by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
The fundamental problem with media coverage regarding regarding the Yellow Vests is that it fails to see it as an already-permanent movement, or even a possibly-permanent one: each week must be either the biggest one yet, or the very last one.
The Yellow Vests see it similarly, but differently: for them each week is the very last one, too… because they will FINALLY storm Élysée Palace (Act 16: “Insurrection”, Act 17: “Decisive Act”, and now Act 18 on March 16: “Ultimatum”.)
The Yellow Vests are like the Vietcong: it’s not that they are so innately tough, it’s that they have nowhere else to go. Ask a protesting Yellow Vester and they’ll tell you: they have no money to pay their bills, much less do anything fun on the weekends… so why not go protest and enjoy what you can’t buy – camaraderie?
As a journalist who has covered every medium- to major-sized protest movement in France in the last decade (and the small ones, i.e. pro-Palestine, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, etc.), I have come to deeply resent and fear the Yellow Vests.
What a damned long workout they impose on us! They are marching 10-15km every Saturday, with zero consideration for TV journalists who have to carry equipment. Furthermore, why on earth do they march so damned fast?! If Guinness keeps this record, the Yellow Vests must take the crown for “protester km/h”.
This is surely the legacy of the constant police attacks during the first six weeks – you can’t hit what you can’t catch.
It’s also more confirmation that so many of them have not been politically active (which is also why so many get arrested – they don’t know what they are doing): French demonstrations are supposed to be festive, leisurely, tipsy strolls. French union demonstrations are basically half-parties: you lose a day’s pay… but there will be loud music, lots of alcohol, cheap barbecue, and scatological signs instead of proper propaganda. “We didn’t get our political demands? Oh well, at least we had a good time.” But at Yellow Vest demos public intoxication is far, far rarer and political seriousness is far greater.
The most significant media polls about the Vesters (and there are crazily few polls about them) revolves around a majority of France now not wanting them to protest every Saturday. The effect of this can be summed up easily: So the hell what?
Since when did political protesters need the approval of the majority to practice the modern right to free assembly? Protesters are usually against the often-clueless majority. They wouldn’t be protesting if the majority was getting it right! It’s not as if the Yellow Vests are a clearly manipulated, virtue signalling, identity-based, hipster/bobo movement, like the recent anti-Semitism marches (excuse, me I meant the marches to pave the way for criminalising anti-Zionism).
But they must keep broadcasting these very particular polls for a reason, and it was summed up by failed 2017 Macron-party candidate and sociologist Jean Viard, who said, “When there is a poll which says that 70% of France is fed up with the Yellow Vest demonstrations, we can stop the movement.”
Well that is certainly debatable, no?
Why should we choose 70%? How will they “stop the movement”? (Answer: reimpose a State of Emergency.) Isn’t 30% still a huge minority in a West European / liberal / bourgeois democracy, which gives some support for minority rights (the wealthy minorities more than others, of course)?
I give the reader that quote just to illustrate how France’s mainstream media and mainstream politicians are currently thinking, which is “When can we really pounce?”
Other polls show that while a majority wants the marches to stop, a majority still supports the Yellow Vests – these are two different things, and the latter is more significant in the long (and short!) term.
The main reason French people are increasingly against the marches themselves is the French tendency to get easily bored.
The French desire for sensation – “Something, anything… just not more ennui!” – is constant (and the basis of Western decadence). Combine that with the fact that these protests are not that fun unless you believe in the Yellow Vest movement. As I related, it’s long, hard work, and it’s in the cold. (The fact that France has a winter protest movement is truly unprecedented, and should have immediately put our gauges into the red.)
And it’s violent. Last Saturday, after a brief coffee my colleague and I had to insist that a cafe off the Champs-Elysées unlock their door to let us out. They wanted to block out the violence and enjoy their drinks, but we had to cover the impending, inevitable sundown attacking of the Yellow Vesters by cops. As the manager opened the door he wished us a loud and hearty “Bon gazage!” Or, “Enjoy getting tear gassed!” Tear gas is – and I have tasted many of France’s finest vintages – not a fun sensation. Most French today can’t even handle a few weeks of Lenten fastidiousness (rather minor, compared with Ramadan), much less four consecutive months of political piety.
