I’ve never been tear gassed before. The smell is similar to fireworks and the effect is explosive—and effective. I immediately wanted to get as far away as I could from the noxious source of burning eyes and throat.
I was in Paris when France’s “yellow vest” (gilet jaune) movement shut down the center of the city.
There were thousands of demonstrators, all wearing the bright yellow safety vests drivers are required by law to have in their cars.
They had come from all over the country. The Paris demonstration was the latest escalation in a leaderless movement organized by activists through social media.
The movement originated out of resentment over a hike in the price of diesel gas announced by President Emmanuel Macron as part of his efforts to address climate change. The price of gas in France is already the equivalent of $6.74 a gallon. Rural families dependent on vehicles would be stretched even further with the gas tax hike.
But this is no American-style Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party protest.
“These protests are not a backlash against the presence of the French state in the economy,” said Cole Stangler, a labor journalist who reports from Paris. “Many yellow vests are just asking that it act more fairly, infuriated by a government that asks them to give up more income each month at the same time as it grants tax cuts to the super-rich.”
The protesters represent a broad section of working-class France, and their anger is wholly understandable. While the French economy has recovered in the sense that business is booming, the standard of living for the average French family has not improved since the 2008 global economic collapse. Macron’s administration has doggedly pursued the interests of corporations and the rich, reducing taxes on the rich to the tune of billions of dollars per year.