What to expect during Act VI of the ‘yellow vest’ protests in France this Saturday

The "yellow vest" movement might seem to have calmed down but it looks likely there will still be some protests taking place around France, including in the French capital and the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France, this Saturday. Here's what we know.

What to expect during Act VI of the 'yellow vest' protests in France this Saturday
Photo: AFP
The “yellow vest” protest movement seems to be calming down but that doesn't mean they're giving up just yet.
In fact, there are some plans for protests this Saturday, including in Paris, although the expectations are that the so-called “act 6” will be nothing like on the scale seen in recent weeks. 
Some “yellow vests” on Facebook are calling for a protest in Opera from 10 am, stressing that they will “all be seated to stop the police charging us” and “to distinguish ourselves from the thugs”, with around 3,500 people saying they were interested in the event. 
Other Facebook groups run by gilets jaunes suggest that other protests could take place in Place de l'Etoile and la Defense.
The authorities have said they expect a decrease in the number of protesters for Act VI which means that the security presence won't be as heavy as in recent weeks.  
The highest concentration of police will be in Paris where 1,230 riot police and officers will be on duty compared to 8,000 last weekend, with police carrying out identity checks and bags searches at train stations. 
Shop owners on the Champs-Elysees, as well as Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann have been called on to protect their storefronts.  

However others are saying that the French capital's roads will be too cramped and they would rather protest elsewhere in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France. 
On Thursday, the Palace of Versailles announced it would close on Saturday out of precaution, with a possible plan by protesters to invade the famous cultural site to the south west of Paris.
The move follows calls on certain gilets jaunes (yellow vests) Facebook pages for protesters to meet at the palace on Saturday. Around 8,000 suggested they were interested in going on one of the more prominent pages.
The closure “is down to a preventative measure on the recommendation of the local authority,” the palace told AFP. 

'Yellow vests' Act VI: Versailles Palace to close on Saturday amid protest fearsPhoto: AFP

There will be a large designated area for protesters on Avenue de Paris in Versailles which will be controlled by police. 
The authorities have said they are expecting “several hundred” yellow vests to take part.
“We expect less mobilization but there will be the same measures in place to supervise street demonstrations, ensuring a number of searches if necessary and arrests, if the situation escalates,” Laurent Nunez, the Secretary of State for the interior ministry, told LCI.
Elsewhere in France, cargo trucks could be blocked at the borders.
Some 'yellow vest' groups on social media have discussed blocking the northern coastal city of Dunkirk, Tourcoing on the Belgian border, as well as Maubeuge and Bettignies, which are also near France's border with Belgium. 
Similarly in the east, Strasbourg and Gambsheim next to the German border could be blocked and in the south east, there was talk of blockading the seaside town of Menton and Chamonix, which is near the junction of France, Switzerland and Italy. 
Meanwhile in the southwest, Perthus and Boulou near the Spanish border could be blocked and freight trucks could also have some difficulty entering the ports of Brest in Brittany and Saint-Nazaire in the Loire-Atlantique department of western France.
It is thought that the most significant border protest could be at the border between France and Spain as Catalan separatists seem to have joined forces with the “yellow vests” in the area. 
In fact one of the people behind the movement, Priscillia Ludosky, has been to the border herself. 
French government to rush through €10 billion worth of concessions for 'yellow vests'
“I am here today to try to understand what is going on among our neighbors and to understand what is the common ground,” she said, adding that there is in Catalonia “a long-standing struggle for more democracy and sovereignty by the people”.
Some “yellow vest” groups are even planning to celebrate the New Year on the Champs-Elysees.
While some gilets jaunes are busy making plans for this Saturday and beyond, French police have been busy clearing “yellow vest” protesters from several occupied roads as President Emmanuel Macron hopes to turn the page on more than a month of often violent anti-government protests.
Macron responded directly to an online petition against fuel tax hikes on Thursday, telling the million signatories “you're right” on the same day as the country's parliament backed the emergency concessions the president had announced to calm the “yellow vest” protest movement.
“Your message, I heard it. I am responding to you directly, you are right,” Macron wrote to the million plus people who signed the petition on the website
It remains to be seen whether this has proven to be enough to put a pin in the anger of France's “yellow vests”.

Member comments

  1. They achieved their goal, it’s cost 10 billion paid on the most part by hard pressed businesses, so now they can just sod-off.

  2. Gor blimey! Those frogs don’t have any rights, just like us limeys! Who do they think they are, putting on airs and deposing their king? Protests don’t change anything – just keep calm and carry on, that’s what say meself.

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Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?

Nearly two years since 'yellow-vest' protesters flooded the streets, the signature gilets jaunes have become a rare sight in France. With a comeback announced on September 12th, what is left of the movement that shook France?

