On a whim, one of my roommates and I decided to spring for train tickets to Paris in order to attend the Marche républicaine. I contemplated whether it was worth it--it cost 30€, after all, and I could use the money elsewhere. But I knew how badly I'd regret it if I passed up the opportunity to attend this historic event and I bit the bullet. And I am so glad I did.
In order to encourage attendance, France's national train company, SNCF, lowered prices to and from Paris, and the city of Paris made all public transportation free. And boy, did that ever encourage attendance. One million were expected, but reports say that there were between 1.5 and 2 million demonstrators, making this the largest demonstration in French history. I still can't believe that I helped make history.
The march officially began at République and ended at Nation, but it was so crowded that my friend and I didn't even make it to République. One by one, métro stations started to close as the crowd grew, and there were so many people that we weren't really able to march. We "marched" for nearly two-and-a-half hours yet only walked maybe one kilometer.
Never in my life have I seen such unity, both religious and political. Ever. Here I was surrounded by nearly two million others, all of whom were there to express their love for one another, no matter what religion. I always smiled when I'd see a "Je Suis Juif" ("I am Jewish") sign, but I'd smile even bigger when I'd see "Je Suis Juif" next to (or on the same sign as) "Je Suis Ahmed" (in honor of the Muslim police officer, Ahmed, who was killed in the attacks). World leaders came together to stand by France's side, from Angela Merkel to Benjamin Netanyahu to Mahmoud Abbas. Yes, I am critical of the United States' decision to not send a top official, but that's a discussion for a later time. The point is, every single person was there to support France.
In the 24 hours leading up to the demonstration, I was terrified. What if a riot broke out? What if extremists used the crowds to their advantage? But once I arrived, I felt safer than I ever have in Paris, surrounded by so many caring French patriots--and over a thousand police officers and gendarmes.
I'm going to end my words here, as I believe the photos and video will speak more loudly and effectively. Watch out for the clip where the crowd sings the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. If that experience alone didn't give me the chills, I don't know what would.
Vive la France.