I had watched the weeks events unfold online and through images on social media. A deep sense of sadness and a defiant atmosphere hung over the city. I was heartbroken for those who had lost their lives and for their families. The Charlie Hebdo attack and events that were to follow, were deeply sad and incomprehensible. I was also deeply upset by the threat to our values and society. I was scared and uncertain.
By going to the Unity march on Sunday, I felt that I was making a stand, to show and say ‘I am not afraid’. I wanted to connect with the mood and the events in the city, to witness for myself what was happening. By capturing and sharing some photos of the events on social media, I felt I was finally taking action in my own way.
I left my apartment on Sunday afternoon early hoping to get down to Place de la République ahead of time. Already the metro was packed and nearly impossible to board. Access to Place de La République was locked down for security reasons. I got down at Strasbourg Saint Denis, less then a mile away from Place de la Rébublique.
There was already a huge crowd gathered outside when I exited the station. The anticipation and anxiousness that I had felt travelling on the metro to get there was greeted and dissolved by a huge sense of solidarity present in the streets. People from all ages, races and nationalities came out to march, to express their sentiments, I was taken aback by the immensity of it all.
I moved to the side by the arches to try and capture some photos. All I could see ahead was a sea of people flying French flags and carrying signs ‘je suis Charlie’ ‘Égalité, Liberté, Fraternité. There were short bursts of chanting followed by applause. People were calm, positive and smiling. It was so moving, I was really witnessing an extraordinary historical event.
The events of the last week have been overwhelming and uncertain. However, as I walked back home from the march I felt things had changed and become more clear in my mind. The great sadness and despair that hung in the air this week had been traded for a sense of hope and optimism. I realised from witnessing all the different nationalities and diversity at the march (and the international response) that this event was not just about the Charlie Hebdo magazine that had been attacked. The unity march event was underpinned by a deep message and expression of unity and liberté. True values that go well beyond the borders of France. It was global.