As the ‘Yellow Vests’ protests in France come full circle, some vow to keep fighting for a more just society, while others believe the movement has gone too far. Though rattled, the system they rose up against is still in power.
Every Saturday for a year now, tens of thousands of people all over France have taken to the streets, fed up with not just the neoliberal and austerity policies of President Emmanuel Macron, but apparently the entire political system of the Fifth Republic.
The government has gone after them in force, pushing the police to their breaking point. The mainstream media has demonized them as anti-Semites, homophobes, far-right. Nevertheless, the ‘Yellow Vests’ (Gilets Jaunes) have persisted.
How it all began
A Frenchman marching through the streets of Paris, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Dijon or any other city this Saturday might recall the very first protest, on November 17, 2018, with 300,000 across the country wearing the government-mandated safety vests as a protest symbol against that very government.
While it is unclear which particular pebble started this avalanche, the general consensus points to that summer’s new speed limit of 80 km/h, ostensibly enacted to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change. That was followed by an “eco-tax.” Whether or not those had the ulterior motive of replenishing the empty French treasury, the people were having none of it.
Trucker Eric Drouet and businesswoman Priscillia Ludosky circulated a petition against the tax in October, which quickly snowballed. Then a resident of Brittany named Jacline Mouraud posted a video on Facebook that went viral. Someone called for a street protest. There has been one every Saturday, ever since.
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‘Repression is out in the open now’
Here and there, the protests turned violent. Rocks were thrown at the police. By week two, someone had vandalized the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and set cars on fire. Police responded as they do to riots in the banlieues – suburbs where many of France’s immigrants live in public housing: with overwhelming force.