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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.