Hunger-striking baker Stéphane Ravacley’s latest campaign is to become French MP
After working as a baker for decades, Stéphane Ravacley won fame in France for going on a hunger strike to stop the deportation of his Guinean apprentice – then for organising a humanitarian convoy for Ukraine. Now he hopes to enter politics in June’s parliamentary elections, running for his local constituency in eastern France.
Ravacley has been living a double life for several weeks. He starts living the first one in the middle of the night when he puts on his baker’s outfit and gets cracking with the job he’s been doing for 35 years. Ravacley then starts living his second life in the late afternoon, when he starts campaigning in the 2nd constituency of his native area Doubs in eastern France.
“I sleep in the afternoon, then around 5pm I set off with my team for a meeting of some sort,” explained Ravacley, an independent candidate aligned with France’s Green Party in its new alliance with the Socialists, Communists and hard-left France Unbowed in the June 12 and 19 parliamentary elections.
Over the past few decades, nothing suggested that this farmer’s son from a small village in eastern France would enter politics.
But Ravacley was transformed by his fight to prevent the deportation of his young apprentice Laye Fodé Traoré, a Guinean orphan who had come to France illegally.
Despite his fragile health, Ravacley launched an 11-day hunger strike in January 2021 to fight for the regularisation of his protégé’s status. Ravacley lost eight kilos and felt quite unwell – but his campaign grabbed the attention of the media and won the sympathy of part of the French population.
“At the start, I thought the authorities would get in touch with me to sort the situation out,” he recounted. “But no – they waited 11 days. And it was this resounding silence from the government that really changed me. I wasn’t the same after that.”
Traoré was eventually regularised on January 14. After that Ravacley launched Patrons Solidaires, a lobbying group for businesspeople whose employees are affected by the fact that unaccompanied children who come to France are threatened with deportation as soon as they turn 18.
At the impetus of Socialist Senator Jérôme Durain, Ravacley is working on a bill that would allow apprentices to stay in France for another year after their 18th birthday – a proposal the upper chamber rejected in October.
“If we want to make things happen, we’ve got to get involved in politics ourselves,” Ravacley said.
If Ravacley is elected next month, his overriding priority will be to promote the integration of young illegal immigrants in France who want to work. “We protect them while they’re children, then we try and expel them once they are 18, although they’re working for companies that need labour – this happens a lot!” Ravacley said.
Earlier this year, Ravacley then captured public attention by sending a colossal amount of goods to help feed the Ukrainian population after Russia invaded on February 24.
“My other fight,” Ravaclay continued, “is practical and pragmatic environmentalism. I come from a farming background and I know the challenges it faces. I’m all for Europe – but at the same time we’ve got to protect our farmers.”
In addition to these policy goals, Ravacley wants to change the makeup of France’s National Assembly, which contains very few MPs from working-class backgrounds.
Ravacley is being trained as a politician by the Academy of Future Leaders, an organisation set up by NGO founder Alice Barbe to train a new generation of politicians. The baker thinks this is a great opportunity – saying he wants to “continue learning” throughout his life.
However, Ravacley will face a mighty challenge in trying to get a parliamentary seat. France’s legislative elections have repeatedly swept the (re)elected president’s supporters to a majority on the coattails of their Élysée Palace victory. Accordingly, analysts expect President Emmanuel Macron’s party to come out on top.
The Greens have allied with the Socialists, Communists and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s extreme-left France Unbowed for the parliamentary election campaign. But the presidential election showed that France’s left-wing voting bloc is smaller than the centre-right vote concentrated behind Macron and the far-right voting bloc concentrated behind Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party.
Ravacley hopes to be elected as an independent MP sitting with the Greens, as the closest party to his politics.
He faces Éric Alauzet, the incumbent MP for Macron’s Renaissance party, who won big in the constituency in 2017. But the baker’s confidence is unfaltering: “I’m going to be elected,” he said.
This article was translated from the original in French.