Harrison STETLER (Paris): France’s Yellow Vest Movement Comes of Age; The Nation Jan 05, 2019

Dear all,

freelance journalist Harrison Stetler (Paris) gives an insight into the experiences, motives, questions, hopes of Yellow-Vest-delegates participating in the first „Assembly of Assemblies“ in late January.

Below an extract (full text attached).

Greets,

Martin Zeis, Stuttgart

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05.02.2019 — https://www.thenation.com/article/france-yellow-vest-movement-macron/

France’s Yellow Vest Movement Comes of Age

At its first “Assembly of Assemblies” in late January, this grassroots democratic revolt brought together many people who had never participated in politics.

By Harrison Stetler

Harrison Stetler is a freelance journalist based in Paris.

 

„The danger,” Yanis warned, “is that the constant stream of information becomes its own type of ignorance. It’s very easy to forget the human need to educate oneself, and to forge one’s own opinion. What we need is for speech and debate to free themselves everywhere, that they fill every part of daily life, that everyone express themselves, respectfully of course.”

What Yanis was recalling was his own initial reaction to the eruption of France’s Yellow Vest revolt in late November 2018.

“At the beginning, there was this fear,” he continued.

The movement had been covered in media as a ploy of the far right and the fascist movement. I hesitated to go at first just because of that. But I finally decided that it was all the more important to go if that was actually the case, in order to not abandon the battle to them.”

When people in his hometown of Montceau-les-Mines, in central France, began to organize town meetings at the beginning of December, Yanis decided to go and scope things out. Yanis was amazed to see that more than 1,000 attended the earliest assemblies in late November and early December. People were thinking and talking about politics in ways they had never done before. For too long, democratic life was little more than the habitual cycle of elections, with citizenship reduced to the occasional vote.

The assemblies continued on a weekly basis. “I realized that something was growing,” Yanis remembers. People were organizing themselves and staying in contact, occupying critical road junctions and protesting. Now, almost two months later, on January 26, Yanis found himself making the roughly 200-mile trip to a village just outside of Commercy, a town in a rural, working-class region in eastern France. Currently unemployed after several stints working in cafeterias in local public schools, the 22-year-old Yanis had been selected by his town’s local committee to attend the inaugural “Assembly of Assemblies” of France’s nascent Yellow Vest movement.

As he would no doubt attest, before this historic convention in Commercy, the Yellow Vests had fallen victim to a familiar trap. Like many other spontaneous and largely leaderless mass movements, the Yellow Vests have been defined and labeled by others.

At first, they were taken to be a manifestation of the inchoate and inarticulate rage of the French middle class. This anger, which had long provided fertile ground for the likes of Marine Le Pen, finally boiled over into street violence and open revolt when Emmanuel Macron’s government announced tax increases on gasoline. Macron had already made a name for himself by pushing through unpopular reforms in the name of “necessity.” Was this just another occasion of the French being unable to take the bitter medicine, this time in order to reduce carbon-fuel emissions?

The dismissal of the Yellow Vests was made all the more easy because some of the worst elements in French society have tried to capitalize on the climate of disenchantment and anger. Some Yellow Vest social-media groups have contained unmistakable echoes of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic conspiracies. Likewise, bands of skinheads have infiltrated some street marches, attacking most recently a group of left-wing activists in Paris during the January 26 day of protest. All of this has given credence to smug talking heads—no doubt with an eye on their checkbooks—who wish to sign the entire movement off as yet another worrisome sign of France’s slide into right-wing populism.

To any honest observer, however, the Yellow Vests’ dynamism and staying power, now going on their 13th weekend of protests at the time of writing, suggested that something deeper was happening. Weekend after weekend, the marches continued and the occupations of roundabouts in rural and suburban areas stood their ground. General assemblies organized on a weekly basis in every corner of France continued to attract people who for years had stood on the sidelines of political life. Teachers and students started to organize and unions began discussing strikes—culminating in a round of work stoppages set to begin on February 5, bringing together Yellow Vests, several unions, and left-wing parties, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise.

France’s battered social movements, fatigued after many retreats before Macron’s steamroller of reforms, started to show new signs of life. (…). —  emphasis added

Christophe Guilluy: ‘The gilets jaunes are unstoppable’, spiked-online 11.01.2019

Dear all,

below some extracts of Christophe Guillluy’s interview with Fraser Myers on the cultural divide driving the yellow vests.

“ … Back in 2014, geographer Christopher Guilluy’s study of la France périphérique (peripheral France) caused a media sensation. It drew attention to the economic, cultural and political exclusion of the working classes, most of whom now live outside the major cities. It highlighted the conditions that would later give rise to the yellow-vest phenomenon. Guilluy has developed on these themes in his recent books, No Society and The Twilight of the Elite: Prosperity, the Periphery and the Future of France

spiked: What exactly do you mean by ‘peripheral France’?

Christophe Guilluy: ‘Peripheral France’ is about the geographic distribution of the working classes across France. Fifteen years ago, I noticed that the majority of working-class people actually live very far away from the major globalised cities – far from Paris, Lyon and Toulouse, and also very far from London and New York.

Technically, our globalised economic model performs well. It produces a lot of wealth. But it doesn’t need the majority of the population to function. It has no real need for the manual workers, labourers and even small-business owners outside of the big cities. Paris creates enough wealth for the whole of France, and London does the same in Britain. But you cannot build a society around this. The gilets jaunes is a revolt of the working classes who live in these places.

They tend to be people in work, but who don’t earn very much, between 1000€ and 2000€ per month. Some of them are very poor if they are unemployed. Others were once middle-class. What they all have in common is that they live in areas where there is hardly any work left. They know that even if they have a job today, they could lose it tomorrow and they won’t find anything else.

spiked: What is the role of culture in the yellow-vest movement?

Guilluy: Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. The yellow-vest movement is a truly 21st-century movement in that it is cultural as well as political. Cultural validation is extremely important in our era.

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later.

The Brexit vote had a lot to do with culture, too, I think. It was more than just the question of leaving the EU. Many voters wanted to remind the political class that they exist. That’s what French people are using the gilets jaunes for – to say we exist. We are seeing the same phenomenon in populist revolts across the world.

spiked: How have the working-classes come to be excluded?

Guilluy: All the growth and dynamism is in the major cities, but people cannot just move there. The cities are inaccessible, particularly thanks to mounting housing costs. The big cities today are like medieval citadels. It is like we are going back to the city-states of the Middle Ages. Funnily enough, Paris is going to start charging people for entry, just like the excise duties you used to have to pay to enter a town in the Middle Ages.

The cities themselves have become very unequal, too. The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people.

spiked: What role has the liberal metropolitan elite played in this? (…)

spiked: How can we begin to address these demands? (…)“

– complete text attached –

Source: https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/01/11/the-gilets-jaunes-are-unstoppable/

Annotation: Début janvier 2019 plus de 250 universitaires, intellectuels et artistes disent leur solidarité avec le mouvement des Gilets jaunes, estimant que «c’est la responsabilité historique de la gauche de ne pas laisser le champ libre à l’extrême droite» Lien: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/les-invites-de-mediapart/article/120119/nous-ne-serons-pas-les-chiens-de-garde-de-letat

Ce texte est une pétition ouverte, pour la signer cliquer: https://www.change.org/p/le-peuple-solidarité-des-universitaires-des-intellectuels-et-des-artistes-avec-les-gilets-jaunes

GUILLUY-Chr.-The-gilets-jaunes-are-unstoppable190111.pdf

Solidarité-avec-le-mouvement-des-Gilets-jaunes190112.pdf