But before I list the (often unnoticed, misunderstood or covered-up) chronological facts of France’s incredible Yellow Vest year, allow me to briefly summarise it with a personal anecdote:
In mid-April I finally was able to get out of Paris for a few days in between Saturdays and I headed to the countryside, which I adore (in any nation). After a day of decompression something hit me: the metronomic sadism of certain, massive state violence every weekend was not at all a normal state of affairs… and yet Parisians were expending all their psychic energy to convince themselves that everything was indeed “normal”.
What was “everything” from January to mid-April? Every Saturday: Eight thousand cops on the streets of Paris, entire city areas shut down, guaranteed images of violence against unarmed protesters, indiscriminate tear gassings and police brutality, the world aghast at French-style democracy, the knowledge that no way was “President Jupiter” Emmanuel Macron going to make any concessions and that for many people (like me) every Saturday meant certainly risking limb and quite possibly life.
What I realised was that during the first third of the year Parisians did their typical best to be blasé; to act as if all this was quite nothing new whatsoever; to act like getting upset over it was quite poor taste; to act typically Parisian.
this denial of reality and subsequent psychosis can only be found in imperialist countries
That, of course, was total nonsense – pure poseur.
So what I mostly remember is how during this period was that the collective cognitive dissonance in Paris was so immense that it reached a generalised psychosis caused by mass denial.
I also realised that this denial of reality and subsequent psychosis can only be found in imperialist countries. “Our treatment of the aboriginals/those with whom we are living alongside and whom we colonised/non-Whites… is totally normal,” they insist, as they live under a shroud of silence and feigned “normality”. The unsaid reality remains unsaid by both colonised and coloniser (under penalty of social exclusion, jail, death), and the psychosis just mounts and mounts and mounts.
It is normal that this imperialist psychosis occurs in the European Union in 2019, as it is indeed a neo-imperialist project. The question the French cannot quite answer is: are they the still the coloniser, or are they now colonised?
But such questions are all of no importance to the politically regressive. Nothing to see here, even by the French who watch the nightly news – we cannot question “French exceptionalism”.
What do I know about the Yellow Vests? I contend that no “mainstream” journalist attended more Yellow Vest demonstrations than I did, at least in Paris. I would also suggest that while I did hundreds of live interviews from the demonstrations – while getting tear gassed, with rubber bullets flying around, literally in between Black Bloc and police – most journalists did zero.
This article was generated by me going back through my list of reports with PressTV in 2019 – it’s mostly headlines, quotes (mostly from interviews with Yellow Vests) and short excerpts from my reports. I pass on the highlights, and I also tie together the threads with the advantage hindsight – check the key date of March 16th to see what I mean.
If you are too busy to read it all, I suggest only reading March through May 1 – this is when the Yellow Vest demonstration was gutted via reactionary values which we can call “neo-Vichy”, with Brussels replacing Berlin as the master of France’s government.
I didn’t bother to provide a weblink to the roughly 175 2-3 minute reports I made with PressTV in 2019, but I did include web links to a score of in-depth written reports I did specifically about the Vesters.
It was not at all an easy year, and I recall being quite exhausted by the summer. It wasn’t just the obvious stress caused by walking into a “near war zone” every Saturday – why on earth did the Vesters insist on marching 10-15 kilometres every Saturday? And so fast, too!
But, as they have shown, their endurance and determination is beyond remarkable. I’m glad the facts are on the record in one place, if only as an expression of admiration for them.
France Year in Review: The rise and rise of the Yellow Vests into a General Strike
2019 in France obviously has to be remembered as the year of the Yellow Vest rebellion.
It began in November 2018, and President Emmanuel Macron thought he had pacified it in December with a pittance of so-called “concessions”, but the rebellion continued.
Why, because as I wrote back then: “It’s just one protest… which has lasted 8 years”. They want you to view the Yellow Vests in isolation instead of as a historical continuum.
