Going Viral for Good: Meet Mathilde Caillard, the techno activist who danced against the French pension reform – Screen Shot
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Going Viral for Good: Meet Mathilde Caillard, the techno activist who danced against the French pension reform

Viral moments have become the centrepiece of activism. Gen Zers are currently spearheading some of the most important movements of the 21st century, and we’re doing it with the help of social media. Our mindset? It’s never too early to combat climate change, shed light on the mental health crisis, and fight against racial injustice. Meet the changemakers of our generation who’ve used the algorithm for the greater good.

On Saturday 15 April 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron signed into law his government’s highly unpopular pension reforms, which raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. Although protests against the new law definitely have continued to carry on despite the bill having been signed by the head of state, it was the street activism that took place across the country just before, in March, that truly had the greatest impact on the rest of the world, and we just couldn’t look away.

Sometimes spontaneous, and other times violent, some protests drew crowds of more than a million people, with the outcry proving to be a major test for President Macron as bins overflowed across the capital and in other big cities. But it was one specific demonstration, along with one protester in particular, that stood out from the months of opposition displayed in France.

The techno activist who broke the internet

When 25-year-old activist Mathilde Caillard got ready to march the streets of Paris on 7 March, arming herself with a pair of sunglasses, red belt, black jeans and an Alternatiba t-shirt on top of an oh-so-French black turtleneck, she had no idea that she would end up going viral.

Known as “MC danse pour le climat” on social media, which translates to “MC dances for the climate,” Caillard was filmed dancing to techno music in front of the march by the climate and social justice collective she belongs to, Alternatiba Paris, followed by a crowd of electrified protesters.

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In no time, the techno activist’s galvanising movements and clear sense of rhythm became a meme for young protesters opposing the pension reform, and the slogan chanted in the clip became a rallying cry that reached individuals even outside of France.

As part of our new column Going Viral for Good, SCREENSHOT sat down with Caillard to learn more about her journey into activism, her go-to methods when it comes to conveying her message, and why it’s so important we have these conversations sooner rather than later.

Did you and your organisation come up with the songs playing in the background while you were dancing?

“Alternatiba Paris, which is the climate and social justice organisation I’ve been a part of since 2019, consists of numerous activists who are constantly coming up with new ways of animating and enlivening demonstrations and groups of people during protests and acts of civil disobedience. Rémi, the DJ who’s mixing on that video, and Éva, another member, had the idea of adding catchy slogans on top of some heavy techno.

Afterwards, we focused on coming up with the songs’ actual messages, which we’re quite used to working on as a small group. We eventually landed on ‘burnt planet’ as we were trying to find a slogan that speaks about our opposition to the pension reform, as well as its link to the current climate crisis.”

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What’s the main message behind those songs for people who can’t speak French?

“It says: ‘no retirees on a burnt planet, pensions and climate are part of the same fight.’ The French youth and the climate movement are opposed to the new pension plan because we reject the system that created this reform in the first place. It’s a system that wants us to work more to produce more, even though we’re all aware that it’s this insane and infinite production cycle that is currently leading us to a chaotic climate and is destroying our future.

Instead, we should be questioning work and putting it back in its proper place: work should only serve as a way to fulfil society’s essential needs. Climate change should help us sort through essential activities and what isn’t essential if not harmful for the planet.

Moreover, this reform aims to restructure how France’s working society is organised, while ignoring its impact on the climate. And yet, we know that in a world that’s burning, the drudgery of work won’t be the same as it is now—even more so for those on the frontline. It makes no sense to force people to work for longer when we know that working conditions are only going to deteriorate further.

This reform is not needed and it’s been monopolising both the political and media agenda for too long. Meanwhile, no one’s talking about climate change and it feels as though the French government has zero desire to do anything about it.”

What first led you to use techno dancing (and music) as a way to protest Macron’s pension reform and help promote a powerful message?

“I’ve always liked to dance during protests—dance has been used in social movements forever. Unions or other organisations also play some music on their trucks with people singing and dancing. As for why techno music in particular, as I said earlier, we at Alternatiba Paris came up with the idea one day and wanted to test it out.”

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How did you end up being at the front of the march that day?

“With Alternatiba Paris, when we organise a protest, there’s always a group of activists who are put in charge of animating the procession with chants and dancing. The day the video was filmed, as usual, there were quite a few of us dancing and singing.

In the clip, you can only see me but behind the camera, there were loads of us dancing and singing to encourage the crowd to do the same along with us. It’s important to note that when you’re protesting, you need to do so for five or six hours. Dancing and moving around gives people strength and motivation to carry on.”

In that moment, did you expect those clips of you dancing to ever go viral?

“No, not at all, because I’ve always done it, just like countless other people.”

Who first posted those clips, and what kind of response have you received on social media since then?

“It was a friend of mine who filmed the video. He initially posted it to his Instagram story and then sent it to me. I shared it on my social media channels a few days after to show people, ‘Look, this is how we protested during the latest demonstration, come join us against the pension reform.’ That’s when it went viral.

