Commentary: Talking to the Yellow Vests


The acclaimed writer Abdella Taïa on the protests gripping France.

Yellow Vests Paris

We are in an emergency, that’s for certain. France is on edge at present, on fire. France is angry. Very angry. And nobody can say that this anger emanating from the lower middle class is unjustified. No. There is consensus on that, on its legitimacy. People really have had enough of paying even more tax, and of seeing their lives being reduced day after day. Opposing desires – the desire for purchasing power and the desire to regain one’s dignity.

The people don’t feel well represented by the powerful and the political parties. They have lost confidence in them. The feel disconnected and despised. And that is where the great danger lies. Things could go wrong. Something very serious could happen. And I’m not talking of burnt-out cars and luxury boutiques being vandalised in the wealthy quarters of Paris. No. I’m talking about a danger like Brexit, which defies logic (unthinkable initially), the kind of danger that led to th rise of Donald Trump, and of Jaïr Bolsonaro in Brazil.

The first decision Emmanuel Macron made on coming to power 18 months ago was to rescind the Wealth Tax (the ISF), in order to encourage the wealthy to invest in the country.

Today that gesture has rebounded. The people have the impression of being sacrificed in order to pay for the rich who themselves are always let off, protected. Macron, who not so long ago offered hope and positive change, is in the process of becoming someone who is no longer wanted, someone who has become the personal focus of all hate and anger. On the streets and roundabouts people shout, “Macron resign!”.

Just like in a zombie movie, anger seems to reanimate every part and to take on its own unstoppable momentum. We have simply gone beyond questions of tax reduction and an increase in purchasing power. No. The fight for social justice has passed that first point. And the movement isn’t only directed at Emmanuel Macron. No. It is directed at all those who have governed France for these past thirty years, it’s making them face up to the situation, criticizing them head on, violently, and daring them to change course, to change the direction of politics.

Will it be enough? Will that satisfy the lower middle class? Will the sit-ins on the roundabouts stop from tomorrow? Nothing is less certain.

Other sources of anger which, on the face of it, have nothing to do with the yellow vests, are also now surfacing. And with those come the voices of the ultra Right and the ultra Left and many other extremist movements.

Then there are those who are living with insecurity. The genuinely poor who are described rather arrogantly by some as the “assisted”. We are talking about millions of people. For now, we have heard nothing from them. What are they going to do?

One should always be wary of pictures. No, Paris is not burning. Yes, France as a whole is being swept up in a huge fury which brings to mind other movements in the history of this country. An immense desire for social justice.

Despite the spectacular pictures of fires raging on the Champs-Elysées, the French continue to support the yellow vests. There is no doubt about that.

France is a western country. And as we all know, democracy in this part of the world is in crisis. Is it the end?

Something new must happen. A radical re-evaluation of power, from the Right, but above all from the Left. The latter has abandoned the people and their struggles. For a long time in France we have been talking about “Champagne Socialists.”

Even though the yellow vest movement might appear disturbing, perplexing, anarchic, “dangerous,” it must continue to be supported. It is a movement that has come from the people, the real people. It’s time for western leaders to actually leave their comfort zone and start to talk to people. ALL THE PEOPLE. And not just address their voters.

It’s that which is fundamentally needed today, and not just in France: a completely clean slate and a new kind of power which includes everyone, even those who don’t completely agree with the gay person that I am.

Power which is fair and which speaks in a dignified way to all people and especially those who are economically vulnerable.

A conversation which will really get us out of the division that has been manipulated for too long by political parties trying to gain power.

The people have awoken. And they are fired up with revolutionary fervor.

Translated by: Hilary J. Hicklin
*This was written just prior to President Macron’s speech on Monday evening.

Abdella Taïa is the author of An Arab Melancholia, Salvation Army, and Letters to a Young Moroccan, among other books.

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