Shortness of breath and pandemic … Where is the movement, two years after its creation?

Demonstration of yellow vests in support of nursing staff, June 4, 2020. – Francois Mori / AP / SIPA

  • The “yellow vests” movement is celebrating its second anniversary in a very particular context of health crisis.
  • Where is this protest movement against Emmanuel Macron’s policy, which peaked in the winter of 2018-2019?

On November 17, 2018, the “yellow vests” movement was born. Dressed in a fluorescent vest, 282,000 people then occupied roundabouts, blocking roads, everywhere in France. Two years and a pandemic later, where is this movement born of the increase in fuel taxes?

Despite the pandemic, there are a few signs that they are still here. A demonstration all in yellow in Lille, Saturday.
A virtual countdown which provides for an action in Paris for the two years of the movement. “Put the yellow vests on the windshields like in 2018, and on balconies, fences, everywhere… Take pictures… Post them on the groups! “, Invites a” yellow vest “on Facebook a few days before the anniversary.

Roundabouts deserted in spring

A little disorganized calls but in the midst of a pandemic, it is difficult to continue to find each other in the street every Saturday. “We no longer find a” yellow vest “neither in demonstration, nor on roundabouts. The last diehards have been driven out of the last crossroads thanks to the confinement of the spring ”, raises Tristan Guerra, teacher-researcher in political science at Sciences Po Grenoble, Pacte CNRS laboratory.

Containment or not, even before the pandemic, the movement had already run out of steam in 2019. “Despite calls to demonstrate of a national nature, the weekly mobilization brought together only a small hard core of people,” explains Magali Della Sudda , researcher at CNRS, member of the Center Emile Durkheim (CED). Consequence according to her of a “very specific police and judicial repression”.

“The eyes gouged out, the hands torn off, these are things that are extremely scary. It was very dissuasive for some people, especially for those who are not used to collective action. “Another threat for the most precarious: a fine of 135 euros, which” beneficiaries of social minima or people with disabilities cannot (…) face. “

The discussion continues … online

Has the death knell sounded for the “yellow vests”? Not so fast. This would be forgetting that “the movement is also a digital phenomenon”, notes Frédéric Gonthier, also teacher-researcher at Sciences Po Grenoble. In the winter of 2018, the Facebook group “Official counter of yellow vests” recorded 1.8 million Internet users. Today, it still has 1.6 million registered. Proof that the “yellow vests” have never stopped talking on Facebook groups, sharing their indignation and reaffirming their support for the movement.

“The movement continues on the web, a communication that goes completely outside the media radars because these are other ways of being together and discussing. Today, discussions revolve around the health crisis, living conditions, unemployment, or the documentary Hold-Up…, ”Warns Magali Della Sudda, referring to the documentary that seeks to denounce the management of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Yellow vests” on the front line

Exchanges that could rekindle the yellow flame, at a time when restrictive measures are being put in place. “The demands of the yellow vests meant better listening to citizens, the establishment of the citizens’ initiative referendum (RIC), participation in decisions that concern them. They are very imbued with democratic ideals, analyzes Magali Della Sudda. We are in an exceptional situation of suspension of fundamental freedoms, which is explained by the health crisis. It is a very difficult context from that point of view. We are in a moment when the horizon is closing, instead of widening. “

Another source of discontent, “the concern to live with dignity from his work, which was at the heart of the movement,” recalls Frédéric Gonthier. “We realize that many yellow vests belong to professions that have been heavily involved since the start of the first confinement: drivers, delivery people, nursing assistants…, adds Tristan Guerra. If their situation is not taken into account by the public authorities, this may lead the movement to return to the front of the stage, in favor of a period of economic crisis which will intensify over the coming months, and undoubtedly generate more precariousness, the basis for mobilizing the movement. “

A hypothesis shared by Magali Della Sudda. “The feeling of contempt, which was already very strong in 2018, risks spreading to much broader categories, according to the researcher. It is not impossible that a new large-scale social movement is forming, that the networks are reactivated and coalesce with them other discontents that will return. “

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