In early December every single person I asked agreed that they are a Yellow Vest. Biased, misleading and above all a lack of polling would attempt to hide the Yellow Vests amazing popularity the entire year. By September I was explaining Why France’s 20- and 30-somethings hate the Yellow Vests (foolishly, of course). However, no poll ever showed the Yellow Vests with an approval rating lower than 49%, and they are generally around 60% – this makes them by far the most popular political movement in France, even if not everyone joins their club. And above all: that is a simply enormous score for any protest movement, anywhere.
Many assumed the Vesters would stop protesting over Christmas because that’s what every political/social/union/labor movement had done for decades, no matter how much political momentum they had. Not the Vesters. Right then I knew that this was serious – they had different priorities.
By January it became clear that the French government was going to treat political protesters like football hooligans.
Jan 2 – Start by arresting their leaders for eating dinner
On December 20, 2019, the justice department would admit that France’s top police hierarchy were wrong to order the “disguised arrests” of key Yellow Vest leader Eric Drouet along with 42 others back on January 2nd. They were eating in a restaurant.
A “disguised arrest” is a euphemism for an arrest ordered by the Deep State: one is arrested without any true justification or reason, but simply because security agents have been ordered to do so.
Drouet immediately denied being a “leader”, because organisationally the Yellow Vests are indeed a grassroots, leaderless, “Latin anarchy-style” protest movement and not a political party. I eventually began referring to Drouet and others as “organisers”. Drouet does admit to eating nearly three times a day.
A column I wrote that week pointed out that, like the Vietcong, the Yellow Vests absolutely will not have the early demise which the Mainstream Media hopes for… because they have nowhere to go.
Jan 5 – Vesters surprisingly march after New Year’s Day
Brutal scenes as French cops refuse to let Vesters protest in front of Parliament, even though they had a permit to do so.
That is explanation for essentially all the conflicts between cops and protesters in 2019: protesters get trapped, in violation of their human right to demonstrate, hyper-armed cops use their weapons, protesters respond in a civic rage and in self-defense.
Turnout was down overall, but again, the fact that anything was organised at all was a huge, huge break with vacation-loving French culture. Of course, the media searches for any reason to insist that the Yellow Vest movement is abating, and they do so here.
Jan 12 – ‘Battle of Turnout Figures’ as France returns from vacation
The government claimed only 50,000 protesters marched, but the true figure was closer to 300,000.
Firstly, why are these numbers important? As a cop told me: this is a country of nearly 70 million people, so cops are never going to stand down unless there are 10 or 20 million people in the streets. He’s right. The people who foolishly think the cops are going to see the political light and “switch sides”, and also the people who think the Yellow Vests are just a hair’s breadth from getting Macron to resign, should re-read that.
A secondary point here is how very special and vanguard the Yellow Vests truly are for getting out on the streets: France was not anywhere close to a revolution which overcame their neo-imperial security state, but there sure were a large amount of people who were willing to try.
So numbers do matter, and that’s why the MSM’s parroting of an absurd official line (from their cozy newsroom) is so galling.
However, we should still accept that cops can actually be not reactionary. The poorly named “Union of Angry French Cops”, France’s third-largest cop union, consistently defied the Interior Ministry to give their own tally, mainly because the ministry was just outrageously low. The “Yellow Number” also made its 2nd appearance at this demo, and you can find all 3 of these crowd estimations here – the odd one out is the Interior Ministry.
The union believes the divergence is due to the fact that rural villages are constantly ignored by the government and media. The union has members actually stationed at places like rural roundabouts all day: they count the number of different people who arrive at a demonstration, and then leave, only to be replaced by new protesters.
It should be easy to see why the ministry’s figures are so absurd: why would the government routinely mobilise 80,000 policemen for what they are claimed from Valentine’s Day onwards was less than 47,000 protesters? (See January 27 note.)
Back then I couldn’t help but see the Yellow Vests as the harbinger of the bursting of the West’s “Everything Bubble” which Quantitative Easing has created. Who would have predicted that “QE Infinity” would be unveiled in September?
Jan 19 – Calm day in Paris for Act 10
It’s important to remember they weren’t all days of pitched war, but a lot certainly were until late March. Act 10 was mostly peaceful in Paris, but not elsewhere. Death toll at this point – 10 people.
Protests increase again. It has become clear the Yellow Vests are not going away, so the MSM grapples with trying to describe their class-based demands without violating their blacklist of the word “class”.
