In the past several months, France was put to a standstill after a wave of protests hit the streets to demand change in the government. The Gilets Jaunes, also known as the Yellow Vests, are behind the political movement, who aim to bring people together to protest against an abrupt increase in fuel taxes and demonstrating against President Emmanuel Macron’s government to express their anger on the county’s economic inequalities among the French society.
The disturbance started off in the French capital, Paris, yet it spread quickly across the country where more and more people have been getting involved. Even though, the movement started off with the middle class and the low-income groups as they were deeply affected by the higher costs of living, days later, the working class and students expressed their anger on working conditions and educational reforms.
So far, The Yellow Vests are causing havoc without any sign of leadership, which makes it harder for the government to shut them down. The protests and demonstrations have been particularly violent. They use a series of different weapons such as metal poles from street signs, fire, stones and, gas.
Currently, after their tenth week in a row protest, there have been approximately 630 arrests and more than 3000 people injured. The political movement is expanding internationally, from Europe to the other side of the world, where they want their voices to be heard about the inequality of society. President Macron has been working closely with the government to aid and resolve the unrest by unfolding, “The Grand Débat”.
When and how did it all begin?
In early November 2018, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, planned a rise in the tax on fuel to efficiently prioritize being more eco-friendly, by minimizing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to green energy, where the energy comes from natural resources such as sunlight and wind. According to the French government, the fuel used to costs €6.21 and the tax would increase the fuel price by €0.30 per gallon, which will further increase over the next few years.
Middle-class men were starting to get angry and didn’t understand how they were able to pay the increased taxes. Later in November, Idir Ghanes, an unemployed computer technician in Paris explains, “It’s unacceptable… people don’t have decent salaries and at the end of the month they are in trouble and can’t afford to eat.”
As a result, more people started to reveal their emotions by communicating them online.
Unlike any previous movements, the phenomenon originally started online through setting up petitions created by people who wanted their voices to be heard. They did this by organizing protests on Facebook. On 10 October 2018, the Facebook appeal was launched by two fed-up truck drivers from the Seine-et Marne department. Within a couple of days, more than 200,000 supporters joined the online appeal.
On 17 November 2018, the Yellow Vest movement was born, and their first day of violent protests began. Approximately 285,000 people demonstrated. The political movement was not only present in France, but it had spread to Belgium, Bulgaria, Israel, and Iraq too.
Who are the Yellow Vests and what do they do?
The Yellow Vests is a political and social media-based movement that consists of angry citizens protesting in yellow safety vests without a present leader or union. Any person of any age is able to join their protests that were initially against the rise in fuel taxes, but the problem had quickly spread to a symbol of anti-government and hatred towards the French President, Macron. Many students are joining the protests too to express their opinions on the education system and their political views.
“…The online-planned protests have been a continuation of ultra-violent protests, which has never been seen before”, states Christophe Castaner, a French lawyer, and politician. Protesters chant phrases, such as, “Macron resign!”, and more threatening ones such as, “we have chopped off heads for less than this.” and “we are running the revolution.”
Apart from the violent chanting, they march together as a huge group, wearing yellow vests, holding signs and some are armed with firecrackers, stones, and glass, which they have thrown at police and innocent people.
The Yellow Vest movement has taken place every week, starting from 17 November 2018 to today. Every week, the number of protesters decrease yet more people get injured or arrested. According to the Interior Ministry, there were around 280,000 protesters across France on the first day of the movement, and yesterday, 21 January 2019, 84,000 protesters hit the streets on the tenth consecutive weekend.
What is the government doing against the unrest?
Around 77% of the French population agrees with the ongoing desires of the protesters, and the government believes they have a solution to decreasing the number of protests and violence the Yellow Vests bring.
Firstly, the police are involved in providing enough security in areas where the demonstrations take place. Their plan-of-action is to fight back. The police were armed with tear gas, weapons and water cannons to help break up the massive crowds. Unfortunately, the fighting back regime is only making matters worse – more people are getting injured and creating the protesters to become angrier.
On the other hand, President Emmanuel Macron launched The Grand Débat on 15 January 2019 which is planned to be running for the next two months.
The Grand Débat is a tactic for citizens around the country to able to participate in debates on the four main problems France is facing today – tax and public sending, the organisation of the state and public services, ecological transition and lastly, democracy and citizenship. The debates are held online or anywhere the individual pleases to allow people to work together and discuss their wants, needs and recommendations on finding solutions to these problems peacefully. By organizing the national discussions, the government is acknowledging the frustrations of the citizens, so now they can’t be ignored anymore.
After the two months are over, recommendations will be randomly chosen and passed up to the government to start taking action and helping France get back on its feet.
President Macron believes the only way a positive change will arise is by working together as a nation.