PARIS — The April 6 protest had already been moving for half an hour by the time I found Rémy Buisine. The 32-year-old video journalist at French online media outlet Brut had given me his live location, but he wasn’t wearing his neon-yellow press armband yet and, given his outfit (a light, navy puffer jacket and blue jeans), he blended right in with the crowd — which was anywhere from 57,000 to 400,000 people, depending on whether you believe the police or union organizers. Buisine found me, in fact: He yelled out my name with a smile on his face, before getting back to business, instructing a colleague to go shoot the back of the march.
Buisine has become, for millions of people worldwide, the eye into the recent French protests. The demonstrations were originally about pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron in January — the main sticking point was the potential increase of the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 — and the first marches were largely made up of union-faithful, middle-aged people. However, on March 16, when the government forced the reform bill through without a vote, more than 6,000 people showed up, without formal planning, at Paris’s Place de la Concorde. That crowd, mainly under age 30, were outraged by what they saw as the government’s anti-democratic actions.
Almost nightly, for the next two weeks, French people gathered on the streets in what the media called “spontaneous” or “wild” protests. “I saw lots of young people show up,” Buisine said, “and many, still, who had never set foot in a protest.”
Buisine’s livestreams from the demonstrations’ teargassed frontlines have lasted up to eight hours, with 70,000 people tuning in to Brut’s TikTok at the height of a stream. Over the last month, the outlet’s TikTok has gained a million followers — it now has 4.2 million — thanks in large part to his streams. (Buisine also broadcasts on Facebook and the Brut app.) And his reach is international: Fans constantly call for him to speak English, but Buisine doesn’t know how to say much beyond that he is broadcasting “live in Paris.”
As we walked to the front of the day’s demonstration, Buisine used one of his two phones (one business, one personal) to take pictures of protesters’ signs for the Brut Instagram account. In the half hour we’d been together, six fans or peers came to say hi, including a volunteer medic who asked Buisine when he’d start his broadcast. “Soon, soon,” Buisine said, stopping only momentarily.