The French government has finally admitted that it “made mistakes” after a fifth consecutive week of Gilets Jaunes protests rocked the country again last weekend. The grassroots movement which originated on Facebook has marched across Western Europe and even traversed the Atlantic in just over a month.
The yellow vests have proven to be a tricky issue for Western media outlets confused on how to cover the movement, as it represents a major threat to the current neoliberal world order. French President Emmanuel Macron, long touted by the press as Angela Merkel’s natural successor in Europe, was still being hailed as the continent’s future as recently as last month. Establishment media desperate to defend the status quo have even started delegitimising the movement as a “tool of the Kremlin” because some Russian Twitter accounts have posted about it.
To get an unfiltered take from the ground, Pop & Locke spoke directly to ‘Ramok,’ a Gilets Jaunes protester from Marseilles who participated in recent demonstrations in Paris and Chambéry. Included are original photos and videos taken by Ramok.
P&L: When did you first become involved in the Gilets Jaunes movement and what were your motivations?
Ramok: I started to really take part in the movement of the yellow vests just after the first big demonstration of Paris [ed: November 17th]. Before that, I did not really adhere to this movement because their actions were really silly and provoked the anger of the French people and not of the government—blocking roads, breaking cars of people who tried to pass the roadblocks, etc.
It was after seeing the enthusiasm of the people, but also the possibility of finally forming a solid mass of demonstrators that I fully joined the movement by putting, sometimes, my work and my family aside. The government, before the demonstration in Paris, did not really believe this possibility that the people would rise, but we showed them the opposite and that is what motivated, I think, most yellow vests to take part in the demonstrations that followed throughout France.
My motives were quite similar to those of other yellow vests even if the media wanted at all costs to focus on the rise in the price of fuel—above all, it is a total stop of immigration in France, immigration that is poisoning our country, but also our economy, as said a famous French nationalist movement “ours before others,” it was the rallying cry for many across the country.
What are the other aims of the movement, in your eyes?
There is the desire to highlight small businesses compared to the multinationals, by highlighting, I mean putting forward these businesses by not taxing these local traders at exorbitant prices. Many bakeries are forced to close their business following the taxes imposed on them—astronomical compared to the income they receive. Also to make sure that the amount of the pension is decent and liveable for our poor elderly people, set a limit of at least 1300 € per month. They have contributed all of their life to have it, it is the minimum that we owe them. After that, there is also the protection of French industries, to stop promoting abroad and try to convince French companies to remain French.
Further, there is obviously the end of Presidential salaries for life and the resignation of the President, but also that the project to increase the price of gasoline is cancelled. One thing that is important to know about France; there have never been so many poor people in our country, and paradoxically, there have never been so many rich people either. I’m not stupid, I know that there are “rich” and “rich”, highly qualified people such as doctors deserve their money, ministers, them, much less. These are just some of our requests, not everything…
What has your experience been on the streets during the protests?
It was simply extraordinary. I had never seen before so much cohesion among the French, we really felt to be there for a common fight, to be bound by an ideal, by a real dream—the determination of everyone was incredible.
We showed rather surprising organisation, strong bonds were created despite the fact that almost nobody knew each other. I am personally from Marseille and I got along with French from all horizons—Parisians as well as Bretons. The tribal spirit was at its peak, as if our revolutionary genes had resurfaced!
Various organizations set up in Paris. Some groups were intended to protect historical monuments—I personally defended the Flame of the Unknown Soldier with many other comrades, to no avail… others tried to protect the Arc de Triomphe, but the CRS [ed: French National Police Reserves] did not stop gassing places, which caused big movements of the crowds and the loss of control of our ranks against the thugs, unfortunately.
There were also groups that were present in Paris only to film the actions without censorship, without politicisation, etc… They were easily recognisable because they wore black helmets, yellow vests and black jeans. Most of the videos you can find showing the police hitting the protesters came from these people.
After, there were obviously some thugs on the spot. It’s unfortunate, but the revolution was not made with roses so… As long as they do not attack our guys, everything is fine.
It was obvious that many protesters were attacked by the police—impure and weak attacks. If you have seen videos circulating on the internet, know that the reality was worse than that.
We had many arrests on December 1st and it was worse on December 8th. Many protesters have significant physical injuries from those events, including my close friends and myself.
Do the Gilets Jaunes protesters generally have similar political beliefs? Are there political divisions or tensions among the protesters?
I can only say one thing: the movement is apolitical. It is one of the first times that the left and the right were united in the same fight in “modern” France. Nevertheless, the movement is legitimately more right than left, it is obvious, and I met many more righties than lefties.
What is your ideal result from the Gilets Jaunes movement? How long do you think it will last?
For me, it would be simply that the people are really represented by the Presidency of this country—set up a real system of direct democracy. With all of the technology that is present nowadays in our homes, this political system of direct democracy is conceivable, without any doubt.
I think that the movement is made to last, at this level, we do not count in days but in months. The movement will last for months. The French finally woke up and now have the motivation we needed—help from the neighbour, the feeling of not being alone.
Currently, the movement continues in a straight line, the number of protesters remains stable, despite a slight decline in yellow vests in Paris on December 8 compared to December 1, which was a logical reaction following the many arrests and threats of the French state—the politics of fear.
One thing is certain, it is that the movement still exists and that it grows progressively, I do not know any person who disagrees with our actions… except the judicial police officer whom I met!
What sort of impact do you think the movement is having across Western Europe? Do you think it is inspiring people globally?
Well in my eyes, the European countries are like the French… To finally have balls and shout their anger, they need the approval of others or say to themselves “Oh, I’m fine, I’m not alone now, go go go! “. It’s already the case in Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy and even Morocco—yes, I saw that yesterday and it made me smile. In addition to having an obviously negative impact on the morale of politicians throughout Europe, the movement of yellow vests helps give hope to Europeans. We, poor French unarmed have managed to do the unimaginable: scare the government and push it back.
After Macron’s speech and the government’s concessions, what has been your sense of the Gilets Jaunes response? What do you think he will do moving forward as he tries to hang onto power?
The vast majority of yellow vests, if not all, simply laughed because they knew what to expect. No solution has been proposed, only lures that unfortunately no longer work in the eyes of the French, since we know that the government is no longer in a position of strength. Most continue to call for ongoing demonstrations and the continuity of the movement.
The only thing that Macron can do to try to stay in power is to fall asleep and dream, because I think very sincerely that it is officially over for him. The French media themselves have affirmed that. The chances that Macron finishes his term are close to zero. If he hangs onto power, France will have lost its status of democracy and we will have had to deal with a real political purge, quite simply. He had a chance to possibly appease the French with his speech, and he missed it. Too bad for him!
Ian Cromwell runs the Facebook page The Current Year.