Yellow Vest protests that began with rising gas prices has new demands.
The fires in France continue to burn along with the “Gilets Jaunes” voices that have yet to be heard by their government.
Nov. 17 was when the “Gilets Jaunes”, or “yellow vests”, were first seen across France sporting their iconic neon driver’s vests originally intended to be used in emergencies. About 280,000 French drivers led demonstrations across the country in opposition of the proposed fuel taxes. French President Emmanuel Macron announced these taxes as part of his economic reforms, with the gas tax applied as an effort to curb climate change by limiting the country’s use of fossil fuels. This decision did not rest well with the majority of France’s population because the tax would have increased gas prices by 30 cents per gallon, adding to the already high cost of $7.06 per gallon.
Some of the demonstrations led by drivers were anything but peaceful. A number of protesters showcased their discontent by burning cars, blocking highways and fuel depots, and even fighting policemen and nearby motorists. Over 400 people were injured in the first set of protests and one died after being run over by a panicked driver. After the beginning of the demonstrations, several more were planned for later in the month and many wondered when the movement would show signs of slowing down.
Dec. 17, the “Gilets Jaunes” entered their sixth week of protesting against the French government. Within the several weeks of demonstrations, the “Yellow Vest” movement shifted from a force against the rise in gas prices to a united voice opposing the French government. They are most recently characterized by their hatred for President Macron, who they nicknamed “King Macron”.
Several demonstrations continue to be destructive, some reaching riot-like levels. Of the many French cities overrun by protests, Paris is among the most notable. The protests in Paris resulted in a total shutdown of the capital, closing places like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. Shops and businesses along the picturesque Avenue de Champs-Elysees have been boarded up as if in preparation of a hurricane. The Arc de Triomphe, a symbol of Paris, was damaged by rioters and left graffitied. The monument displayed slogans such as “The Yellow Vests will triumph” before they were removed during repairs. Fires rage across France in both a metaphorical and literal manner. Among the flaming barricades in Champs-Elysees, riot police release tear gas into the crowds. A mix of both hostile and peaceful protestors leave the scene with stinging eyes.
Media coverage of the events in France tend to depict the protesters as violent when in reality, the majority condemn rioting.
“Among the demonstrators, there are people we call ‘casseurs’, or people who come to the protests just to break things and create chaos,” French teacher Doriane Rencker said. “Opposite them, you have the police responding…that’s mostly when things accelerate.”
In the weeks after the first protest over fuel prices, the goals of the “Gilets Jaunes” have changed. This is largely due to Macron announcing the cancellation of the gas tax Dec. 5. Although some are requesting for Macron to resign, the vast majority of those involved only ask for sustainable living conditions, something that is difficult for many working-class citizens in France.
“The gas tax increase was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Rencker said. “Low-income and middle-class people are struggling…while the wealthiest or foreign corporations are getting tax breaks.”
For the French, being heard by the government came with several risks and losses. During the movement, eight fatalities occurred with over 1,000 civilians injured during the protests. The number of arrests reached record levels Dec. 8 and over 2,300 citizens were arrested during this time.
Although there was little media coverage of the Yellow Vest movement within the U.S., cries of the French were heard around the globe, resonating with other countries. There were variations of the protests in 14 European and Middle-Eastern countries inspired by the Gilets Jaunes. A few countries include Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Some people question if the protests will get to the U.S. due to how quickly they are reaching worldwide levels, with some wondering what it would take to spark such protests.
“It would have to target everybody to get to the level of intensity that it has in France,” junior Madigan Wilford said. “Because then there would have to be that sense of unity between protestors, even if they’re on different sides of the political spectrum.”
Freshman Andrew Landers proposed the idea that the spark for the movement does not have to be an exact event.
“I think that people would begin to protest when they realize that there’s a better system than the one we have now,” Landers said. “The backlash wouldn’t come from some sort of heinous government activity, it would come from the people slowly waking up and realizing that some sort of system is flawed.”
If the “Yellow Vest” movement were to happen in U.S., the methods citizens take to express themselves would be the main concern because of the violence associated with the protests.
“Violent protests in this country would be put down pretty quickly,” government teacher Brian Kirchberg said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to them happening in the near future.”
Although the “Yellow Vest” protests will not likely reach the U.S. anytime soon if ever, they are still ongoing in France. The most recent demonstrations had a lower turnout than earlier in the movement, implying that the “Gilets Jaunes” may soon come to a stop. The protests slowing down, however, does not mean the French are done listing their grievances.
The 111,000 police put in charge of “keeping the peace” at demonstrations began their own protest Dec. 18. What many are calling the “Blue Vest” protest started with French police causing delays at Paris airports and could soon be followed by labor strikes. Officers complain of being overworked and forced to work overtime without pay. The French government responded to this by offering officers a bonus of about $340 but the offer was quickly dismissed by police as insufficient.
Even if the “Gilets Jaunes” stop actively protesting, French citizens have made it clear to their government that they do not tolerate their current standards for living and want future changes in their country. During the six weeks of riots, protests and peaceful demonstrations, activists in the “Yellow Vest” movement have ensured that France’s government will no longer be able to turn a blind eye on their citizens.