Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tie a Yellow Jacket 'round the Old Speed Radar

Hornet's nest

1. A dangerous, complicated situation. If we do invade, I fear that we will find ourselves in a real hornet's nest.
2. A situation that produces angry reactions. The politician's off-the-cuff remark about pollution stirred up a hornet's nest among environmentalists.

In the last two weeks France has been a-buzz with the talk of the "gilets jaunes", or "yellow vests".  I, and the Anglophone media it seems, use the term "Yellow Jackets".

A yellow jacket is hornet, and the hornet is both a metaphor for anger (angry as a hornet) and trouble (she kicked over a hornets' nest).

Very appropriate then.

The Yellow Jackets are not part of France's perpetually disgruntled unions nor are they ideologically aligned.  They are in effect a popular uprising, ordinary people fed up with, well, just about everything.  The original groups were started on Facebook, like the Arab Spring.  The initial spark was the decision by Macron's government to increase taxes on diesel in order to encourage people to go electric.  This after years of encouraging people to use diesel.  There's talk of giving people 4000 euros towards buying a new car, but 4 grand is peanuts compared to the price. 

Going green, sadly, is often a luxury of those who can afford it.

While the original motive of the Yellow Jackets was to protest rising fuel prices, it has morphed into something more general; the cost of living, unemployment, low salaries, the struggle ordinary people have simply to pay the bills.

Last Saturday (11/17) over 300,000 people took to the streets to block the roads and slow traffic.  Over 2000 roadblocks were erected.  Several hundred have been injured in scuffles.  In one case a panicked woman hit the gas and killed a protestor.  In another case a man tried to force his way through and killed a young man.  In Réunion a man fired a starter pistol into the air to get thru a roadblock.

It was only supposed to be a one-day protest but it continued and this weekend it got pretty heated as thousands (8k+) of protestors took to the streets of Paris.  They marched and the "casseurs" (literally, "breakers" but hooligans would be apt) came with them

The casseurs broke the windows and set stuff on fire.  The riot police fired tear gas and unleashed water canons.  Fire and water, gas and glass.

They were even throwing paving stones, that famous symbol of mai '68, the massive general strike punctuated by Situationist slogans, which almost brought down the government, and which aging boomers look back on with such fondness, as they take early retirement from well-paying jobs to pass the next 30 years in their secondary homes while their children and grandchildren scrape by.

Probably with a pittance for a pension in store.

Famous cartoon has an old woman berating a girl:  "I was already at work by your age!"  Young girl:  "And I'll still be working at yours!"

Coming home Saturday evening from taking my son to a chum's, I looked at the thick mist settling onto the fields, swirling thru the headlights.  I noticed the local speed-trap radar had been wrapped in a gilet jaune.

On TV, Paris was engulfed in another kid of mist.

I'd been worried about my wife earlier, as I'd heard of two first-person accounts where some protestors had harassed an African woman; still another told an English woman to "go back to her castle in England".  Still another told me that her 12-year-old daughter had been harassed for being pro-Macron after not smiling at the Yellow Jackets.  It hasn't all been nice and calm.  700+ injured as of 11/21.

Come Sunday, heading back to Toulouse, we waited at a roundabout for a few minutes before the traffic crawled ahead.  Large painted signs had been erected and planted into the turf at the center of the circle.

At the next roundabout, more Yellow Jackets; two police vans with two bored-looking policemen sat pacing around.  The Yellow Jackets sat on chairs by a fire, a large shelter erected to cover their wood.  A Temporary Autonomous Zone.  The Yellow Jackets have no leader thus no rules, but they are apparently coming up with some basics:  no alcohol for example.  Not only bad for their image, but prone to incite violence.  Self-governing anarchists of a sort.

Each car was briefly stopped, then let go.  The trucks were held up a little longer.  My wife had put her yellow vest on the dashboard and as we approached, the yellow jacket at the road block gave us a thumbs up and didn't stop us.  My wife returned the gesture and let out a hoot of support.  She seemed to enjoy all of this, supporting it completely.

As we entered Toulouse, all the barriers at the toll booth had been removed.  We decided to pay anyway, just in case we got filmed.  I'm sure they're fining people who drive on thru.  A student of mine who commutes to Foix told me he hadn't paid a toll in over a week.  The Yellow Jackets just wave him thru...

I support it as well.  Everyone I know struggles financially, is overtaxed and underpaid, constantly poor or near-broke, nobody's putting money in the bank, except those like me who get it all taken away for their quarterly tax as an independent worker, going from poor-ish to precarious, starting from zero four times a year.

People are fed up with low wages, high prices, outrageous tax.  I support the movement, but the idea of having to place a vest on my dash to get through traffic evokes having to wear a certain kind of armband to avoid harassment.  Anecdotes about harassment make me uneasy.  It's a mixed bag,  a mélange of pissed-off people, and I predict it will continue, roaring back to life every Saturday, each one more ferocious than the last....

The government doesn't know what to do.  It's a grassroots uprising with wide support.  The elites in Paris, totally disconnected from the people they govern, seem to have the support of the media, if not their silence.  Macron addressed the issue today and you'd be hard-pressed to find it on the front page.  Libération has a brief article, but not much meat.  Macron said "I feel your pain" but offered no plan to reduce taxes or concrete actions to ease that pain.  The Yellow Jackets are not impressed.

In the following clip, an anchorwoman cuts off a reporter as soon as she says that the police have arrived at a protest armed with tasers and clubs.  Even if you don't speak French you can sense the urgency as the anchorwoman speaks over the reporter and "cuts off this live broadcast".  This seems to be a lot like the official position thus far.  Silence with a slight whiff of panic.

Hélas, even left-wing newspaper Libération admits this wasn't censorship, but that this local news ran out of time; the "censored" journalist herself says she wasn't censored.  Still, it looks bad, and it's been widely circulated as "proof" of censorship and symptomatic of elite attitudes towards the Yellow Jackets.

As a metaphor at least, it works....

In Italy, the gilets jaunes are protesting Europe.  In Belgium, the gilets jaunes are more like those in France; under the name Mouvement citoyen belge, they're protesting the cost of living, notably energy costs, and plan to run candidates for office to bring a voice to the people.  As in France, there's no specific political alignment. 

The principal supporters of the Yellow Jackets from the political arena seem to be voices from the far right and far left, meeting somewhere no longer on the fringes but in the dead center of the country, among people who give a fig for ideology.  They just want to be able to afford to drive to work. 

And eat.  "Let them eat cake?"  Or as Macron said, "If you want a job, all you have to do is cross the street."  Hollande's ex said in private he referred to the poor as the "sans-dents," the "toothless."  Sarkozy referred to protestors as "racaille," or "scum".  Chirac, speaking of public housing, decried the "noise and smell".

Arrogance, elitism, and disconnected from the people they "govern".

Another popular maxim floating around is "Macron takes himself for Louis XIV but will finish up as Louis XVI"....


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Libération:

    Dans une ambiance quasi-insurrectionnelle, plusieurs milliers de manifestants aux motivations très disparates ont laissé éclater leur colère dans plusieurs face-à-face violents avec les forces de l'ordre tout au long de la journée.

    In a quasi-insurrectional atmosphere, several thousand demonstrators with very disparate motivations exploded with anger in several violent confrontations with the police all day long.

  3. Paris police say 133 injured, 412 arrested during France’s worst urban riot in years
    By Associated Press
    December 2 at 3:27 AM


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.