Gilets Jaunes Acte XIV

Once upon a time…

A few weeks ago, I walked along the Gilets Jaunes as they swarmed the streets of Paris to protest for the 10th weekend in a row. Acte X started on the Place de l’Etoile and continued down Avenue Marceau before crossing the Pont de l’Alma. That’s where I said goodbye as the Gilets Jaunes forged ahead towards Les Invalides. The protests I observed were peaceful, unlike prior weekends and the demonstrations that took place outside of Paris that Saturday. But shattered safety windows, boarded storefronts, defaced buildings, and security shutters rolled down were noticeable throughout the city.

War and Peace

Fast forward to last Saturday for Acte XIV. I’m back in Paris for a long week and decided to accompany the 5,000 Gilets Jaunes who were taking their demands to the streets for the 14th consecutive weekend. Just like Acte X, the procession started at the Place de l’Etoile. But this time around, they proceeded down the Champs-Élysées. The crowd at the start of the march was significantly larger and more rambunctious. The atmosphere was joyful, the weather was delightful, and the sight of the pacing assembly was breathtaking. 

While most Gilet Jaunes were protesting peacefully, police had to use tear gas to control a small group of troublemakers midway through the walk as they threw bottles and rocks at the cops. You couldn’t tell where the projectiles were coming from as “Les Casseurs” concealed themselves in the crowd. I was caught off guard, too close to the action, and got to experience the effects tear gas first hand when I was engulfed in a cloud of smoke. The effects kicked in after around thirty seconds and included a burning, watery sensation in the eyes, difficulty breathing, and minor chest pain, which lasted for a few minutes. Not my cup of tea.

Who are the Gilets Jaunes?

They are a populist, grassroots, political movement for economic justice in France with mass demonstrations that began taking place on November 17, 2018. The protesters have called for lower fuel taxes, reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum wage increase, the implementation of Citizens’ initiative referendums, and Emmanuel Macron’s resignation as President of France and his government. The movement is organized in a leaderless fashion, making it difficult for the government to effectively deal with the situation.

How long can this go on for?

In late November 2018, polls showed that the movement had widespread support in France. But that is no longer the case as a majority of the French want the demonstrations to stop. I’m no expert on this topic, but as a distant observer that walked along the Gilets Jaunes twice, it’s hard to imagine that the end is anywhere in sight:

  • This is a leaderless movement: anyone can call for demonstrations on any Saturday through social media.
  • The Gilet Jaunes have a sense of pride and personal empowerment that they unlikely experience at work or other forums.
  • They made it through the darkest and coldest months of Winter. Weather will improve from here on.
  • The Gilets Jaunes have become a big family, with newfound friends meeting up at these demonstrations. What better way to spend a Saturday!
  • The demonstrations are on Saturdays. So there is no need to take off from work and no loss in pay.
  • Remember the 14th of July, 1789?

1789 and Gilets Jaunes… any parallels?

It’s undeniable that the Gilets Jaunes are a force to be reckoned with and will be remembered in the history book as a movement that changed France. Food changed history in 1789 when two of the most essential elements of French cuisine, bread and salt, were at the heart of the conflict  and the price of bread shot up to 88 percent of his wages. In 2018, the price of another vital resource, gasoline, fueled the nationwide protests.

Lesson learned… don’t mess with the price of wine next!

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