I didn’t have a pen. What kind of journalist leaves the house without a pen? A very harried, frazzled one, I guess. I was lucky I remembered my coat, to be honest. And my phone? That was a bonus. At least with it I could record and type and photograph. But I couldn’t hold up what quickly became a symbol for today’s senseless attacks on the press: un stylo—a pen.
They didn’t appear in the air above heads right away, though. In fact, it took a good 20 minutes for things to get going at tonight’s rally at Place de République, located on the border of the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements, just a short walk from today’s terrorist attack.
It was cold, and quiet when I arrived with my new friend Carolina, a photojournalist. I trepidatiously wove my way through thousands of people who had already descended upon the public meeting place, and observed nothing more than a chilly whisper in the air. Whispers and smoke. The French and their cigarettes. They don’t quit for nothing.
There were only a few signs being held at that point, most of which said, “Je Suis Charlie” or “Nous Sommes Charlie.” People had begun lighting candles and placing them around the massive monument in the center of the square, which we managed to work our way towards. Carolina jumped up on it and started filming.
Eventually, call and responses began: “Liberté” shouted one group, “D’expression” answered another.
I stayed quiet, more aware of the smoke and the whistles and the claps; the sirens going off in the background, which both blended in with the scene and yet starkly stood out at the same time. The kids sitting on their parents’ shoulders. The candles held in bare, shivering hands.
Then a new chant began:
“On sommes unite pour la democracie.”
It took a few minutes for me to hear—and translate it—clearly: “We are uniting for democracy.”
Then came the pens. One. Two. Three. A handful. Even a highlighter made an appearance.
All I had was my phone, and the battery was running low. Damn technology. The ink’s run out on my fair share of pens, but they’ll always outwit, outlast and outplay the iPhone.
Eventually, someone high above the monument instructed the crowd to “fermé la!” (shut it) and then just like that there was silence among thousands. The flyers and posters and flags that now canvassed the crowd would have to speak for it.
My eyes kept landing on those using their pens and microphones and cameras to record and share and continue to do the job they’ve been trained to do. The journos.
So after the silence, when the crowd started up again, I finally used my voice. My actual voice, as opposed to the one you’re getting here via my written words.
When they yelled “Libertié” I yelled “D’expression!”
It wasn’t my native language, and I may not have had a pen to hold high, but I knew the words I spoke. And I’ll continue to write with them.