An Overview of the Yellow Vests: Dusk or Dawn of the Movement?

Living in Thionville, a city close to the border with Luxembourg, Stéphane Buratti is one of the early Yellow Vests. In fact, since the movement began, he only missed four Saturdays of mobilization out of 34 — and he stresses the fact that those 4 were beyond his control.

Thus, this security officer goes to Paris every week, given that “close to my home there is no action, only a few persons there are actively engaged in the protests.” Stéphane Buratti is one of them. As proof, he continues regularly to take the train for Paris, while refusing to pay for his ticket — and is often caught up by the ticket inspector, which makes his journeys to the capital very expensive (today, he owes the equivalent of two months of salary).  And if further proof of his commitment were still needed, his partner left him because she lost her job on account of the accumulated delays due to traffic jams initiated by the Yellow Vests. “I will continue,” he said. ”What drives me is the reason why we do it. In fact, the first claim alone – on fuel – is still not satisfied. What’s more, since then, other claims arose, such as regarding the medical system for instance, and more is expected.”

To sum up, Stéphane Buratti is one of those who has believed in the movement straight from the very beginning. Yet, it did not appear obvious to everybody. For instance, to Ulysse Guttmann-Faure, a young Parisian photojournalist, who at first thought it would not last. He too has an explanation to give: “It is due to a sociological bias, and more especially the one of a white journalist from the upper-middle class.”

Buratti feels that the government turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Yellow Vests: “That’s why demonstrations could sometimes get more violent — this is because the government steals from us, breaks us, and so on — so this is the only answer in order to get down to their level.” However, this Yellow Vest soon qualifies his statement with “No, not more violent, but let’s say tougher.” 

Photojournalist Guttmann-Faure comments on the violence, assuming that “With hindsight, it could not but happen, in the same way the 2005 riots occurred. Politicians have neglected the people for so long, and democracy as a system is far from being flawless. So that, whatever the heads of this country may say about it, this uprising is popular with people.”

Now, Stéphane Buratti feels nostalgic about the climax of the movement: “Demonstrations have changed a lot,” he says. “Many things are not the same as they were before.” He explains that they have become “picnics.” All in all, he is unhappy to witness the fact that “protesters no longer fight, so to speak, like they used to do before.” He then adds, “Real Yellow Vests do not wait for the system to work for them, they work the system.” This is a thought that Guttman-Faure shares in some ways. He says he can understand why people resort to violence in the end: “When you’re marginalized, how many options do you have to draw attention? You have to make noise so as to be heard… So you break something, you put the fire to something, this kind of thing… Really, if I were them, I would not know what to do.” Both he and the rest of the Yellow Vests are fed up with social injustice — e.g., as regards the elimination of the solidarity tax on health (ISF) under Emmanuel Macron, which is often considered a gift to the richest.  

Following those comments, Stéphane Buratti then spoke about the fact that the movement is running out of steam. Without hesitation, he claims that “it’s the BFMTV effect, that’s all.” To him, there’s no doubt that most media play an important role in scaring people away. And to cap it all off, they lie: “Black Blocks are portrayed as rioters, but they are protecting us from the security forces, they are the ones to thank.” From his point of view, many people are misled into believing that Black Blocks are the ones to blame for unemployment (though Stéphane Buratti argues they would only lash out at luxury department stores, such as Yves St-Laurent).  

Regarding the little effort media now puts into covering the protests, Ulysse Guttmann-Faure is uncertain whether that means the movement may be coming to an end. “To me, people are getting fed up with the manner the protests are led,” he says. “But the point I want to raise is that the movement is changing. So that maybe it is the end of the movement we know so far. However, it is the beginning of something else — since claims will always come back till they are satisfied.” 

Aside from the decreasing participation in the movement, Guttmann-Faure soon points a finger at other problems affecting the “Yellow Vests’ spirit.” Among them: the anti-Yellow Vests — for example the “red scarves,” who “are worried about the way we protest, and some of them are even against the movement itself. But in both cases, they don’t understand we do this for the sake of France, and so for them as well,” he says. Stéphane Buratti subscribed to their Facebook pages to keep up with “the bullshit they share.” He expands on this point with an ironic tone: “Anyway, as less than second-class citizens, and “toothless,” if we are already able to organize ourselves, even though we are somewhat divided as a people, it is an achievement in itself.”

Despite being conscious of how difficult it is to make a difference, Stéphane Buratti remains determined to do whatever it will take: “So long as there is no change — for example, for retirees who are not free from the CSG responsibility (that is, the “general social contribution” social security tax), there will still be people on the streets.” 

Whatever may happen in the future, this Yellow Vest is convinced that the movement is already part of history. And that it will leave a deep scar — which he hopes will bear fruit.

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