Tear gas filled the streets of Paris last weekend as security forces dealt with violent rioters adorned in yellow vests causing violence and disruption. The Yellow Vests, or gilet jaunes in French, is a movement that reflects France’s frustration against its President Emmanuel Macron. The yellow vests were chosen as a symbol for the movement because of its inexpensiveness and wide availability. As per the law passed in 2008 in France, all motorists have to wear high visibility vests while driving their vehicles, hence yellow vests are quite popular.
This movement started off earlier this year, in May, when individuals from the rural areas of France signed a petition against the rising fuel prices and against the high tax the middle class and the poor had to pay for petroleum products. It gained a lot of intensity and momentum in November when several people joined together from different parts of France to show their dissatisfaction through disruptive and violent demonstrations on the streets of Paris. The Yellow Vests protests were held in Paris because the rural areas of France, which houses France’s poor, barely got any attention from President Emmanuel Macron, despite several of them voicing out their troubles. Now, the protests have become impossible to ignore and the people have finally got Macron’s attention.
People from silent towns like Guéret, often lost in the valleys of France, have spurred the movement as they were the ones who were majorly affected by the government’s policies. Several people from the rural towns of France have reported to journalists that they can barely afford gas to use their vehicles and hence, most of their streets are dotted with unused cars. They also shared about their trouble in finding enough money to buy food as everything has become quite expensive.
Joined together by their woes, the protesters marched to Paris to show their discontent. All around France, this violent movement has left over 250 wounded, quite a few for the dead and over 400 protesters have been arrested. The rioters of this movement ridicule Macron as a president of the rich. Protesters have scribbled messages on the walls insisting that Macron has to resign. They believe that his interests and policies favour only the rich, as the problems faced by the rural section of the population have been completely ignored by him so far.
This movement is the sign of rage and dissatisfaction in the working class people. The resentment that the people feel is aimed at the mounting inequalities that have completely changed their lives for the worse. People are extremely anxious and agitated, especially when their household money runs out and they have to wait for another couple of weeks to get their next paycheck to buy the basic necessities of life such as bread and gas.
Fear is a key component in this movement. Often, the people behind this movement are gripped by questions such as: What can one do when the money runs out? What can one do when one cannot afford gas for one’s car? What can one do when there is nothing to put in the refrigerator? What does one tell their family when they have to stay home another weekend? What are the meals to be skipped today? And questions go on and on.
Faced with life threatening situation, the middle class people of France have resorted to torching cars, smashing windows, looting food from supermarkets in addition to stealing scooters as a means of trying to send a loud and clear message to the President. They wish to be heard and they want their problems solved as soon as possible, or else they will not stop rebelling. Macron has commented that he denounces the protesters and that he will never accept any form of violence irrespective of the cause and reasons behind such violence.
While Macron’s reaction shows his intolerance for violence, the President of France has to seriously consider mitigating the woes of France’s poor in order to prevent such civil uprisings. His objective of turning France into a low carbon economy is a commendable one, but it should not come at the cost of hindering the lives of the middle class and the poor. To end such violence and protests, Macron has to consider ways to transform his economy without penalising the poor. The violence might eventually subside but the anger will not until serious measures and reforms are undertaken by the government.
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