On Sunday night, France’s ‘liberty convoy’ filled a supermarket carpark outside Lille, after leaving Paris. A video on the group’s Telegram account showed hundreds of assembled vehicles, a sea of lights and French flags, with shouts coming from all directions. The cars had arrived earlier in the evening with crowds of locals lining the road, chanting ‘Resistance, Liberté!’ and lighting the route with red flares.
Every step of the way – which started out last Wednesday in Nice and other far-flung cities – the convoy has been met with tables of food and cheers of support from the public.
When I saw off a convoy from Saint Gaudens, south west France, last Thursday morning, there were students and pensioners, hippies and right-wing patriots taking part – a motley alliance of people who had had enough of France’s increasing authoritarian Covid measures and were determined to do something about it.
In spite of politicians’ attempts to tar the protest as being made up of conspiratorial ‘anti-vaxxers’, the people I spoke to on the convoy didn’t talk about the vaccine. They were worried about France becoming a society of surveillance and control. They called the protests a ‘convoy of liberation’ to ‘reclaim our essential liberties’. They said they wanted their children and grandchildren to grow up in a free world rather than a ‘sanitary dictatorship’.
The protestors have been provoked by a series of increasingly strict Covid measures in France. An intransigent elite in this country has tightened the rules at the very moment the rest of the world is relaxing them. Since 24 January, French people have not been able to rely on a Covid test or natural immunity for their vaccine passport that gives them access to cafes, museums and sports facilities.