I laid it all out here: The Yellow Vests are calling for the world’s third Cultural Revolution, after China and Iran.
It’s not bias or exaggeration: They want to halt the functioning of normal society to have a serious, long, fruitful discussion about France’s role in the euro, the EU, NATO, Françafrique, the 5th Republic itself, austerity policies, foreign policy, environmental policies, housing, education, health care, pensions, etc. That link is Part 8 of an 8-part series I wrote this year to demystify the two state-sponsored Cultural Revolutions simply because the parallels between them and the Yellow Vests were so obvious.
Yellow Vests sure didn’t have state sponsorship, though. However, they did have a 60% approval rating at this time.
Jan 26 – French cops equipped with body cameras for first time
Absolutely nothing has come of this early demand aimed at reducing police brutality.
By the end of 2019 France has prosecuted just two cops for police brutality against the Yellow Vests. So how can we even know what has been recorded, when the cameras were even turned on, that is?
Jan 27 – Reactionary ‘Red Scarves’ demand Yellow Vests stop bothering the establishment
Finally, a demonstration which France’s media feels safe enough to cover!
The one and only such demonstration of this pathetic group. However, never has such a short-lived social movement received such fawning and massive political coverage. Where are the Red Scarves now – nowhere? Or rather: about to annoy the hell out of their family at Christmas.
Just prior to the movement a minister said that if 10,000 people showed up, then that would constitute a success and be a signal that the Yellow Vests have to stop: the Interior Ministry claimed 10,500 people showed up.
Many in the media would never once question the ministry’s figures on the Yellow Vest turnout despite their obvious self-interest to keep the numbers low, yet reported 10,500 despite the real-time indication over an inaccuracy which was widely obvious.
Feb 5 – Yellow Vests and unions march together for first time
Initially, a union member carrying his union insignia was as unwelcome as member of Macron’s political party. The Yellow Vests’ popularity and respect is largely based on their open rejection for not just mainstream politics and the traditional modes of French political culture, but also France’s idea that unions should lead socioeconomic protests. The Western “independent” union model, is perfectly calibrated to be “divided and conquered”, which has been the case in France since 2010, certainly; when unions “win”, the theory is that everyone else should just hope that their gains “trickle down” to the 90% of French workers who aren’t unionised.
This was the first time Vesters tolerated unions to march on the same city streets as them – the unity would be quite short-lived. I don’t blame them. In September 2019 I interviewed the head of a top farmer’s union: I gave her every chance to defend, even just mildly, the Yellow Vests, but she insisted that farmers had nothing in common with rioters.
This is exactly what a Yellow Vest told me that day: “The average union worker supports theYellow Vests, but not the union leaders, who have repeatedly betrayed us. The unions must finally end their selfishness, because everyone is against this government.”
Is it a rural-based movement, as is often said?
The only who people who say that are those who don’t understand/can’t admit that class is the single most dominant political lens.
Like all true revolutions, the nation’s “trash” had become the true political vanguard.
Feb 6 – France passes ‘anti-Yellow Vest law’ amid mass protests
The law allows police chiefs, known as prefects, to ban citizens from attending protests, a power which was previously reserved for judges. The law also gives police greater power to search citizens without warrants, and imposes fines and prison terms for any protester covering their face to avoid identification, or even of using a scarf to to avoid tear gas.
I recall earning some plaudits on the Champs-Elysées around this time. It was cold, and French riot cops were all covering their face to stay warm. I loudly told a cop that if he can cover his face against the law, then I should be able to wear my burqa, LOL. Easy for me to talk back in anger – I’m a journalist: the French protesters who did the same usually found themselves wrestled to the ground and arrested, with the wife screaming, “He didn’t do anything!” behind him.
This is another shift of power towards the executive branch and away from the judiciary and legislative branches, and especially the electorate. This process greatly accelerated under Francois Hollande with the 2-year state of emergency, the so-called “French Patriot Act”, and the repeated use of forcing through unpopular austerity-related laws by executive order. Macron would use executive orders even though he has an absolute majority in Parliament – he just wanted to avoided the bad press of open debate.