Though I was harassed online, mostly by men, the majority of the messages I received were that of support from individuals who told me that the video gave them back hope and made them want to join our protests.”

What has your role at Alternatiba Paris consisted of?

“I’ve been an activist and member of Alternatiba Paris since 2019, but the organisation has been around since 2015, when it was created as Alternatiba’s local group. The movement is based on two things: to bring alternative solutions, and to do so through civil disobedience against harmful projects which puts pressure on both the government and polluters.

For example, in 2020, we went on Roissy Charles De Gaulle’s tarmac to protest against the expansion of the airport’s Terminal 4 in the midst of a climate crisis. A few months later, the expansion was cancelled.”

Why do you think that gen Zers are at the forefront of activism?

“Back when I first started looking into the climate crisis and ways to tackle it, I felt very anxious. I was paralysed and stunned. It’s almost as if I was frozen, I didn’t know what to do. My older sister, who’s 27, was a part of Alternatiba Paris and so I decided to join her. It’s thanks to the collective and the militant action it takes in order to create change that I was able to move past this phase of inertia and manage my eco-anxiety. Together, we have incredible power and can move mountains. I invite all young individuals to join organisations like Alternatiba Paris and shake off this same feeling of apathy. It’s the battle of our century.”

What other forms of activist protest would you like to see go viral?

“It’s never too early nor too late to take action and start caring about politics. To be in politics is simply to have an interest in how we can best organise ourselves as a society, what future we want to build together and how we want to change the world. If you think about it, everything that surrounds us comes from a political decision. Everything is political. In French, there’s a saying that states: ‘Take care of politics or politics will take care of you.’

So yes, it’s never too late and it’s certainly never too early. Let’s keep our heads up, care about the rest of the world, let’s never give up on fighting for what is right and what we care about. We don’t have anything to lose when it comes to taking action, but we’ve got everything to lose if we don’t.

Something else that I’d like to see go viral? I want people to start talking about ways to tackle climate change seriously, and I want the leaders of the world to finally make decisions that are as important as the matter at hand.”

Going Viral for Good: Meet Ever, the topless activist who interrupted Avril Lavigne on stage

Viral moments have become the centrepiece of activism. Gen Zers are currently spearheading some of the most important movements of the 21st century, and we’re doing it with the help of social media. Our mindset? It’s never too early to combat climate change, shed light on the mental health crisis, and fight against racial injustice. Meet the changemakers of our generation who’ve used the algorithm for the greater good.

In March 2023, a climate activist called Ever went viral online after she participated in a protest at the Junos, Canada’s annual music awards show. Commandeering the stage as singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne was about to present an award, Ever’s message, lack of clothing, and act of civil disobedience quickly flooded our feeds and FYPs.

As part of our new column Going Viral for Good, SCREENSHOT sat down with Ever to learn more about her journey into activism, her go-to methods when it comes to conveying her message, and why it’s so important we have these conversations sooner rather than later.

Connecting with Canada

My conversation with Ever started exactly how I imagined it would. As the Zoom video snapped into focus, I was greeted by an extremely smiley woman who, while holding a small fluffy dog in her arms, informed me that she’d just finished giving herself a haircut. Though we began our conversation in her kitchen, pretty soon after, Ever decided to grab her chai tea and settle on a patch of grass in her front lawn. In between questions, the activist waved at passers by and, all in all, radiated a pretty special and unique energy.

When did you first become involved with activism?

“Well, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been into environmentalism. I remember always being the one to take things out of the recycling bin in order to try and make something out of them when I was little. I went to school for fashion design, right out of high school. But pretty quickly, I realised that I hate the fashion industry, and what I really want to do is reclaim items. So, I did launch a couple of different recycled clothing lines over the years. And I really do consider those things part of activism, because every little thing that any person can do, does make a change, no matter how small. So, for a long time, I turned trash into treasure.”

How has your activism changed and developed over the years?

“It was about last year [2022] in April that I got involved with Save Old Growth. I did my first environmental action with them. I moved to Vancouver from Toronto back in 2020 and so a lot of my activism before then had been in the cannabis movement. I had worked in the cannabis black market for the last 15 or so years, and then legalisation happened in Canada approximately six years ago.

Before that, we had to fight very hard for our rights to use this natural medicine and for other people’s rights to access it. I think that a big part of my activism comes from my experience in the cannabis movement. And then I moved here [Vancouver], and I became so much more aware of the climate crisis. And so, last Spring, when I saw Save Old Growth participating in road sit-ins and stopping traffic and, you know, creating headlines, I knew I had to get involved because they’re doing something radical that’s shaking the boat. And that’s what we need right now, we need to shake things up.”

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Can you talk a little bit about how the Juno Awards x Avril Lavigne moment happened?

“I was approached by On2Ottawa, which includes a lot of people that have come from Save Old Growth. And the two actions I had previously done were topless: I interrupted a FIFA soccer match in Vancouver, and I scaled the Victoria Visitor Centre, right across from the legislature. So they kind of knew that if they needed something crazy done, they could reach out to me. On2Ottawa had just been starting up and so really needed to get the word out. Disrupting the Juno Awards was presented to me as the first thing I could get involved with. And after agreeing to get involved, I immediately asked ‘Can I do it topless?’.