Is France's 'yellow vest' movement really on its way back?
Yellow vest protests in Paris in 2019. Photo: AFP

When Priscillia Ludosky put on a yellow vest for the first time and headed out to the Champs Elysées to protest, she had no idea that nearly 300,000 people would do the same.

It was November 17th, 2018, the first 'yellow vest' protest in the capital and the birth of a mass-movement so large that its vows to overthrow French President Emmanuel Macron’s government seemed, for a moment, credible. 

Nearly two years later, Macron is still president – and aiming for reelection – while the ‘yellow vest’ movement has all but disappeared from the public eye.

“It’s been a long time since I wore the yellow vest,” Priscillia Ludosky, founder and leading figure of the movement, told The Local.

She had not left the movement, but said she was less active than she had been.

“I'm less on-the-ground than I used to. The pandemic put the brakes on most things,” she said.

Despite France's rising coronavirus rates, the 'yellow vests' have declared a comeback protest on September 12th, promising to “never give up”.


But with the protests before lockdown gathering only a fraction of the numbers they once rallied, how much is there really left of the 'yellow vests'?

“The movement is much smaller, much less active, and much more divided than it was at the outset,” historian Sylvain Boulouque told The Local.

Boulouque has followed the movement from the beginning and has written the book Mensonges en gilet jaune (Lies in yellow vests), about the role social media and fake news played in fuelling the 'yellow vests' anger.

When the ‘yellow vests’ first spiralled into a national mass-movement, their rallying cry “Macron demission !” (Macron resign) was the one ringing the loudest, and it was also one of the few demands that all of the ‘yellow vests’ could unite behind.

“The movement spans all the way from the extreme-left to the extreme-right. There is no unity on the fundamental political questions,” Boulouque said.

The more time passed, the more the movement's internal divisions became clear. Today, Boulouque said, there was “a little bit of everything” left, and just keeping track of the movement had become a challenge.

“It’s so local that the demographic changes from town to town and week to week,” he said.

Among the extreme right-wing were a number of conspiracy theory believers, he said, including anti-mask activists who opposed the French government's new rules on masks.

Pro- and anti-masks was just the newest fault line dividing the 'yellow vests', Boulouque said.

“The pandemic will split them rather than reunite them,” he said.

‘Covid proved our points’

Seizing on the pandemic to re-mobilise the masses is what the still-active 'yellow vests' hope to do on September 12th.

Leading 'yellow vest' figure Jérôme Rodrigues. Photo: AFP

Jérôme Rodrigues, another ‘yellow vest’ leading figure, told Slate that the pandemic was their “best ally”.

“Covid proved our points about the degrading of the health system and the limits of the capitalist system,” Rodrigues said.

When the French government imposed a nationwide, strict lockdown in March, it was to save the hospitals in hard-hit areas such as Paris from the mounting pressure of a rapidly increasing patient flow. 

The lockdown, which lasted over two months, had a crippling impact on the economy and saw the government spend billions on emergency help schemes to prevent chain bankruptcies and mass layoffs. 

Despite the government's efforts to kickstart the economy, France’s unemployment rate is set to increase by 10 percent by the end of the year. Young people will be the worst affected, according to France’s national institute for statistics, Insee. Rodrigues predicted that the looming downturn would reaffirm people's faith in the 'yellow vest' movement.

“With the coming crisis, people who were doing well financially and who have never had a hard time are going to fall flat on their faces,” Rodrigues said.

'Yellow vest' leading figure Priscillia Ludosky has been participating in protests against police violence and in support of France's hospital sector the past months. Photo: AFP

'Sensationalist media'

Rodrigues became a symbol of the ‘yellow vests’ after he was hit in the eye by what he claimed to be an LBD rubber bullet fired by police (the police refute his accusation, but the authority overseeing the police has launched an investigation into the matter). 

Blinded in one eye, Rodrigues incorporated one of the most jarring features of the protests: their increasingly violent character. The recurring scenes of violence that dominated the protests contributed to the ‘yellow vests’ hogging headlines for months – not just in France, but across the world. 

Images of burning cars, police armed with rubber-bullet guns, violent fist-fights and black-clad protesters smashing ATMs with baseball bats shocked the world. 

But the violence also dominated the media coverage of the protests, which meant what the protesters were saying got less attention.

READ ALSO How the 'yellow vests' made France have a national conversation about police violence

To Ludosky, this was a big problem.

“The media won’t cover anything unless it’s sensationalist,” she said. 

Ludosky authored the online petition that became the catalyst for the ‘yellow vest’ protests. In it, she wrote that the government’s proposed carbon tax was both falsely branded a green policy and was harmful to the many people who depended on their cars to get around every day.