However, the Yellow Vests absolutely do not care what anyone thinks, except their fellow Yellow Vests, and so they are not going to quit the field just because polls show a majority wants them to stay home. “These polls are all politically manipulated,” a Vester told me. She must be a right-wing, deplorable conspiracy theorist, of course.
No, she’s absolutely right. There is a revolving door between the government and the top polling institutes: Macron’s token Muslim minister (and a most half-hearted Muslim, at that) went from spokesperson for the president to a top spot at IPSOS, the nation’s top polling institute (and run by private interests, as it is not a public institute).
Relaying these in-bed-with-the-government polls is the job of the sycophantic mainstream media… and that’s why more than half of France says that the media has done a bad job covering the Yellow Vests. It is amusing to read this article (in French), because from the very lede paragraph the journalist writing it is defensive, accusatory and self-justifying. Anyway, 70%+ say coverage is too focused on violence, and too unbalanced, and too corporate-driven.
Basically they are saying – just as France doesn’t want massive opinion polling which is not manipulated by the private sector (like in China) – France doesn’t want a Western liberal / capitalist system of journalism but a state-controlled and state-supported one (like in China). Yellow Vesters will figure this out, Inshallah.
Vesters only trusting Vesters… that explains why they will, I believe, eventually form a political party, as no other political party can be trusted to try and implement their political demands.
Biggest march yet… until the next huge one
Haven’t the French finally realized that mere marches don’t get them anywhere? They only got any concessions after major violence. They need a general strike and a permanent encampment!
The tried the latter last week at the Eiffel Tower – shut down immediately, with extreme prejudice. At least Paris is consistent: they were against Tahrir Square in Egypt… until the protesters won, of course. And in all the revisionist history books / journalism accounts. Let’s not forget that Sarkozy’s foreign minister offered to send Tunisia security forces to put down their revolution in 2011.
March 16 will definitely see the biggest march in Paris in months – tens of thousands of people, guaranteed. Lately it has been 6-9,000, but I could be low because I can’t put eyes on every single Yellow Vest gathering in Paris on Saturdays. Of course, this is about 3 times what the government says, which is my general rule of thumb for crowd counting of anti-government protesters.
March 16 is indeed an “Ultimatum” because it has been expressly designed to give the Yellow Vests’ verdict on Macron’s two-month “National Debate”, which was the biggest and most attention-getting concession he made to the movement.
The National Debate, LOL.… Fidel Castro-sized speeches from Macron, minus a Fidel Castro-sized heart for his nation and for international solidarity.
What’s the most useless job in France in 2019? The guy or gal whose job it will be to condense all the data compiled from the many town hall meetings. That final report will be, in the best traditions of France’s (liberal bourgeois) bureaucracy, forever stuck in the limbo of en cours de traitement (being processed).
It’s going to be so big that Macron had to try and steal its thunder by extending the National Debate into April, hastily announcing a “Phase 2”. So, the fiction – that the government cares / is listening / will implement public opinion once they properly gather it – will continue for a few more weeks. What will be most interesting is when that stops.
(Interesting like – what happens with Eurozone Quantitive Easing stops? But that’s going to continue forever, per the recent and very surprising European Central Bank announcement. This was the only way they could prove me wrong in September 2017, when QE was first scheduled to stop: that European Sovereign Debt Crisis II will hit as soon as free money to high finance stops).
Truly, we can’t underestimate the significance for France of the end of the National Debate: because the protest are still going on, the government simply must do something… but now what?
However, the “debate” truly is over – Macron has gone back to business-as-usual – being Mack the Knife: He announced that he will rewrite the unemployment system by himself, ending 30+ years of collaborative efforts between unions and bosses.
While we’re talking about ancient history, let’s remind ourselves: It’s not like the pre-Yellow Vest era wasn’t full of regular anti-government protests…. The Vesters are adamant, mostly, that they remain aloof from politics. Fine, but politics will continue.
Yes, the Vesters have caused a four-month stop in the onslaught of “reforms”, but Macron’s return to his usual modus operandi means that we will soon be talking about unions during the week, Yellow Vests on the weekend. After all, unions marching during the week have been guaranteed sights during all of Macron’s era, and most of Hollande’s: we are merely now “regressing to normal” in West European (Strongman) Liberal Democracy in the EU / Eurozone age.
