France has long been known as the country that strikes. At my school alone, there has been 3 strikes and a 4th happening on Thursday. In French, we call this a grève or a manifestation. Many of my teachers have been apologizing for all of what’s going on but I am taking it all in and reflecting on my place as an American living abroad.
The most recent page in France’s strike history has been happening right before our eyes, although many American news channels are not covering it. Everyday on social media, there is a new picture of notable sites in Paris being burned with angry protestors in the background. This movement known as Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Jackets or Yellow Vests) has gone from a mostly non-violent protest into an ongoing series of violent riots. As of December 1st, 140 people have been arrested and 100 people have been injured. The protests have also spread to nearby countries like Belgium. I recently saw a tweet that said “You had the Arab Spring now welcome to the European Winter.”
The movement started back in mid-November on social media as a response to rising fuel prices and has now morphed into the protestation of other social inequalities in France. They have been setting cars on fire and looting shops making these some of the worst riots Paris has seen since the May 1968 protests. The protests have been mainly happening in Paris but they have also spread to other regions of France, including my town of Belfort to a much lesser extent than what is going on in Paris.
As of now, Emmanuel Macron has suspended raising the fuel tax but what happens after that? The Gilet Jaunes are steadily adding onto their list of demands and many are set on seeing a real change in the French government. There have been talks of Civil War, the current president stepping down from his office, and an overthrow of the elites in power. As with most movements, political leaders from opposing parties have seen this as an opportunity to gain favor in future elections. What I find to be interesting is that Gilet Jaunes have gained support from both the Far-Right in France as well as the Far-Left.
So what are my thoughts as an American living in France during this time? This is a question that I have gotten from both my students and teachers. I usually answer in the same way by saying I can’t really comment because I don’t know the ins and outs of living under the French bureaucracy (aside from the all paperwork and immigration visits I had to go through to validate my visa).
As a recent Political Science and French graduate, I do feel extra lucky to be experiencing such a pivotal moment in the French political sphere while being cognizant of my place as a visitor. It has been interesting to read articles about what’s going on while also seeing it in action, even in my smaller town of Belfort.
Have you seen the Gilet Jaunes on the news wherever you are? Are you studying abroad during France right now or planning to come for the spring semester? Let me know in the comments!