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2018-12-05 / Columnists

Just Bill

The Yellow Jacket Cause Moves toward Rioting
Musings from the Mind of Bill Diem

I went into Paris Saturday to buy a computer. If you’ve been following the news, on Saturday another demonstration of thousands of people wearing yellow vests closed the Champs Elysées. They are angry with the government and the way things are going.

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations. Saturday November 23, 26 people were arrested. Saturday November 30, 412 were arrested.

On November 23, demonstrators built some fires in the street with construction material. November 30, 290 fires were started in town, including burned-up cars. A total of 130 people were hurt, including 26 police officers. Police used tear gas and water canons to try to control the crowd. Rioters brought steel ball bearings, hammers and bricks.

Tension is escalating.

My trip to town was affected by the riot. The main subway station under the Champs Elysées was closed, so I had to take a different route to get to my store. Subway trains were standing room only. Everyone was taking alternate routes.

I didn’t see a single “yellow jacket” during my visit. The rest of Paris was mostly calm as Christmas shopping was building up.

The yellow vests that the rioters wear are a clear symbol of “the people.” In France, in case a car is broken down on the side of the road, the driver getting out is required to wear a yellow vest to be more visible to traffic. So everyone has a yellow vest.

The revolution started with people, mainly in the country, who are angry about new fuel taxes scheduled to go into effect in January. President Emmanuel Macron’s government says the tax will pay for research on alternative energies, but rural people still have to drive to work or the store.

The anger over this tax was like the additional straw that breaks the camel’s back. The problem of stagnate wages and a rising cost of living is well known in France.

Over time the demonstrations have added people with other causes. Rightwing bigots and the leftwing unions have joined in. I met a tourist from Los Angeles who went November 23 for fun. He enjoyed running around, sniffing tear gas and fleeing from the water cannon, and he was planning to be there November 30.

Another bunch of people, known as “les casseurs” (the breakers), show up at events like this. They like to fight, and in a crowd of angry, ordinary people, they can and do help create a mob violence.

The government is sticking to its plan, no change to taxes. The president doesn’t understand the people, who are more worried about daily challenges than the environment. The violence is like the violence in Detroit in 1984 when the Tigers won the pennant at home, and happy fans burned up cars on the street.

Usually, big demonstrations in France have a leader. The yellow jacket cause is leaderless, so the government has no one with whom to negotiate. It’s hard to tell where this is going, but I doubt that it’s 1789 all over again.

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