“We will not kneel, we will not fear reprisals, we will keep protesting until the end,” said one Gilet Jaune protester to me on Saturday as the police tore into the crowd, scything people to the ground and trampling them underfoot.
“For more than two months the people who come out into the streets are met with governmental repression. Since the 17th November 2018 we have been on the streets but we have not been listened to.” The statement from the Yellow Vests — or Gilets Jaunes (GJs) as they are better known in France — was published just before Saturday February 2, 2019, when tens of thousands of GJs took to the streets of cities nationwide for Acte XII (Week 12) of the protests that have been a weekly event since they first began on November 17, 2018.
The GJ movement has taken France by storm since its sudden appearance after the increasingly unpopular President Emmanuel Macron introduced a number of measures that appeared to protect the French wealthy elite while penalising those already on the brink of poverty. The increase in the fuel tax was the final straw that broke the back of the already pressurized population struggling to make ends meet every month.
Geographer Christophe Guilluy had prophesied the potential of this uprising in 2014. Guilluy demonstrated the demographics of most major French cities comprising the wealthy, banking, industrial-capitalist centers surrounded by the ghettoized and marginalized suburbs that are home to an estimated 60 percent of the urban population. For those scraping a living together in the suburbs, driving to and parking in the city center for work could cost as much as 250 Euros ($284) per month. The impact of an increase in the cost of fuel would hit these people the hardest.
Historian and author Diana Johnstone, based in France, best explained the origin of the Yellow Vest as the symbol of this organic, grassroots movement. The yellow vest is something that every French citizen must have in their car in case of a road accident — the vest must be worn to prevent being unseen and run over by other vehicles. Wearing the yellow vest during protests signifies that French citizens do not accept being invisible to and railroaded by their government.