Few people could have imagined the massive demonstrations that have taken place in France against president François Hollande’s law on gay marriage. Even though gay marriage was legalised in late April the demonstration movement, led by comedian Frigide Barjot, continues to protest in the streets.
How has a demonstration movement that is based on an anti-gay message and that has been tainted by the presence of violent right-wing extremists been able to attract so many people, especially families with children?
Hijacking the message
The demonstrators have successfully hijacked Hollande’s message “Mariage pour tous”, marriage for all, using the term “Manif pour tous”, demonstration for all. Political scandals such as the Cahuzac-affair have further created the image of the government as an out of touch elite, while the protesters have represented “the people”.
The protesters have successfully used the mass demonstration, a protest form usually associated with the left. Le Nouvel Observateur points out that they have also hijacked the former socialist president Mitterrand’s slogan “la force tranquille”, the quiet force: “La Manif pour Tous est une force tranquille”, the Manif pour tous is a quiet force.
The colour of the movement’s logo, a white family with a pink or blue background, and the always pink-wearing Frigide Barjot, have effectively stolen the colour pink from the pro-gay marriage side. Furthermore, the colours used resemble the French national colours.Appearing gay-friendly
Barjot has repeatedly claimed that they aren’t demonstrating against homosexuals but against the law on gay marriage. They have been very careful about not being affiliated with any political party or church, nor to be openly homophobic, with almost all posters and flags being professionally designed with approved politically correct messages. Even though homophobic slurs have been frequent, the official message has been rather gay-friendly. Barjot has been quick to denounce the presence of homophobic and racist Neo-nazis as people who are hijacking the protest, making the organisers look like victims.
“If what was on offer were a law that further enshrined rights for gay couples, that enriched their unions, and got rid of the discriminations and injustices that undoubtedly still exist – then I would support it,” Frigid Barjot told BBC News.
Tv and social media
The protesters have been successful in painting themselves as victims on tv, as when a group of young activists were released after a night in jail in front of tv cameras. When police used teargas against the demonstrators, a video surfaced where one could hear somebody say “put the children in the front” for maximum sympathy in the media.
The Manif pour tous is very active on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, where they organise and plan rallies. The Manif pour tous-website exists in five languages and you can even buy t-shirts and sweaters online with the pink family logo. The financing is to some extent crowd-funded, with many small sums given online by supporters.
Defending the republic
Since religion has less of a public role in France compared to for example the US, the demonstrators have claimed to be defending the Civil Code, where “husband” and “wife” are mentioned, rather than invoking religion. Where the American Tea Party defended “God’s law”, the Manif pour tous instead has tried to come across as the defenders of the French Republic, against an out of control president who is changing the law according to his personal interests.
A European Tea Party
Manif pour tous has been compared to the Tea Party-movement. In both cases the protesters are a white conservative majority whose privileged position and power in the society are perceived as threatened, in the USA by a black president and in France by extending civil rights to homosexuals. The fact that the law was presented by a black female Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, has also strengthened the notion of “traditional white France” being symbolically threatened.
The Manif pour tous is an example of a successful demonstration movement in the age of social media, crowdfunding and marketing. It shows how you can organise massive demonstrations in modern and innovative ways, no matter how conservative and reactionary your message might be. The question now is, what is the future of the Manif pour tous now that the law has passed? Will it inspire reactionary movements in other countries?