They came in their tens of thousands, young and old, black and white. Within hours of the news that Le Pen had come second in the first round of the presidential election, the boulevards of central Paris were filled with protesters.
Many were in tears of shock and emotion. One young woman had painted 'J'ai honte' ('I am ashamed') on her forehead.
I was on a feeder demonstration that marched first to the Place de la Republique on its way to the traditional gathering place for protesters, the Bastille. As we passed metro stations and cafes people responded to the call 'Dans la rue!' ('Onto the street!') and joined the march. Demonstrators hugged each other as they found friends in the crowd--they were on their mobile phones--'We're going to the Bastille. You must come'.
The size and energy of the protest showed that the opposition to Le Pen wanted to get its voice heard and get organised. Some demonstrators talked of organising a strike, others of smashing Le Pen's march on May Day.
And still the march grew, reaching up to 30,000 people. This magnificent, spontaneous demonstration of disgust and anger proclaimed 'Halte au fascisme, halte au capitalisme!'.
It was nearly 1am before we finally arrived at the Bastille--the square was packed. More feeder marches arrived. People clambered up the monument to drape hand made banners. There were a few red flags of the Trotskyist LCR, stickers from the Greens and Ras l'Front, the anti-racist organisation. Improvisation was the order of the day (and night!). Protesters rifled through shop rubbish bags to find anything to write anti-fascist slogans on. It wasn't long before frustration and enthusiasm meant we were on the move again. The call went out, 'To the Elysée!' (the presidential palace).
It was a young demonstration. People crowded on their balconies of the beautiful old buildings along the way banging saucepans, holding up lighters and candles and applauding. Others played militant rap music from speakers on their window sills. By three in the morning there were still thousands trying to break through police lines at the Place de la Concorde to get to the Elysée. They didn't get there, but that didn't matter--the point had been made, and not only in Paris. That such protests could be rallied within hours and last through the night showed how widespread and how deep the hatred of Le Pen and his ideas is--and how great the potential is for building a force that can take him on.