At its first “Assembly of Assemblies” in late January, this grassroots democratic revolt brought together many people who had never participated in politics.
Yellow Vest protesters take part in a demonstration holding a banner that reads: “Angry but not fascist” in Paris, France on January 26, 2019.
“The danger,” Yanis warned, “is that the constant stream of information becomes its own type of ignorance. It’s very easy to forget the human need to educate oneself, and to forge one’s own opinion. What we need is for speech and debate to free themselves everywhere, that they fill every part of daily life, that everyone express themselves, respectfully of course.”
What Yanis was recalling was his own initial reaction to the eruption of France’s Yellow Vest revolt in late November 2018.
“At the beginning, there was this fear,” he continued.
“The movement had been covered in media as a ploy of the far right and the fascist movement. I hesitated to go at first just because of that. But I finally decided that it was all the more important to go if that was actually the case, in order to not abandon the battle to them.”
When people in his hometown of Montceau-les-Mines, in central France, began to organize town meetings at the beginning of December, Yanis decided to go and scope things out. Yanis was amazed to see that more than 1,000 attended the earliest assemblies in late November and early December. People were thinking and talking about politics in ways they had never done before. For too long, democratic life was little more than the habitual cycle of elections, with citizenship reduced to the occasional vote.
The assemblies continued on a weekly basis. “I realized that something was growing,” Yanis remembers. People were organizing themselves and staying in contact, occupying critical road junctions and protesting. Now, almost two months later, on January 26, Yanis found himself making the roughly 200-mile trip to a village just outside of Commercy, a town in a rural, working-class region in eastern France. Currently unemployed after several stints working in cafeterias in local public schools,