A yellow jacket: what a great find to produce images. A digital uplifting: what amazingly innovative material to make up a series. Viewers guaranteed. Commentators, from the right, from the left, from nowhere, babble about or celebrate the movement’s "freshness", the "new form of participatory democracy" or even the "awakening of the people" it embodies. On Saturday 17 at dawn, special editions announced the day before were reporting the protest in real time - something unseen before in France’s history for a social movement.
A group of individuals who do not fit into the ordinary categories used by political observers and commentators. They come both from the left and from the right. They are both apolitical and ultra (three kinds of ultra: ultra-right, ultra-left and ultra-violent, who take advantage of the opportunity to break whatever can be broken).
But above all, they are "people" as the media say, or even "the people", to use the words of the far-left party La France Insoumise. Among them are many women. Motorists who cannot do without their cars to go to work - but not only. Employees, self-employed, retired people, who earn little more and often less than the median wage, i.e. €1,772 net of tax per month.
This is the "central people", declares Marine Le Pen, taking up an expression used by Jean-Luc Mélenchon during his presidential campaign meeting on the Cannebière high street in Marseille on 9 April 2017, in one of the lyrical declamations only he can deliver: "There you are, the central people, that which aspires to live from its work, from its inventions, from its poems, from its love of others". In truth, the notion of "central people" goes back a long way in French history, since it was already used in...1903, by a committee of Bonapartists who called themselves "Appel au peuple central" (literally, "call to the central people") .
A group of individuals, certainly not rich, yet not entirely poor, who feel forgotten by the Republic and who, according to polls, are supported by two thirds, if not three quarters, of the French people. How could anyone be against them?
Most are - or feel like they are - the negation of something. Non-voters, non-demonstrators (until now), non-union members (no centralized trade union officially supports the movement), non-politicized, non-represented.
What can we make of this diversity of angry outbursts? One option would be to sketch out a timeline.
- Phase 1. Rejection of increases in diesel and gasoline prices. No to the increase in fuel taxes.
- Phase 2. Extension of the protest. Protesters’ discourse generally seems to reflect more of a revolt than specific claims. "I'm tired of being powerless. What future will my child have?" wrote a protestor on his vest."The elites talk about the end of the world when we’re talking about the end of the month", proclaims another.
- Phase 3. Proliferation and radicalization of requests. No to taxes. No to the decline in purchasing power. No to elected representatives. No to the Assembly: yes to its dissolution. No to Macron: yes to his resignation.
- Phase 4. On 26 November, eight citizens - half spokespersons, half messengers - represented the "gilets jaunes" to discuss with the government and so-called "official communicators", in almost Macronian jargon.