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