As I write this, hundreds of protesters are being arrested in Paris. In my years of living in France part-time, I’ve witnessed dozens of protests – participated in a couple myself – and have been inconvenienced by countless strikes. But I’ve never seen anything as violent and inexplicable as the current wave led by the gilets jaunes, so named for the yellow safety vests, required by drivers, that they wear as they pace down the streets, stopping traffic and causing chaos.
What started as a demonstration against a rise in vehicle-fuel taxes has snow-balled into a general protest against President Macron. While some protesters on the news complain about a litany of changes to taxes and pensions that help the rich more than the poor, others speak in vague mantras about Macron’s arrogance and that he should resign.
While my natural inclination is to support the underdog, I have mixed feelings. I can understand people protesting against a rise on taxes, but the fuel tax is to help fight climate change – there are other taxes and issues to fight. Incidentally, the climate change protesters were also out in force this week in France. I’m also uneasy with the claims that these protesters are supporting those who are ‘starving’ and ‘becoming poorer.’ I don’t doubt that a growing number are struggling to make ends meet or are experiencing real poverty. Yet, these demonstrations have coincided with the Black Days of shopping, where what started in America as Black Friday has morphed into Black Days, a long weekend of discounted shopping for clothes and electronics. The shops and boutiques of France have been packed. The irony – or perhaps it’s juxtaposition – makes me question people’s sincerity.
Perhaps I’m not as sympathetic as I ought to be because I’ve been appalled by the breaking of windows, looting of shops and setting cars ablaze. Such actions merely hurt people and the cause. What’s happened to peaceful protest (which could include non-violent civil disobedience) and voting in another government when the time comes?
Black days also come in the form of something larger, more sinister. In France, the extreme right and extreme left have hitched on to these protests, twisting them into justifications for their own forms of government. And the political opportunism doesn’t stop there. The sad excuse of a US president first claimed these protests supported climate-change deniers – like himself. Later he claimed that the protesters were screaming out ‘We want Trump.’ Of course, that’s already been disproved by several reputable sources. I mention it only because it allows me to end on a laugh.
Postscript – if I weren’t laughing, I’d be crying.