview in "Le Monde Interactif"; and the Belgian "Le Soir" online wrote "Enfants-dimmigres.org invites everyone to an international and pacific demonstration. Fabienne from Cairo, Mehdi from Paris, Ingrid from Mariembourg,… From the ends of the earth to the epicentre of the earthquake, each one of us may leave a virtual trace of his march towards a tolerant and free world".

Between the second round (which Chirac won with a banana republic majority) and the general elections which followed, we put a discussion forum up on the site, called the Virtual Assembly. We tried to formalise the "act of dialogue" so that it would function more as a debate, rather than a threaded, rambling discussion, which is often the case with forums. A participant starts a debate by declaring a proposition, explaining it, and those who continue are called upon to annotate their argument with their position: "agreement", "disagreement", whether it is "not so simple", or "a proposition", or "for example".

The following people worked on the project: Philippe Bertrand, Laure Calandre, Daniel Lopez, Laurent Padiou, Pierre Priot, Sylvie Rabie, Joseph Rabie.