Over months of protests, France’s Yellow Vest movement has scored some wins from the government and gained momentum, but in the long run, it faces some problems, according to an analyst of the protest movement.
“The Yellow Vests have won specific gains from [French President Emanuel] Macron, however perhaps more importantly they have won a sense that they can win,” Pollyanna Ruiz, an expert on media at the University of Sussex, told Anadolu Agency.
“The sense that this is a protest methodology that can successfully exert influence is key not only to the decision-making of the Yellow Vest movement as it moves forward but to the decision-making of the Macron government, which must now review the decisions it takes through the lens of the Yellow Vest protests,” stressed Ruiz, the author of Articulating Dissent: Protest and the Public Sphere.
‘Yellow Vests speak to the protests’
On the iconic yellow vests worn by the protesters — part of the standard safety kit in French cars — she said such symbols represent special power dynamics and move very fast by way of social networks, attracting new adherents.
“The yellow vests speak to the protests’ origins as a mobilization around fuel taxes and are commonly associated with the working class, and as such they visually encapsulate many of the protesters, concerns,” she said, mentioning how drivers in France are required by law to keep a yellow vest in their car trunk.
The role played by symbols such as France’s yellow vests as well as Hong Kong’s umbrellas is crucial to the growth of these social/protest movements.
She said the protests, which began last October, stem from their not being enough room in the French political system for voices from lower classes.
“Consequently, dissent in the streets tends to be vocal, the police’s reaction robust, and the scope for escalation is therefore great.”
Why has the movement not spread?
On the Yellow Vest movement not spreading far beyond its core group, she said that its demonstrations are formed by very specific dynamics which make it hard to spread.
“They bring the left and the right together in an uneasily overlapping space. This is not unique – we can see similar overlaps in the Catalan Independence movement in Spain and even in the U.K.’s Brexit party – but it is something which is harder to replicate in different political environments.”
On the movement’s leaderless character, she said this lack of leaders generates a space in which numerous different political attitudes can gather.
But she also mentioned shortcomings arising from the variety of ideological positions in the movement.
“Their ability to communicate beyond the specifics of this particular fuel tax or that particular speed restriction is limited rather than extended by the plurality of voices,” she stressed, referring to the movement’s internal conflicts.
Discussing the movement’s limitations, Ruiz said that although the Yellow Vest protests carry many other social movement’s methodological perspectives, they are limited in their use of demonstration methods.
She said Extinction Rebellion, a London-based climate change movement, has a wider protest repertoire.
“The emphasis on street protest without the wider range of activities (meetings, petitions, boycotts, marches etc.) taken up by movements such as Extinction Rebellion means that there is less scope for the movement to develop and adapt.”
She added that the protest’s ideological hostility also make it difficult for the protesters to reach out and forge bonds with other movements and grassroots groups.
“Consequently, while the Yellow Vest protests are sustaining themselves in the same form over time, they are not evolving as the political environment around them evolves,” she explained.