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It started as a call first sent out over the Internet in May 2018; the author was Priscillia Ludosky who runs an on-line cosmetics business. The trigger was the fuel tax increase. By November the petition had more than a million signatures. With such support in the virtual world, a real protest was then held, across France, on November 17. As it was about fuel, demonstrators chose to express their anger on roads and traffic roundabouts, wearing the fluorescent yellow vests which French safety regulations require in all vehicles. I really did not know what to think of the movement, and had no idea how it would develop. On the very first day (Act I) I was surprised by the scale of the response and by the people who came out to protest. I had gone north, beyond Amiens, and saw young and old, left-wing and right-wing, retirees living on modest pensions, families, farmers, unemployed men and women, parents of disabled children, and average working class people. Here were disgruntled French citizens who had decided to express their anger, and, for once, did so without flags or trade unions, and without any political parties. They may have been out on their own, but there were plenty of them.

Act II came on November 24, 2018, when the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the most beautiful avenue in the world, became the theater for staging the rebellion. The capital city was seen as the epicenter of political power, financial forces, and dominant players, and was targeted Saturday after Saturday with violent attacks by modern-day slaves struggling to get by on low wages. Cars were burned, luxury stores ransacked, a ministry attacked and the Arc de Triomphe desecrated. Cobblestones were torn up and used as weapons, and in quantity. Some of the rubber bullets fired by police caused serious injuries, with some demonstrators losing eyes. Thousands were injured. The police response was increasingly forceful, and certain Yellow Vest protesters became more and more radical. It was unusual for a protest movement to last so long, to be so intense, but there were obviously reasons for it. Yet politicians, trade unionists, sociologists and commentators from all horizons were at a loss to explain the force of the Yellow Vest movement which has challenged their traditional frameworks, concepts and analyses. It can thus be seen as a new and unique movement.

Olivier Coret

Olivier Coret

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