Les Gilets Jaunes–part 2

Hi from Paris,

Many of you have written to me to make sure I am okay as the tv reports showed a Paris out of control and burning.  I am fine.  The protests, the demonstrations and rioting have been in the centre of Paris where tourist attractions are and the wealthiest streets are.  It has affected my ability to travel around Paris.  Yesterday, we were warned ahead of time that forty metro stations would be closed.  And, as a caution, all tourists sites were closed, all museums closed and the department stores on the Grands Boulevards were closed.

What started as a protest against a tax on diesel fuel has now escalated to a full-blown rage at the cost of living in France, hatred of President Macron as a president of only the rich and a general overflowing of suppressed anger at the things the average French person cannot control

I have friends on both sides.  A number of my french friends are disgusted with the Gillets Jaunes.  They feel they do not appreciate all the services that they do get for ‘free’. The French pay one of the highest taxes in Europe and those taxes are what support the French Healthcare System which is remarkable, maintenance of roads and highways–they are always up to date, and many days and evenings during the year when the average person can go to museums and monuments for free.

I also have friends who support the Gilets Jaunes.  They also believe that this protest has been hijacked by the hooligans and the far-right as well as the infamous ‘black bloc’.  Many believe that the Gilets Jaunes want a peaceful protest but as one french worker said, “if we protest peacefully, we get ignored.  If there is violence, they hear us and things change.” (that is not an exact quote).

For those of you who want to read a lot more detail, I’ve included articles from the NYTimes, The guardian and France24.

https://www.france24.com/en/20181208-live-hundreds-detained-paris-france-braces-new-anti-macron-riots

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/paris-police-flood-streets-gilets-jaunes?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZW5kLTE4MTIwOQ%3D%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email

No one knows what will happen next.  Macron is supposed to talk to the country early this coming week.  Is he going to stick to his revolutionary plan or will he have listened and be willing to work with the French?  And interesting sideline is the comparison to the 1968 student riots that brought Paris to a complete standstill.   “In an interview with the Observer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the leaders of the May 1968 student riots and one of Macron’s friends and advisers, said the president and the government needed a “complete reset …and a tax revolution” to answer protesters’ demands.”

Thank you all for your concern,

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Les Gilets Jaunes — What the heck is happening in Paris

Les gilets jaunes are the yellow vests that are stored in every car in France. It is mandatory.  In case of emergency, one can stand outside the car with the vest on and any passerby knows you need help.

When Macron announced his plan to raise the price of diesel fuel, the French were infuriated.  For years, the government had been pushing diesel cars as the most climate friendly as well as the cheapest to run.  As a result, the majority of cars in France are diesel.  Now we have learned that diesel is not very climate friendly so the price of the fuel has been steadily rising in order to dissuade the French from buying diesel cars.

The government is offering incentives that are excellent if you trade your diesel car in for a new car.  However, at least 50% of the population cannot afford a new car even with the incentive.  At first, a friendly protest was planned for Saturday November 17.  There were no leaders and they had no idea what to call themselves until someone came up with the idea of wearing the yellow vests for the reason they are there in the first place.  Word of the protest spread on the internet through social media. That first Saturday most of France participated in the protest.  Those of us that didn’t, sympathised with them.  In Paris, there was a death when a woman panicked in her car and put her foot on the accelerator when she meant to hit the brake.  In Le Gers where I was that day, it was extremely friendly.  Yes, traffic was held up but no one seemed to really mind.

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Paris–November 17, when things were still peaceful
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Trying to stay warm in the French countryside

By the next Saturday, November 24 when a second protest was planned, a list of taxes that Macron has added or raised on the majority of French, was added to the protestation.  This time, agitators from the far right and far left came on the scene in Paris hoping to take advantage of the situation to create havoc.  It worked.  Cars were burned, fires started, metro stops were closed to protect people and tear gas was used by the police.  It reminded me of Occupy Oakland back in 2012 when the Black Bloc came out and created so much violence that Oakland became the poster child of how the protests were not working.  Friends back in the States were writing asking if I was ok with all the riots going on.  I thought to myself ‘Count on the media to put a spotlight on the anarchists and the violence and not on les Gilets Jaunes and their real complaints.’

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Yesterday was the third day of les Gilets Jaunes and protests. The “Casseurs” (thugs, agitators) were by far the majority on the streets yesterday.  The New York Times called it the worst civil unrest that Paris has seen in over a decade.  More fires, more tear gas, more broken windows, more havoc.  The metro lines that went through the centre of Paris closed completely.  Today, movie theatres on the Champs Elysees were closed as I’m sure many others were.  Many of us stayed home all day.

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This reminds me of Occupy Oakland.  The casseur won’t even take credit for protesting.

Macron is now home from Argentina and has been to the Champs to assess the violence.  There is the possibility that a state of emergency will be declared. “Even if mostly perpetrated by vandals who have now latched on to the movement, the symbolism of Saturday’s violence was powerful. A modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president increasingly disdained for his regal remove turned the country’s richest boulevards and most prominent landmarks into veritable war zones.” NYTimes, Dec. 2, 2018.

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This all makes me very sad.  France, I’ve found, is remarkable in how manifestations are conducted.  They are registered ahead of time, people are warned to stay away from certain areas.  Buses announce ahead of time that they will take different routes.  The gendarmes stand with them not to respond to violence but to protect the protesters and just be a presence so that things remain friendly.

No one seems to know what will happen next.  One publication I read said that gas prices were actually falling because of cheaper oil prices and that by yesterday, it had made up for the 6% the price of diesel has gone up.  I suspect that is not the point anymore.  Macron took away a tax on the wealthy that was causing them to leave the country, move elsewhere.  Now he has to make up the revenue somewhere.  Ergo, the lower 99% are having taxes raised.  This movement can’t go backwards.  Macron has made so many mistakes in his first 18 months as President.  Will he listen?  Will he respond to the people? Macron has “sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.” France24.com.   He doesn’t seem to understand that a huge percentage of the French cannot live in this economy and, living day to day, could care less about climate change.

More to be revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara