On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, five young women and their professor made their way through the Parisian chill and surmounted the very French grève to meet in front of the Assemblée Nationale (France’s National Assembly). As a part of our course for La vie politique française (or, French political life), our professor de Bellaing organized a trip for our small, tight-knit class to put our semester’s learning into context and sit in the gallery and watch the Assembly’s proceedings taking place mere meters away. We entered the back door to the Assembly, bustled through the metal detectors, and checked our telephones (no photos allowed!). Seated on the inexplicably tiny gallery seats, we whispered amongst ourselves: “Is that Marine Le Pen? Could that really be the Prime Minister in the flesh?!” (Our class is comprised of political junkies and Francophiles, so even seeing the Minister of Finance was a sight to be seen and truly thrilling).
Members of each political party are given the ability to speak for a minute and a half, addressing political controversy, laws new and old, and fellow assembly members. We witnessed members of nearly all of France’s mainstay political parties speak, each offering their varying political views and opinions; Républicans, members of Macron’s En Marche!, France Insoumise, and the Socialist party all stood and spoke before their political peers (and rivals!). When a member of any given party stated something with which their party agreed with, loud clapping and enthusiastic whooping echoed throughout the room. When, however, a member of the Assembly stated something disagreeable to the vast majority of the members, the president of the Assembly would ferociously bang his wooden gavel, calling for order in the sumptuously decorated room. For example, when France Insoumise’s member Alexis Corbière accused a member of Macron’s party En Marche! of having kept his ties to Blackrock secret and thus compromising the integrity of his party’s pension reform bill, the loud “nons” and zealous gavel banging were nearly deafening. The atmosphere of the room was undeniably electric and because of the grève taking place across the country, the Assembly on this particular day was alight with tension.
My class’s visit to the Assemblée Nationale was one of my most unforgettable experiences while studying here in France. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to witness the underbelly of French politics and to further contextualize my semester’s long study of political life in France. I cannot thank enough my course’s professor, Professeur de Bellaing, for organizing such a trip and for enabling me and my fellow classmates to take part in French history, even just for a rainy afternoon.
Texte Antonia Bentel, Barnard College - Photo Le Parisien