The document went viral and gathered more than one million signatures, and the fluorescent yellow vest that all vehicles in France must be equipped with became the symbol of the masses revolting against the elites.

Ludosky said her main point was lost in the coverage. She was not an angry car-enthusiast defending her right to drive, she was saying that the tax was unfair and would impact the most on the poorest.

“The longer we protested, the more they tried to tell everyone that we don't know what we want. That we were only out there to break things,” she said.

The early days of the movement saw hundreds of 'roundabout protests' in the French provinces. Photo: AFP

'They are there'

The violence also discouraged many of the 'yellow vests' who had little experience with protesting and were shocked by the use of force on both sides.

Danielle Tartakowsky, a professor at the Paris 8 University who specialises in social movements in contemporary France, said it was important to distinguish between the ‘yellow vest’ who still turned up to protests in Paris – often young, keen and ready to go head to head with police – and the ‘yellow vests’ mobilising in less urban areas.

“In the countryside the ‘yellow vest’ movement is the same as it was at the outset,” she said.

In her new book, On est là ! (We’re here), a main ‘yellow vest’ rallying cry, she concludes just that; the movement had changed, but the ‘yellow vests’ were still present.

“That does not mean that they are ready to rally in the same ways, but it would be dangerous and delusional to say that they have disappeared,” she said.

Tartakowsky said that, while the 'yellow vests' successes could seem limited from the outside, they had pushed through important change indirectly by showing that it was possible to force through change.

“Even if they did not win on all points they showed that it was possible to win something, to make the government backpedal,” she said, referring to the carbon tax.

The camp

When the protests started, the roundabout became the main stage for the protesters who did not travel to Paris to make their discontent heard and seen in the capital. 

From June 2019 until March 2020, just before the pandemic hit with full force, Séverine spent most of her free time on a local roundabout where she and some 30 other ‘yellow vests’ had set up a camp.

A teacher in Amiens, a city a couple of hours north of Paris, Séverine was an early believer that the ‘yellow vests’ would be the movement that finally could radically change a system she saw as unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable.

“I passed all my evenings, all my weekends at the camp,” she said.

The camp was a microcosm of the world they hoped to create.

“We cooked together, discussed, we really had some great moments there together,” she said.

They were all kinds of people at the camp; a waiter, a metro driver, a nursery teacher, a few retirees. An Indian student who just needed somewhere to crash for free. 

“It was a very open environment,” Séverine said.

But the problems soon surfaced. The camp, like the movement, swore to a leaderless management style where no one had a final say.

“It was a mess. Obviously, we didn’t manage to make any decisions,” Séverine said.

Violence at protests became a major problem. Photo: AFP

'People are exhausted'

They split themselves into two groups. Oddly enough, the division had little to do with politics.

“It was not about left or right. We actually agreed on the fundamental issues. It was more about strong personalities and people simply not getting along,” she said.

The atmosphere soured. They argued more, discussed less. They went from 30, to 20, to about 10. Then, after the local election in March, just before the pandemic made social distancing the norm, the mayor told them to clear the camp. 

Critics have long said the ‘yellow vests’ lack of leadership was their major, perhaps the decisive, default. How could they push for change when they had no idea what they wanted?

Despite having become so disillusioned with the movement that she no longer knew if she wanted to call herself a ‘yellow vest’ at all, Séverine was not sure this was their main problem. 

“Demonstrating every weekend is tiring. It requires a significant commitment. I think people are exhausted,” she said.

'I was fed up'

In the months that followed the movement’s heyday in early 2019, the protests followed the same pattern as Séverine's camp.

They were increasingly sparse in numbers and the atmosphere increasingly tense and bitter.

“You're walking in a state of complete stress, afraid that someone is aiming at you. You don't hear the messages anymore,” Séverine said.

Five people have lost a hand in the protests. Twenty-five were blinded in an eye. According to government numbers, 2,500 protesters were hurt in the protests by the end of 2019, along with 1,800 police officers.

“No one could imagine that a movement could last this long without losing momentum,” Ludosky said.

“Keeping on going cost a lot to the people who got involved. It's money, time, people lost limbs, couples separated.”

READ ALSO ANALYSIS: French police are not all thugs – they are being placed in an impossible situation

Like many others, she was put off by the violence. In the end, she left her yellow vest in her car.

“I was fed up,” she said. “Every time I wore it I worried about the police controlling me.”

She was not sure if she still believed in the movement.

“It’s complicated. The presidential elections are coming up soon, crying out for Macron’s resignation doesn’t make sense anymore.”

“But the 12th will be the moment to go out on the streets. Not necessarily in Paris, but we need to show something.”