The National Debate never had a chance, all of France knew, because one cannot debate with a know-it-all; for some reason “public service” has become infested with individualism in the 21st century, which is why politicians and journalists all adopt this posture of arrogance, instead of one of subservience to the greater good. This is just the latest example of Macron personally rewriting (labor code, rail reform, policing reform, justice reform, etc.) a huge part of French socioeconomic culture in order to make it more like the inferior, more unequal US, UK and German models. Even though he has an absolute majority in Parliament, he’ll probably even make the unemployment system changes law by executive decree to give his party members plausible deniability during re-election.This of, course, will certainly provoke more protests by the traditional protesting groups, like unions, NGOs and
a Roman Catholic clergy concerned for their members.
So Macron is going back to doing what he does – remaking France in the image of the neoliberal US – and unions will go back to making a big show of opposing him in the hopes of winning concessions for their dues-paying members, and also to water-down Macron’s decrees a tad for non-members. Just a tad, though.
‘Who’s in charge? We are!’ – chant of the Yellow Vests
And this is really the key of this article: the Yellow Vests have lodged an unprecedented foothold in politics; they have one-upped the unions, and thus they are now truly the ones who “represent the People / workers”. They are the ones setting the agenda, and the ones the government / bosses most fear. The Yellow Vests are a minor revolution, which is why the first question from every mainstream journalist to an analyst is, “When will they stop?”
(Of course, the question from every mainstream French journalist regarding the Algeria protests is: “How can we help them continue?”)
The only way the Yellow Vests could be compelled to take off their vests is for France to have true democracy… but such a thing is simply unprecedented and impossible in the West European liberal democratic system. The only way for that is to have a post-1917, socialist-inspired system. Look at all the millions of fingerprints on Cuba’s new constitution – contrarily, there will only be one set of prints on France’s new unemployment system: Macron’s.
(Interesting sidebar: the most poplar issue discussed at the massive debates over the content of Cuba’s new constitution was making marriage “between a man and a woman” into a “union between two persons”. What is depressing is that – even in Cuba, where the people have the best combination of political intelligence, political inspiration and political involvement – even they are obsessed by this totally useless, sectarian issue!
However, what’s amazing is how their vanguard leaders recognised that, “Overwhelmingly, the (average Cuban citizen’s) proposals were against the proposed change.” And… they actually took out this change from the constitution! In Cuba, the leaders actually listen to and then implement the democratic will, unlike in France – voila, socialist democracy versus liberal democracy.
In Cuba, the majority is not forced to be beholden to the demands of any 1%, whether that 1% is monetary or sexual.
With the UK now teaching transgenderism to schoolchildren (to Muslim kids first, of course) the less-than-1% (sexually and sartorially) is now often the main beneficiary of Western public policy.…)
Of course, mass state violence, arrests, trials and jailings are other methods to force their Vests off; physical and judicial repression is obviously being used by Macron to intimidate people from protesting. Every day newspapers urban and rural are filled with the latest sentences for Yellow Vesters, but it won’t be enough to stop them.
Not even the “Anti-Yellow Vest Law”, which the Orwellian Mainstream Media prefers to call the “Anti-Rioters Law” – which is being deftly manipulated by Macron past a possibly-meddling legislative branch – will stop the Vesters, either.
LOL at Macron! High unemployment and unprecedented discontent… and you want to roll back the jobless system this spring? (Pension rollbacks coming in autumn, so we have more to look forward to.) The guy is either oblivious, anti-democratic, or the puppet of someone else.
But look at all the coverage of Brexit, and the demand for a 2nd referendum – Leavers will only respect democracy when they get THEIR way. (Me, I’m telling my English friends to vote “Leave” in Brexit Vote #3 and “Remain” in Brexit Vote #4, with Brexit votes 5-7 possibly write-ins for Mickey Mouse, who would have surely respected the first democratic vote.) West Europeans simply ARE anti-democratic because they have never been trained in modern democracy, which is necessarily socialist-inspired.
Bourgeois, West European, liberal democracy is not democracy, and we all see that in the 21st century: True change in France can only come when they realize that French arrogance regarding their terrible institutions has been unmerited for all these decades.
However, that realisation only comes after adopting the internationalism of the socialist view – other ideas (Gasp! Even non-French ones!) are needed to survive in 2019.
Barring this epiphany, Paris will bunker down on March 16… and far beyond.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.