ONE of the questions I most often hear is: “What do you miss the most from home?” and I’m usually at a loss for words. But right now, it’s that wave of resistance that has been spreading across each and every French town and city since the start of the year. I feel like I am missing out on a major political and cultural moment.

A bit more protesting would do this country a world of good. Think about it, we could all go out on a sunny spring day and collectively vent on all the things bugging us at the moment: Inequalities, Brexit, and the deteriorating state of our planet’s climate.

Perhaps a cathartic release of frustration with great music and hilarious posters would bring some much-needed light during these challenging times. Maybe we wouldn’t just stand there, helplessly waiting for brighter days.

On the other side of the Channel, there is plenty to be disgruntled about too, primarily the pension reform that President Emmanuel Macron announced in his re-election campaign last year. The overwhelming majority of French citizens vehemently oppose this reform – a whopping 70% of people do not want to work for a couple more years.

In the French Parliament, the government failed to build a majority, with the left vehemently opposing the reform and conservative MPs, who could have been expected to back it, feeling the pressure from their hardworking constituents, who say they simply can’t carry on doing their difficult, back-breaking job for much longer.

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This reform is a deeply unfair one, as it entrenches gender inequality. This is probably one of the reasons why people from my generation and younger have taken part in the regular demonstrations in great numbers. Ironically, many of us have joked that we’d never get a pension, but that hasn’t stopped us from feeling a profound sense of indignation over yet another reform that is going to be so detrimental for workers.

Everybody is talking about this reform and feeling concerned. Those of us with parents in their late 50s are wondering when they can finally start to enjoy retirement.

It feels like I’m having this same talk with my mum, a nurse in a rural hospital, every single week – she insists that there is no way she will be able to keep working night shifts in an understaffed hospital until her mid-60s. For many women with non-linear careers – due to taking time off to raise their children, or having to take part-time jobs due to inadequate childcare – retirement is a distant prospect, and a daunting one as well, since they may not have worked long enough to gain a full pension even when they reach the legal retirement age.

I wish I was there to participate, especially because I don’t have a lot of experience in big demonstrations, except one I joined in favour of marriage equality a decade ago. My memories of demonstrations were more like a few hundred people showing up on a Saturday morning on the town’s marketplace, going on a walk around the town centre with a couple of banners, and then dispersing to get on with their lives.

People from all walks of life – neighbours, colleagues, former teachers – meeting, conversing, and laughing in a spirit of camaraderie – these were the demonstrations I attended in my town. Despite all the differences we may have had, the sense of unity and purpose was strong and made these marches special.

My social media feeds and WhatsApp group chats are full of videos of protests in major cities, with the clever banners and placards, and a welcome dose of fun – definitely more fun than any march I have ever taken part in. At protests in 2023, music, dancing and partying reach an exhilarating peak.

A viral song created by activists from Alternatiba – a citizens’ group fighting against climate change and social justice – is on the verge of becoming the perfect rallying cry for our times, with dozens of demonstrators now dancing to loud techno music and chanting: “Retraites, climat, meme combat! Pas de retraites sur une planete brulee!” (Pensions, climate, same struggle! No pensioners on a burnt planet!)

MATHILDE Caillard, the young activist featured on this video, has faced a barrage of unkind messages, mocking her for her joie de vivre, telling her that her frenetic dancing had no place in a serious protest. But music and dance have always been part of social movements – big political struggles have always given birth to songs, poems, paintings.

She proclaims that activism should be a source of joy, not a bummer; it should bring joy and lift up those who participate.

What is wrong with that? Why protest for change if it is only going to make you more miserable?

Commentators who don’t like the social movement are using every trick in the book to disparage the protesters and create divisions between them.

They tried to ridicule glamorous social media influencers who took their French flags to join the marches, they said that French citizens of foreign descent didn’t care about the movement – an idea that’s not only wrong, but racist.

However, people are simply not having it – the opposition to the pension reform is too important to let anyone divide the people.

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Of course, I would find it more inspiring if people joined together in defence of a shared vision than unite in anger and opposition. Still, the notion of a collective protest makes me a little nostalgic.

I miss the feeling of camaraderie that comes from standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers who share your values, the feeling of hope and community that comes from being together as a nation.

I wish I was able to be there and form memories to pass on to my kid: “When you were little, we twirled and twerked in the streets of Paris so that your gran can have a good retirement and spend more time with you!” This is the essence of it all – the right to enjoy time off after a long career, and to be able to look after yourself and your loved ones.

As radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said in a speech during a march, the fight is about having time to live, love, or do nothing: “Free time is the time when we have the possibility to be fully human”.

Through the banners and dancing, the protesters make a statement – they will not stop galvanising citizens and celebrating democracy, even in the face of a government

and president who increasingly appear to have strayed from their democratic principles.

The current political climate in France is fraught with tension. People are angry, frustrated, and disillusioned with the current government.

At the moment, it is difficult to see the way out, as President Macron is not one for compromise

The president may count on police brutality and subsequent chaos to discourage demonstrators, however, their souls won’t be broken as they continue to march, dance and sing for justice.