Dissent, Spring 2019
Far from being anti-environment, the gilets jaunes have exposed the greenwashing of Macron’s deeply regressive economic and social agenda.
I first passed the protest camp on Christmas Eve, as the sun was setting and most of the country was preparing to sit down for the holiday dinner. So were twenty-odd local gilets jaunes. This dedicated group of protesters had spent over a month camped out at Jeanne Rose, a large roundabout on the outskirts of the former industrial town of Le Creusot, about four hours’ drive southeast of Paris. Their ranks had thinned since November 17, when 150 or so protesters first rallied to the Jeanne Rose roundabout, out of some quarter-million across the country. But those who stuck around had reason to be optimistic. Already, they had won a series of concessions—including the suspension of the fuel tax hike that sparked the movement—from a government that had spent its first year and a half steamrolling reform after reform past all opposition. Wearing their signature yellow vests, the local gilets jaunes toasted the Christmas holiday together with escargot—a regional specialty—donated by a sympathizer and grilled over the campfire.
It is this kind of camaraderie that has sustained the protesters through the damp cold of France’s winter months, and has given the yellow-vest movement a much greater staying power than expected. In mid-January, a few weeks after I first visited, a series of raids cleared most of the small-town protest camps. But some groups of gilets jaunes have managed to hang on. As of early March, a cabin at the edge of the Jeanne Rose roundabout still welcomes passersby “Chez Manu et Brigitte,” bonfire roaring; across the country, mass marches and rallies remain a Saturday routine, with protesters numbering in the tens of thousands every weekend.