The French Yellow Vest movement has just had its eleventh weekend of protests, and things are starting to come to a head. While some would like to continue rallying on the street until they manage to bring down the government, others have different ideas. To provide a snapshot, “round #11” saw a prominent protester grievously injured, a “yellow night” evening march in Paris, with 4,000 yellow vests marching in Paris and 69,000 nationwide, plus the first counter-protest.
President Emanuel Macron is now two weeks into a national Great Debate, designed to settle the unrest. In an open letter to the French people, Macron condemned violence and vowed to tour the country to meet with local mayors to discuss the concerns of the people on any issue. The debate didn’t get off to the best start, given that the minister appointed by the “president of the rich” to oversee the tour was forced to step down almost immediately due to public outcry over her inflated salary. Nevertheless, the Great Debate has its supporters among hopeful members of the French public, and many are wondering if it presents a better path to change than rallies and riots on the streets.
Yellow Vest Political Parties
After weeks of protests, some members of the yellow vest movement have decided to take things up a notch and create their own political parties, perhaps hoping to beat the government at its own game. One group, the Citizen-led Rally (RIC), plans to throw its hat in the ring for European elections in May – an interesting choice as the winners will be elected to sit in the European parliament and not the national French one. RIC hopes to put forward 79 candidates in the election, if it can raise the required funds.
Ingrid Levavasseur, identified as a 31-year-old single mother and nursing assistant, is the leader of the party. She told Deutsche Welle, “We have the feeling we are being treated badly by our government. It disregards us, it ignores us, we are being rejected. The government doesn’t want us. There is this feeling of arrogance, where we, the ‘little people,’ are supposed to stay home while Monsieur (Macron) undertakes his little campaign for the future of Europe, for example.”
Another group, Les Émergents (the Arisen), followed closely on RIC’s heels but doesn’t plan to run for upcoming elections. “Phase A has been done – everyone knows what is happening in France. Now we have to pass on to phase B and launch into building and proposing. To demand without proposing something is a little illogical,” said the group’s founder, Jacline Mouraud.
Not all yellow vests are on board with these plans to go straight, however. “What’s the final aim?” asked Priscillia Ludosky, an organizer for the movement. “To enter into the system? I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” Maxime Nicolle, a yellow vest protester, accused RIC of “betraying” the movement. “Let’s be clear, the European [election] is about staying in the system …. It’s doing exactly the same thing we have been doing for the past 40 years,” he said on YouTube. Eric Drouet, another prominent yellow vest, also has objected, saying, “These candidacies that are spontaneous and represent in no aspect the Yellow Vests will play into [Macron’s] hands.”
…the red scarves urge a less anarchistic strategy…
Sunday saw the first counter-protest out on the streets of Paris. Ten thousand “red scarves” and “blue vests” turned out to voice their frustrations with the yellow vest movement and its methods. These and similar groups have been active on Facebook since late last year, but only now have they taken the next step and marched in the streets, though peacefully. While few have disputed the complaints of the yellow vests, the red scarves urge a less anarchistic strategy, advocating for one that goes through the official channels, such as Macron’s Great Debate, rather than causing chaos in the streets. The crowd marched behind a banner that read, “Stop the violence,” while chanting “No no no to revolution, yes yes yes to democracy.”
“I decided to join the Red Scarves after seeing the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier vandalised on 1 December,” spokesman Philippe Lhoste told Radio France Internationale:
“People have become exasperated [with the disruption] over the past two months. We need to show the Yellow Vests that they don’t speak for all French people. They are a voice for some and we respect that. But they need to respect those of us who want to work and who are prevented from commuting and who are subjected to threats and violence.”
A nursing manager who identified herself as Marie-Line added:
“It’s not a protest against the yellow vests – it’s a protest to say, you’ve made your demands, we said at the demonstration. There are other places to discuss this than the street. You cannot block the country and economy because you consider the president to be illegitimate.”
Some may be asking who exactly this counter-movement represents, but it appears almost as fragmented as the yellow vest movement itself. According to one of the organizers behind the march, Laurent Soulie, the protesters are members of the “silent majority who have remained holed up at home for 10 weeks.” The Telegraph described the crowd as “noticeably more middle-class, liberal and older than many of the ‘yellow vests.’” The paper added, “Many appeared unlikely street protesters, voicing support for Mr Macron’s economic reforms,” although some participants objected to being lumped in with the bourgeoisie.
The march was accompanied by numerous Macron supporters, including Laurent Segnis, a member of Macron’s En Marche political party, who told reporters, “We don’t share all the demands expressed by the yellow vest movement, for instance, demands about overthrowing the government, brutalizing institutions.” On the other hand, red scarves representative Alex Brun denied that the counter-movement is pro-Macron, calling it “an apolitical citizens’ movement,” but said that participating in the president’s “Great Debate” would be more productive than rioting on the streets.
After “act #11,” of yellow vest protests, the major question seems to be: What is the most effective way to change a society for the better? Is the right tactic to go through official, pre-approved channels – to make a run for elected office and make your appeals the local mayor in an orderly manner? Or is it to break all the rules and get yourself noticed? The former is easy for a government to ignore, while the latter can readily bring your name into ill repute. To move forward, the French people need to choose how to solve this dilemma – if they can agree on the answer.