With any of the actions that I’ve done with all of these groups, it’s always been me that asks, ‘Can I do it topless?’ I’ve never once been asked to do something like that topless. And it’s also always added that there’s no pressure either way. Like, ‘hey, if you’re interested, you know, this could be fun’. So, I chose Avril Lavigne and I chose to do it topless, and it went really well.”

Going topless during a protest is definitely a layered form of activism, could you share some of your thoughts on it?

“There are so many layers to why I choose to go topless. First of all, an article that mentions a topless protester is more likely to get clicks than an article that brings up an environmental activist. So, yes, it is for the clicks, it’s for the shock value. But it also reaches a lot of different demographics of people. When we were in Toronto, I was wearing the infamous pink pants for the first time while we were doing some leafleting. And people began to recognise the pants!

Construction workers and truck drivers recognised the pink pants. And when I first got out of jail, so many people had questions such as ‘Oh, did Avril [Lavigne] touch your titty?’ or ‘Did you fight Avril?’ And realistically, it’s okay if people are focusing on the wrong thing, because at least they’re still talking about it. So yeah, it’s a part of shock value, but that’s how you get people’s attention.

When it’s when normal people are trying to get to work, or are just being inconvenienced, it’s really easy to disarm them with a big smile and titties. Yeah, they’re less likely to be violent, which we have seen in these movements, people can get very violent.”

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“A lot of people will say that it dilutes the message and I’m being a bimbo, but really, I’m just trying to sugarcoat it. We’re in a really drastic situation, people. There’s an old saying: You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. My thinking is when people go out and they start shouting ‘We’re all gonna die, you’re all gonna burn in the fire’, people don’t want to hear that. So, it’s easier to hear something you don’t want to hear when it’s coming from a lighter source, you know?”

Have you always known that you’d be as comfortable getting arrested to fight for the cause?

“When I do these things, I’m fully prepared to get arrested—I’m not afraid of that part. Which is part of my privilege that I’m using at that moment, is that I’m not afraid to be arrested, even for a third time, I’ll do it.

I’m able to make some headlines with the privilege that I have. I can walk up into places and sit in jail and not experience what other people are experiencing, because it’s a very different experience when you’re white and you’re in jail.”

Why do you think that gen Zers and young people are at the forefront of activism?

“We’ve tried everything else. There’s no right way to protest because we’re working in a corrupt system right now. I have spent too much time in jail for what I’ve been doing. My last act of protest in Ottawa, which I’m being charged with mischief for, I spent the equivalent of three days in jail for it. And the holding facilities are of such poor quality. Even correctional officers in Edmonton were saying ‘Why is she even in here, she didn’t break anything, she didn’t hurt anybody.’ Even those that work in the system understand how broken it is.

On2Ottawa is growing up real fast, and we’re so proud of her. Our trip to Ottawa this month [April] was only the very first wave. We’ll be going again in August when Parliament is in session. And this is going to be our big one. We’re hoping to load up a bus and drive across the country, doing actions along the whole way.

Everybody brings different things to the table. And that’s what has been so inspiring for me through this whole movement, because everybody feels helpless. Everybody feels like there’s nothing that they can do. But, everybody has a way that they can contribute. Even if it’s making meals for people that are going on the frontline, or you’re providing support for people who’ve been arrested. I couldn’t do the things that I do if I didn’t have such an amazing team of people from all different backgrounds, all different educations and all different age groups—it’s absolutely inspiring.”

What global issue do you think needs more attention right now?

“So, in Canada there is this group of government mercenaries, to put it lightly. It operates as a division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and it’s called C-IRG, which stands for Community-Industry Response Group. The RCMP was actually created for the purpose of collecting native children and putting them into residential schools. And now, the C-IRG division is hired by companies that are putting in pipelines and cutting down old forests. They’re here to protect corporate interests, period. The C-IRG are the ones going onto the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en land and removing people from their homes by force.

It goes all the way to the top. This is one of the most important things that people need to know about around the world, because everybody still has this idea about Canada that nothing bad ever happens here and our politicians aren’t corrupt. In reality, this isn’t the case. Canada is an occupation and I think others need to understand, as well as the people that live here, that our home is on native land. We need to keep the RCMP off the Wet’suwet’en lands, stop the Trans Mountain pipeline, and save the Canadian Greenbelt.”

What are your final thoughts?

“All of these things I’ve just mentioned are why I’m involved with On2Ottowa, because they aim to involve all these groups who’re fighting for these causes. Sometimes, when you get involved in activism, every group considers themselves the most important and have different thoughts on which kind of protest is most effective.

But, when all those people come together, we are so powerful and we can demand to have a citizens’ assembly form and have our collective voices heard. We’re so strong in numbers. So, the idea is to bring everyone together and demand a citizens’ assembly. Every time that Parliament sits, we will be there. Although, not me personally because I’m not allowed in Ottawa right now…”