Feb 21 – Macron’s ‘Deep State’ scandal deepens with perjury charges
The Benalla affair – nobody knows about it outside of France but it’s Macron’s biggest one.
I would contend that a large reason it is not known outside of France because the constant implication is that Macron and Alexandre Benalla had a homosexual affair, or that Benalla helped cover up such an affair as Macron’s personal – and extremely law-breaking – bodyguard. The 24-year age difference between Macron and his wife helps fuel these rumours.
Regardless of these rumours, these charges came from an exasperated Parliament committee which concluded that Macron showed Benalla an “incomprehensible indulgence”. This “indulgence” was so extreme that nobody can possibly explain why a president would take such risks to protect such a person? It remains baffling.
Anyway, the problem is transparency/independence from blackmail/corruption. A Yellow Vest that week put things into perspective: “Look at the Benalla affair: there is overwhelming proof that President Emmanuel Macron’s right-hand man committed many crimes, yet he remains free, while Yellow Vests stay in jail! It is clear that there is major discrimination in the justice system by France against its very own citizens – some people have special privileges, but the Yellow Vests do not.”
Benalla served one week in jail, but only because he broke his bail – the average prison sentence for a Yellow Vest has been one year.
Feb 22 – Macron to outlaw anti-Zionism, sparking disbelief & outrage
“I’m not gay, but the Yellow Vests are anti-Semitic.” That’s not what Macron said openly of course, but the timeline worked that way.
The proposition was an attempt to slur the Yellow Vests, and to create a long-running distraction.
The resolution – not a law, but one step short of it – would be passed in December. What I found interesting was the huge amount of media coverage on it in December… after, not before, it was passed. I covered it before: it was mostly French Jews fighting against it, because it obviously unjustly makes all Jews responsible for the crimes of Israel. I’ve seen studies that half of European Jews are anti-Zionist. Of course, confusing anti-Semitism with the political, colonialist, segregationist project of Zionism is something nobody involved in politics should be dumb enough to confuse, but Macron did.
At the February 16th Yellow Vest march far-right ideologue Alain Finkielkraut was not welcomed, and called a “dirty Zionist”. This created much media uproar, despite the latter being 100% accurate. The Yellow Vests marched against anti-Semitism on February 19.
Combined with the looming Benalla scandal, anti-Semitism was a very useful distraction for Macron at the time. It was undoubtedly instrumentalised by France’s extremely powerful pro-Zionist lobby.
It gave me a chance to dust off a term I created during the Charlie Hebdo protests: 21st century France as a new “Holy Secular Empire”.
Feb 27 – Council of Europe urges France to stop rubber bullet use
Does anyone care about the Council of Europe, or any pan-European institution, really? Of course not, but it was notable that any major organisation condemned France back then.
For example, Human Rights Watch issued just a single condemnation of French police brutality in 2019 – against ecological protesters, not the Yellow Vests. Reports on Venezuela, Hong Kong, Syria – their reports are innumerable and their hypocrisy crystal-clear.
Five hundred critical injuries at this point; unions and France’s Human Rights League estimated that 10,000 rubber bullets had been fired at Yellow Vests. Most journalists in France still euphemistically calling rubber bullets “flash balls” or, even worse, “defense ball launchers”, which obviously assumes that the protester is always the aggressor.
Mar 6 – UN: ‘full investigation’ of brutality against Yellow Vests
The UN Human Rights chief properly recognised that, “The Yellow Vests have been protesting what they see as exclusion from economic rights and participation in public affairs.”
France totally ignored this, of course. The prime minister said the UN chief lacked the “full picture”, but he obviously summed up the heart of the matter.
However, ignoring condemnations of their police is what France does – French police have been condemned for police brutality over and over by the UN and top NGOs for many years.
During the labor code rollback protests in 2016 at least 4,000 protesters were arrested, with well over 1,000 people hurt by police in Paris alone, according to Amnesty International. Extrapolate those numbers nationwide. I covered all those demonstrations too – it’s why I always said that I perceived that the Yellow Vests were only 15-20% more violent than France’s “normal” violent demonstrations. Only the Yellow Vests ever graffiti-tagged the Arc de Triomphe, sure, but that was just a huge propaganda victory for the Vesters.
Mar 8 – Paris forbids Yellow Vest camp
Why wasn’t there a “French Tahrir Square”?
The Yellow Vests tried – cops weren’t even close to allowing a single sleeping bag get laid on the ground. They would have needed many thousands to establish a camp and I recall only 1-2,000 people being there.
It was a cold night back then. Would have still had to have beat back typical French police brutality, too.
Mar 12 – ‘Anti-Yellow Vest’ law adopted
Officially known as the “anti-rioters” law. This provided the “legal” basis for the oppression which would stem the tide (not turn it) of the Yellow Vests…. We got a couple good quotes from journalist/analyst George Kazolias explaining the law:
“But what really makes this law really dangerous, as one conservative member of Parliament put it last year, is that it’s a Vichy law, referring to the government that ruled France under Nazi occupation in World War II. This law gives administrative personnel judicial powers – it takes the power away from the judiciary. … So what he (Macron) has done now is to make at a local level what he has done at the national level with (unpopular laws which normalised) the state of emergency. I’m surprised not more people have tried to relate the two?”
And, now that massive repression had a new “legal” basis, the upcoming Yellow Vest march would be incredibly repressive and mark the beginning of the end of their long peak. But the day before that…
Mar 15 – Macron’s National Debate ends with universal dissatisfaction
The National Debate was 2.5 months of 10,000 local public debates. It was mainly a public relations effort by Macron to show that he is a president who does listen and who does incorporate public opinion into public policy… even though that is obviously false.
However, much of his time at these town hall meetings was Macron talking for hours and hours, like Fidel Castro. There are big differences between the two: Macron is pushing capitalism, imperialism and technocratism – Fidel pushed rejecting brutal capitalism, patriotism and morality in public policy.
At this point in his term Macron (begun May 2017) has never held a press conference. That is not a typo.
Perhaps this explains why it was “The Macron Show” for six hours a day on mainstream media. The sudden availability of Macron to the masses and journalists was a total 180 from the previous 22 months.
Rather amusingly (unless you are a minority Macronista) a key poll asked what people found positive to say about Macron regarding his method and style at the National Debate: the number one answer, at 48%, was “I didn’t find anything positive about Macron”. That was nearly double the second-most popular response.
So the National Debate had concluded, the laws were in place – the kid gloves came off. We knew it was coming – column here.
Mar 16 – Worst violence in months amid near-secret de-nationalisation machinations
This is when “Sarkozy’s restaurant” Le Fouquet’s was ransacked. (A quintessentially French place… yet they use a possessive apostrophe?)
I remember I got there early – it was already a war zone.
This is because before the demonstration could even start riot police used tear gas and water cannons to provoke the violence which would be required to justify the police tactic changes later this week.
Black Bloc was there, being useless as usual – I recall a protester at the Arc de Triomphe screaming at me, “Why don’t the cops do anything to stop Black Bloc?!” I debunked Black Bloc in a recent article: French Black Bloc’s utter uselessness… except to the French government. I repeatedly saw Yellow Vests intervene to stop looting on the Champs-Elysées; cops were filmed stealing football jerseys from the Paris Saint-Germain team shop.
A good quote from a Vester that day: “Just like at the beginning of the movement, it was the same old tactic from our government. They want the protest to degenerate as quickly as possible in order to discredit the movement. They launch round after round of tear gas, to the point where people are stepping on protesters who have fallen down! They want to scare us into staying at home, but we will never stop protesting!”
Interesting note I have in my report: “Despite 18 consecutive weekends of protests by the Yellow Vests, France’s unions have taken to the streets only rarely this year.” It’s key to remember how independent and isolated the Yellow Vests were – they fought time after time all on their own: they really are like a family.
Shockingly, Macron chose this weekend to go skiing – the photos appall the nation. On seemingly every major day of protest during his term I have noticed that Macron is never in Paris, and often out of the country. Of course, since the Yellow Vests the big establishment fear is that they will reach Elysée Palace near the Champs-Elysées. However, as I am a fellow 41-year old man… he rather acts like a scared old man.