Since the now infamous “yellow vest” protests in Paris began in mid-November, at least three people have died, over 100 have been injured and about 400 have been arrested.
What has now turned into riots, marked by burning cars and met by tear gas, began as a simple online petition. According to a Dec. 2 New York Times article, the movement that would come to be known as the gilets jaunes, or yellow vests, began in the suburbs of Paris when a woman named Priscillia Ludosky started an online petition on Change.org calling for a drop in gas prices.
This came in response to a “green tax” set to go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year, which the French government set in an effort to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. This tax was part of the government’s larger goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, according to a Dec. 2 article in Reuters.
Amid protests over fuel prices, people have also began protesting for a higher minimum wage, exam reforms, better working conditions for paramedics and in some cases for French president Emmanuel Macron’s resignation. For some, these protests seem reminiscent of growing tensions not just in France but across the globe.
“If you look at what’s happening in France with the gilets jaunes, it’s the exact same reaction that we see with the Trump supporters,” said Olivier Seguin P’19, a resident of Strasbourg, France. “The rurals, the farmers, the laborers, the people who feel like they’ve been left to the side by the elite and the establishment.”
While the protests began peacefully, they have quickly escalated to violence over the last three weeks in what the BBC is calling Paris’ worst riots “since 1968.” According to the New York Times, tear gas canisters “littered the city” after weekend protests. One of the people killed during a protest was an 80-year old woman in Marseille who died in the hospital after a canister hit her in the head.
Protesters from the far left and the far right have joined in the movement as the riots have turned violent and shifted in focus from unease at the new taxes to a general sense of unrest and distaste for Macron’s leadership. According to an article published Dec. 3 on NPR’s website, the French police force believe that these far-leaning anarchists, known as casseurs, are responsible for inciting violence and encouraging vandalism that has left dozens of cars torched and the Arc de Triomphe vandalized.
According to Seguin, the lack of union backing for the protesters may also be a reason for the chaotic nature of the protests. “The institutions are there to protect the population and the citizens. Otherwise you go into chaos. The institutions were here to change things,” he said. “If you start just randomly claiming that you want to take over, but have no plan, you can be sure that it will be chaos, there’s no future.”
Though the French government has not yet declared a state of emergency as of Dec. 5, Macron recently returned from a summit meeting in Argentina and spent time surveying the damage from last weekend’s protests. He initially ordered Prime Minister Édouard Philippe to meet with protesters, but on Dec. 3 the BBC reported that protesters have pulled out of the meetings, citing death threats from hardline protesters. On Dec. 4, The Huffington Post reported that the French government is set to suspend the tax and will potentially raise the minimum wage.
Grant Miner contributed reporting.