Who are the “yellow vest” protesters?
If you have seen any news regarding France lately, you have probably seen people in yellow construction vests. The vests are quite the fashion statement if you ask me, but more importantly they represent a political statement regarding the mid-November fuel tax raises. The protests started with this tax, but later evolved into a general demonstration of the people’s discontent with President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
The Yellow Vest movement is lead by protesters that wear roadside safety vests used by motorists. There is no clear leadership, but the movement originated online, making any communication attempts with the government even harder. Their initial demand was to repeal the green tax on diesel, but others wanted the minimum wage to be raised. There were even some who wanted an entirely new National Assembly and hold new elections. Some in this group have thus had the opportunity to speak out on what they want changed seeing the wide array of topics at hand.
The extent of the protest could be seen on New Year’s Eve, which saw 150,000 police officers deployed in Paris trying to keep the chaos to a minimum on the last day before the New Year. Despite all the protests taking place in the country, President Macron said in his New Year address that the movement’s protests would not make him abandon his economic agenda.
But, the destruction caused by these protests have not been this prominent since the 1960’s: demonstrators have burned cars, looted boutiques, and smashed luxury private homes and cafes. There have been many deaths as well, even to innocent bystanders, from these once peaceful protests.
At this point in our story, we have a new leader of the protests come forward. His name is Eric Drouet. He is a leading figure of this reform group, and was arrested on January 2, 2019, on the suspicion of organizing an unofficial protest after asking people to gather and lay candles near the Champs-Elysées for those who died during the protests. This arrest lead to outrage from his followers who proceeded to accuse the police of harassment, and so Drouet was released from custody within 24 hours.
Now the government’s top priority is preventing more riots from taking place, and ensuring security in the event of another protest. Macron still says that he will not back down from the fuel tax, and is not planning on backing down from the public’s resistance on some of his other reforms. But, my advice to him is to act fast, and at the very least appease the protesters for the sake of the security of those not even involved.
It is hard to tell what will come of these protests or if they will stop anytime soon, but the French government needs to get it together; otherwise, more innocent casualties will result. If there is anything I learned from APUSH it is that protests are a red flag, and usually allude to a large problem on the government’s part. With that being said, let me leave you with a quote to ponder on:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead