- The Yellow Vests movement is entering the 15th consecutive weekend of massive protests
- Fischer an American journalist and founder of News2Share traveled to France to see the movement firsthand
- Fischer believes American media is failing to cover the historic civil uprising against President Emmanuel Macron’s taxes targeting the working class
For over three months France has witnessed the rise of the massive civil uprising movement Gilets Jaunes — more commonly known in America as the Yellow Vests movement. Oddly enough, as the Yellow Vests movement continues, so does the silence from mainstream American media.
While some smaller advocacy groups have made subtle pushes to start a Yellow Vest movement in America, those attempts appear to have been short-lived as the majority of Americans remain in the dark on many aspects of the movement, including how it began. Even President Donald Trump took to Twitter to mistakenly claim more than once the Yellow Vests were protesting the Paris Agreement.
The Yellow Vests movement began in Paris as a response to President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed fuel tax and other taxes that target the working class. The protests have brought out tens of thousands of people and for the first three months organizers of the Yellow Vests movement were coordinating with officials to some degree. After protesters continued to fall victim to extremely serious injuries from law enforcement week after week, organizers announced they would no longer be giving advance notice to officials earlier this month.
Due to American media all but ignoring the Yellow Vests, American journalist and founder of News2Share Ford Fischer decided to fly to France in an attempt to give Americans a closer look inside the historic civil uprising currently unfolding in France. The Daily Haze spoke with Fischer about what he is seeing in the Yellow Vests movement and how it compares to other movements he has covered in America.
TDH: Did American media prepare you for covering the Yellow Vests?
Ford Fischer: Honestly, American mainstream media has barely covered the Yellow Vest movement at all, which is part of my motivation for coming to Paris in the first place. I wanted to fill in that gap because it felt like most Americans were straight-up unaware of this situation, and those who did know about it were misinformed. It was only by watching the work of my fellow independent journalists like Emily Molli and Luke Rudkowski that I was able to really know what I would be up against as far as activist and police tactics.
TDH: What made you decide that you had to go see the Yellow Vests movement for yourself?
Ford Fischer: What made me want to get out there myself was the lack of coverage in the United States, and how fundamentally misinformed American audiences were to the extent that they were aware of this movement. The American mainstream media is so obsessed with all things Trump and anything that can divide the population that when an extremely significant political movement is rising that really subverts the left-right divide, they just wanted to ignore it.
TDH: Do you think the Yellow Vests movement in France is something that could be adopted and applied towards issues we are seeing in America?
Ford Fischer: Some Americans are attempting to appropriate the Yellow Vest as a political symbol at their own demonstrations, and it seems like some common ground is being found. The primary qualms of the Yellow Vests are taxes that hurt the working class disproportionately (such as taxes on fuel or overtime pay) and the minimum wage being too low. Those are both working class concerns, but fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum in the American sense (lowering taxes and raising the minimum wage). The shared working-class frustration could translate into shared solutions internationally, but I haven’t seen that occur too much yet in the United States, which tends to rally around politicians (Trump, Sanders) in light of these issues rather than policy.
TDH: Have you ever covered anything this massive and now that you have seen it firsthand, do you regret your decision to go?
Ford Fischer: I absolutely do not regret my decision to go! It has been really incredible to witness something I think could be historic, society-changing, and potentially contagious into other western nations. It could be emblematic of a global political shift, but that remains to be seen.
This event has been going on for 15 weeks now, and I’ve been here for the past two. It primarily occurs on weekends. So far, I’ve attended weekends with tens of thousands in attendance, and the first iteration apparently had about a quarter million. In absolute terms, I’ve been to larger protests in the United States such as the March for Life, March for our Lives and various Women’s March events. However, those sorts of events can amount to a lot more “selfie activism” and tend to be free of violence or struggle. The Yellow Vest protests I’ve attended have been, by far, the absolute biggest events featuring nearly non-stop conflict with the police.
The only event I’ve been to that out-does the sheer level of violence would perhaps be Charlottesville, but even that was extremely different because it was citizen versus citizen violence, rather than citizen versus state.
TDH: Are you seeing any major similarities or differences between how the police are responding to these civil uprisings as compared to the police response in America to similar scenarios?
Ford Fischer:American police frequently fail at or ignore these goals, but their goals are ideally supposed to be protecting free speech rights and protecting people and property from violence. Tertiary to this is the related goal of arresting those who threaten those rights (ie, arresting people who become violent). While those goals are often not achieved, you can usually see that they at least give the impression of following that guideline. American police are unlikely, for example, to fire tear gas into a peaceful crowd.
France is different. While there is a general concept of the right to assembly, they place a greater emphasis on whether or not a march is “permitted” and most Yellow Vest events are not. Unpermitted events tend to face greater police backlash, so police generally start right off the bat with riot shields etc. Yellow Vests do tend to agitate the police to some extend by throwing firecrackers at them and things like that, but police often use “crowd control” tactics whose main purpose seem to be to escalate a situation and cause physical pain to protesters rather than de-escalate. While there are arrests, bashing people with clubs and throwing GLI-F4 (TNT-loaded) tear gas grenades are more common. There seems to be vastly more injuries than criminal charges.
The motivation seems to be that this cuts down on the number of people willing to attend. Macron stands at a 30% approval rating while the Yellow Vest movement is at about 50%. With the potential for enormous crowds at a popular movement, one simple method to stop as many people from showing up is to hurt them.
TDH: As far as you know, have there been any movements in our lifetime in America that you could compare to this Yellow Vest movement?
Ford Fischer: Honestly, I think the Yellow Vest movement is fairly unique in its contempt for the state and big business while attracting different political factions across the left-right spectrum. The closest comparison I could make is that many have noted similarities with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but they drew far fewer numbers and considerably less (almost no) violence. Tactically speaking it has similarities to Ferguson and Baltimore, but the crowds are vastly larger, more diverse, and with greater popular support in the nation.
TDH: We reported on Fiorina Jacob Lignier who lost her eye during a Yellow Vests protest in December, at that time another protester had severe injuries to his hand, and now we have a photo journalist who has had his hand blown off this month. Aside from the obvious, how serious are the concerns of extreme injury and is there any kind of stable plan to protect those who are part of the movement?
Ford Fischer: I carry a tourniquet and pray that I won’t have to use it here. The GLI-F4 grenades are the most dangerous element of all this, and a handful of people have lost eyes and limbs. Those grenades have exploded within feet of me, and are meant to take off limbs if they explode on contact with your skin. Frankly, the best safety plan is being hyper-aware. I’ve seen plenty of people willing to pick up or kick tear gas grenades to protect their friends, but I’d say that the smartest thing to do from a personal safety standpoint is to run away. It only takes one fuck up to lose a hand or eye.
I’ve been wearing my Afelia rifle-rated bulletproof vest, a ballistic helmet, goggles, and gas mask out here. In terms of armor, that’s about as good as it gets, but nothing really prevents a perfectly accurate grenade launcher wielding cop from taking my leg off I suppose. It’s something I’ve been nervous about, but only one weekend to go, right?
TDH: From what you have seen and the people you have talked to, is there an end to this uprising anywhere in sight?
Ford Fischer: How long this will all last really depends on who you ask. I’ve spoken to some experts who say that generally, the movement is waning while Macron’s numbers creep up. This is partially due to Macron’s concession which is to hold a “great debate” where he speaks to people about the issues, and promises to put ideas into practice. There is no hard accountability measure for this though, and many activists see it as insignificant.
We’re approaching Acte 15, and I’ve seen plans for as far ahead as Acte 20. So as far as demonstrators are concerned, this has at least weeks to go.
TDH: Has there been a single moment at this point that stuck out to you and will stay with you forever?
Ford Fischer: I’ll give you two, one from each weekend I’ve done so far (I’m writing this as of February 22).
The first weekend I was here, some Yellow Vests got off track and went down the wrong street and found themselves face to face with a police car. Rather than turn around and get back with the group, they picked up construction barricades and threw them onto the car. In America, these protesters would certainly be arrested, and this would escalate into guns drawn if the arrests weren’t simple, undoubtedly. Instead, these cops lowered the window, deployed mace, and then drove in reverse to safety. No arrests.
Last weekend, a standoff at Invalides escalated into having a no man’s land, where police managed to repel Yellow Vests about 100 feet away, but there was still a constant exchange of grenades and bricks. This got heated to the point where dozens of Yellow Vests were pulling brick out of the ground and smashing them into throwable chunks. Eventually, the cops gassed the entire field, effectively dispersing the day.
You can check out more from Fischer and donate to his work in the links below:
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbBm6SZ235HFxwVKC7Po5IA