Although it began back in November 2018, the yellow vests movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) has continued to actively protest in France to this day. However, the movement’s numbers have dwindled since the initial outbreak, when over 250,000 people protested across the nation. Nevertheless, it is estimated that as many as 40,500 came out to demonstrate on Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 throughout France, with over 5,000 people protesting in Paris alone.
The catalyst behind the movement was an increase in gas prices. President Emmanuel Macron of France announced further fuel taxes that were set to take effect on January 1, 2019, claiming that it was necessary to implement such taxes in order to combat climate change and protect the environment. Many of the movement’s initial supporters were people from small towns or rural France who rely on getting around by car.
However, as the movement grew, so did the scope of people’s discontent, and the yellow vests quickly became a pushback against Macron’s government in general for his neoliberal pro-business policies, his perceived bias in favor of the rich, and his perceived neglect for ordinary people. While the movement is decentralized, some of the main goals that protestors have advocated for include a reversal of tax cuts on the rich, the ability of people to initiate referendums, and Macron’s resignation as President.
As far as how others around the world view the Yellow Vest Movement, it remains controversial. Some see the movement as a justified, legitimate response to problems such as the government’s support of the rich and the plight of ordinary people in France. “Macron’s fuel tax wasn’t the only reason why the Yellow Vest Movement began but, rather, was the straw that broke the camel’s back with the anger toward the French government spilling over. France has class consciousness that it actually uses to make change. Unlike America, if people in France are mad about something they won’ t just go to Twitter or Facebook to whine about it but will actually force the state to listen,” Daniel Ishkhakov ’19 said. Others have criticized the movement for causing violence or disorder, or because the gas tax that they are protesting is supposed to be a means to fight against climate change, which some see as a more important issue, or to support the government’s programs. “I believe the French government has an obligation to adhere to the concerns of the Yellow Vest Movement but not necessarily give in to the demands of repealing their green taxes. France’s high taxes are meant to contribute to an increased quality of life; this can still be true if the French government aims to quickly and effectively improve social safety nets and increase thresholds to meet these welfare institutions to appeal to the actual conflict that has created the movement.” Abdel Achibat ’19 said.
“Unlike America, if people in France are mad about something they won’ t just go to Twitter or Facebook to whine about it but will actually force the state to listen,” Daniel Ishkhakov ’19 said.
The populist nature of the Yellow Vest Movement has also contributed to its controversy. “Some populist movements are progressive in nature and call for more liberal policies; these showcase a progression of people into demanding their rights and universal liberties. Other populist movements are created in frustration and then perverted into hatred of a certain group; these must be carefully dealt with so as to best decrease tension and revert the people’s xenophobia into clear-cut frustrations of government injustices,” Abdel Achibat ’19 said. Populism is a form of politics that often, at least ostensibly, seeks address the grievances of “the people” against “the elite.” The broad set of possibilities for the nature and goals of populist movements allows them to appeal to those on the both the left-wing and right-wing of the political spectrum. Many populist movements and political parties around the world have gained traction in recent years, with agendas ranging from social and economic progressivism to anti-immigration and nationalism.
If the Yellow Vest Movement is to have a lasting impact in France, it will likely have to evolve at least to the point that it has a clearly defined set of goals, and only time will tell what its end result will be.