CREPY-EN-VALOIS, France (AP) — A handwritten sign invited market-goers in Crepy-en-Valois, a down-and-out town north of Paris, to make their voices heard ahead of France's pivotal presidential election.
"What should be changed in France in 2017?" it asked. One by one, voters submitted their answers on multicolored papers that were suspended with clothespins on a line strung around a mall in the center of town.
The responses reflected the key concerns, hopes and tensions in the campaign for the April-May election: jobs, immigration, discrimination, pensions and the bleak prospects for French youth.
Activists from the far-left party of presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon were behind the weekend initiative, but they said their goal was inspiring disenchanted voters to talk politics as much as getting votes for Melenchon.
"Some people said they were not even sure if they would go and vote. So this is worrying, because it means they don't have a handle on politics," said activist Florence Fusin, 48, of Melenchon's Left Front party. "I think it's upsetting and sad to see people giving in."
Fusin said party members working on the project did not immediately disclose their Left Front affiliation.
"There's no censorship. We listen, people talk to us, offload what they think," she said. "Now, if we want to go further and if we see they are interested, we can talk to them about our candidate, but it's not the main objective."
The working-class town of Crepy is fertile ground for candidates on the extremes of the spectrum after years of economic decline. Unemployment is high and crime is up since a car carpet factory shut down. Some employees had even threated to bomb the factory.
It's the kind of town where the far-left will probably do well again this year on Melenchon's promises to take back power from vested interests and to wield it on behalf of the working class.
It's also the kind of town where support is broad for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant National Front party, thanks to her pledges to protect French jobs and industry from both global trade and immigrants.
France is holding a two-round presidential election this spring. The two top vote-getters in the April 23 ballot move on to a presidential runoff on May 7. Current national polls suggest Le Pen would win the first round of voting, but lose the ensuing runoff.
"Work for French people first, before foreigners," one voter suggested, a woman named Chantal.
Others fear Le Pen's message will further strain French society.
"More justice and equality," suggested 47-year-old Aubertin.
"Less racism," pleaded 52-year-old Jean-Claude.
Some proposals were more pragmatic: One 2-year-old dictated a wish for "more playgrounds."