For a little over a week now the famed Champs-Elysees in Paris has succumb to protests, riots and angry mobs. No - protests and strikes are not unusual in France, but unlike the mundane worker strikes that regularly plague the city and eventually peter out - this particular uprising seems to have legs.
The protests, coined the "Gilets Jaunes" (Yellow Vests/Jackets), are named after the yellow vests that every car driver must keep in the trunk of their car in the event of an emergency. While the reasons for the protests have broadened, the initial (and primary) point of this "campaign" was to protest the rising fuel taxes imposed by Macron as part of France's "energy transition."
The fuel tax was imposed as a "necessary pain" to reduce France's dependence on fossil fuels in accordance with the controversial Paris Accord. This recent gas tax increases the price for diesel fuel by approximately $0.30 cents per gallon (in USD). The price for gasoline in France is now over $7.00 USD per gallon and will continue to increase over the coming years, per the plan.
Critics (and the protesters) are upset that the fuel tax is particularly painful to the poor in France.
One protester's sign read, "Mr. Macron, how does someone who earns minimum wage buy an electric car?"
The ultimate irony here is that the fuel tax is driven by Macron's desire to display global leadership in the Paris Accords, the international agreement meant to save the world from catastrophic climate change - which will have more direct impact on the poor and disadvantaged.
The Paris-Accord-driven-fuel-tax is directly affecting the poor and disadvantaged in France - but Macron believes that it is necessary (painfully necessary) or climate change is going to affect the poor and disadvantaged.
What started out as a direct protest against the fuel tax - has since expanded to general discontent with Macron and the elites. At the time of this writing there are calls for another Gilest Jaunes protest this weekend and a call for a general strike across France.
The French police resorted to tear gas and water cannons to control the angry mobs that were setting bonfires in the middle of the Champs-Elysees!
The images are shocking to see in a first world country. I can't remember when the last time I saw water cannons deployed to deter and control crowds in the US.
Earlier this year I read Christopher Hibbert's "The Days of the French Revolution" and was shocked by the brutality of the angry mobs, particularly the Sans Culottes (the common people / lower classes "without pants"). I recall learning about the excessive beheadings but my teachers seem to have skipped the part about people being butchered in the streets. The Sans Culottes went on to embody the spirit of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
We'll see where this goes in the coming days and weeks but I think this has legs to continue for a while and snowball into further chaos.
Meanwhile, here in California, the citizens voted in favor of keeping the recent gas tax! Instead of protesting a tax that effects the poor and disadvantaged commutters Californians voted with vigor to get taxed some more!
You can't make this stuff up.