The Gilets Jaunes movement (the Yellow Vests) is an ongoing populist grassroots revolution whose end goal is economic justice for the working and middle classes. The movement began in May 2018 with an online petition renouncing Emmanuel Macron’s “Green Tax” that was forcing a hike in fuel prices. The petition attracted nearly a million signatures and was followed by initial protests in pockets around France. Early demonstrators were mainly people from rural areas struggling with the rising costs. Mass demonstrations began on 17 November as the movement scaled to a wider protest against slipping standards of living.
The initial demand of this movement was to reverse the green tax on diesel but as the movement grew, these demands also changed and now include a reduction in “first needs” costs (eg: food, electricity etc) as well as a raise in the current minimum wage. There have also been calls for Macron to resign, to dissolve the National Assembly and to hold new elections.
Wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket has become the symbol of this movement. The origins of this come from the roots of the protest : rising fuel costs. All French motorists are required by law to carry a yellow roadside safety vest in their vehicles. Early protestors setup road blockades and wore their obligatory yellow vests. This quickly became symbolic and now anyone joining the protests whether on the road or in a city centre wears the yellow vest as a sign of solidarity.
The yellow vest movement is now in its ninth month, with demonstrations taking place all over the country every Saturday. In April 2019, I had the chance to record Acte 22 in Paris as they paraded along Avenue de la République not far from my apartment. I heard the protestors arriving so quickly grabbed my recorder and went outside. I walked with them for about thirty minutes and recorded this soundscape.
These protests have sometimes become violent and unfortunately, as is often the case, the media have chosen to highlight this rather than the majority of protests which are peaceful. As I walked with the demonstrators I looked around me and observed families with young children, people of all ages and all backgrounds, I even saw a dog wearing a yellow vest. It was a true show of solidarity, something I have come to massively appreciate in the ten years I have lived in this country. The protests continue, with Acte 38 taking place just yesterday across the country. I don’t know how or when this will end, but all signs point towards ongoing weekly demonstrations throughout the summer and into autumn.