The State of Yellow in France

Riley Sims, Co-Editor-in-Chief

As a result of a tax placed on fuel last year, a political movement called the yellow vests has spread throughout France and has gained global attention.

The movement was originally organized online through social media groups. Most of the people involved were from rural areas and had long commutes. They would be hurt by the increase in gas prices from the tax. The tax was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in the beginning of 2018 to help his environmental policy. It was announced on Dec. 5, 2018, that Macron was abandoning the policy due to numerous protests from the yellow vests that cost several lives.

“They have let the government know how unhappy they are with the government,” AP World History teacher April Aston said, “how unhappy the people are with the government situation, and their current economic situation.”

This movement, however, is no longer just about high tax prices. It has called attention to many problems revolving around the standard of living among the working and middle class and Macron’s contributions to it. Macron wants to cut a “wealth tax” on workers with higher wages, and many protesters are infuriated.

“The unemployment of certain groups, particularly immigrants, is really high, and some of that has to do with their schooling, with not having enough because in France when you’re younger, you have to make decisions about what kind of path are you going to take,” French teacher Katie Taylor said. “If you decide to change your mind later on, there’s not a lot of adult retraining. There’s not community college like we have where you can change your mind, and so there’s a lot of unhappiness about ‘Oh, well I made this decision, and now I’m stuck with it.’”

While most of the yellow vests’ protests have been peaceful, they turned violent on Dec. 1, 2018. The rioters took to the streets and vandalized buildings, looted shops, including some on the famous Champs-Élysées Avenue. They also torched several cars and vandalized the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. According to France 24, a state-owned television network based in Paris, there were more than 130 people injured and 412 arrested.

“[The French] are always protesting something, but they have the right and normally they do that very peaceably,” Taylor said. “What has changed about the yellow vest protest is that it has turned violent and deadly, and that’s very, very unusual. The French really don’t like that, because the strike is all about solidarity with the worker, and [the French] want to support that, but if they’re defacing national monuments and people are dying then the French aren’t in support of that.”

The protest that occurred on Dec. 1 didn’t start out violent, however. Many peaceful protesters showed up that morning, waving flags and singing. Those involved in the violence were believed by authorities to be extreme-right and extreme-left militants. The interior minister, who deals with internal affairs, Christophe Castaner, said these people were “professionals at causing disorder.”

“I think that there are some groups out there that are extremist, that are being influenced by violence coming from other parts of the world,” Taylor said. “They’re bringing that and deciding to get more attention by being more violent and more vocal, but in the end they’re really hurting their cause.”

The yellow vests have called a lot of attention to French politics, and the movement has morphed into a cry for reform. It has brought together people from all walks of life in France, from the working-class to teachers and students. France and the rest of the world will be watching to see what will unfold in the upcoming years with progress and President Macron’s actions.

“I keep thinking [the protests] are going to end, and hopefully France will get back to normal,” Aston said. “The French economy has been in trouble for awhile, and it needs some adjustments, but this isn’t really necessarily the way to make that change.”