Updated: Apr 4, 2020
On November 17th, 2018, the Yellow Vests (or Gilets Jaune in French) first took to the streets to fight for what they believed to be injustice.
BACKGROUND OF YELLOW VESTS:
For a while before these protests had begun, many working class French citizens, especially those from small cities, were struggling to make ends meet. Many felt as though the politics and economics of France was moving at a pace that would quickly leave them behind to pick up the rubble in which they had no resources to clean up. In other words, many people started to feel separated and disconnected from the rest of the public in terms of wealth and education.
On the other side of the spectrum, Emmauel Macron was sworn in as President in 2017. He took on the grievances of the people from the previous presidency as well as inheriting a divided political landscape. He soon loosened the wealth solidarity tax that taxed people with an income of more than €1 300 000 making many people believe that he is a "president of the rich". This along with the implementation of the fuel tax (also known as gas tax) pushed many people, especially members of the working class, over the edge.
The fuel tax, set by Macron, would raise the price of fuel and disproportionately affect those in small towns who don’t have access to a large public transportation network and depend on cars/motorcycles etc. for transportation. While some say this tax was implemented for more environmentally-friendly initiatives, some say it was to make up for the lost money from the wealth solidarity tax. While this tax could have been brought forth in earnest concern for the environment, it seems to - on the surface - target those who rely on their vehicles the most. All of this has led to the foundation for the Yellow Vest Protests.
As drivers in France are required to keep a Yellow Vest in their cars for safety, the unified look of wearing Yellow Vests became the symbol for the working class. Through collective organization, using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, the first protest took place on November 17th, 2018 and has occurred every Saturday since then.
MEDIA PORTRAYAL OF YELLOW VESTS:
Soon after the protests started, violence broke out in the streets of Paris which caused negative media attention. As well, some Parisians disregarded the Yellow Vests’ concerns for the fuel tax as an opposition to environmental concerns.Additionally, many media outlets attributed them to far-right movements. Some attach this conclusion made by the media, to the Yellow Vests’ political inexperience. As said in an article by France 24,
“In some cases, the Yellow Vests’ relative inexperience of politics contributed to generating misconceptions -- as with their use of the term ‘apolitical’ to stress their rejection of traditional party politics. As studies revealed, most participants were first-time protesters with no political or union affiliation. ‘More than half said they didn’t believe in the traditional left-right divide,’ said Guerra. ‘But theirs is a rejection of partisan politics, not of politics itself, since a movement like theirs is inherently political.’”
Although the foundation of striving for equality is a liberal ideal, many Yellow Vests invest in a more capitalistic approach to life as they aspire financial independence for their families. Consequently, many feel embarrassed to accept welfare from the government which is generally a more left-leaning view. This reveals a clash in belief and brings to light why a negative narrative of the Yellow Vests could be portrayed.
Similarly, many foreign media outlets focused much of its attention on the violence that was associated with these protests. Many headlines pointed at only the negative side of the protests which in turn painted a more cynical view around the world. With that said, foreign media will often adjust its coverage according to the significance of the event to its own country.
While initial French media coverage of the protests was both positive and negative, the coverage turned mostly positive as they realized that the protests were there for the long-term. Some traditionally right-leaning newspapers such as Fox news notes a particular change from the movement’s original goals to ‘social justice’ - related goals such as lower taxes for workers, higher taxes for the rich, and more public spending towards helping the working class.
CHANGES & CONTINUATION OF PROTESTS:
After the protests started, Macron soon scrapped the fuel tax. It is worth noting that Macron’s government did collect written grievances from the public and while he may not have been able to fulfill all of these grievances, he did get rid of the fuel tax. Critics say Macron hasn’t made enough changes to the government, while supporters are satisfied with his new policies.
Over the past year and a half, the Yellow Vest protests have continued off and on, while sometimes streaming into violence and recently, questions of police brutality have arisen. Some say the police are unnecessarily violent, while others say the violence is needed to control the rioters.
Ultimately, some say the protests have lost its significance because of a stray from its original intentions. Whether this is true or not, the Yellow Vest remains a symbol for the French working class.
All Sources Used: